Do you delight in unplanned foliage creeping through your flower beds? Are you ecstatic at the sign of leafy clumps scattered across your lawn? Is there a certain joy in seeing green shoots creeping between your paving stones?
No. Of course not. Because nobody that takes their garden seriously enjoys weeds. I’m not claiming that there aren’t some people who don’t mind letting their garden run wild but, if you’re reading this article, I highly suspect you’re not one of them.
I wish I could tell you there are ways to banish unwanted plants for good, but I’m not going to lure you in with entirely impossible promises. However, there are some ways you can stop weeds growing in your flower beds, or at least slow them down dramatically.
Phase 1: Flower bed preparation
The first step to stop weeds growing in your flower beds is right at the beginning. When you’re removing the top layer of grass or foliage, be as thorough or possible. Any remaining shoots or seeds can result in later regrowth.
Next, consider whether you’re going to raise your flower beds or not – you’re not going to be filling them in yet, but it’s good to get a picture now of whether you intend to. As a minimum, I’d recommend raising your beds by at least 15cm, although it’s not strictly necessary. However, it will create distance between your bed and the surrounding earth, where the majority of weeds will be appearing from. It is also a great way to keep certain pests away, especially slugs and snails and, in my opinions, just generally looks more interesting than regular ground-level beds.
Phase 2: Create a physical barrier
Regardless of whether you raise your flower beds or leave them at ground level, the next step is to put a physical barrier between your flowers and the grass (or at least, the untamed part of your garden). You could use something simple like bricks or rocks… but there are loads of different ways to create interesting garden edging that fits in with your aesthetic.
If you haven’t raised your bed – or if you have, and want to be extra thorough – it’s a good idea to embed your barrier about 10cm into the ground. Then it’s up to you how much you leave sticking out the top.
Phase 3: Line your flower bed with a membrane
When you’ve marked out the area for your flower bed and laid down the edging, the next step is to put a barrier on the ground. You can buy proper fabric membranes from a garden centre, but you can also use untreated cardboard, if you have any spare!
The goal is to separate your flower bed compost from the earth below, to smother any dormant weed seeds. This is particularly helpful when your flowers are young (and small) and not able to compete for light and space as well as the weeds can!
When you’re positioning your membrane, make sure it’s deep enough for your plant roots to develop and check that it goes right to the edges of your flower bed. A helpful trick is to tuck the edges under your edging, just to be safe!
Phase 4: Fill ‘er up!
Finally, you’re ready to refill your flower bed. BUT WAIT! Don’t just use the soil you dug out in the first place – or there will be literally no point to the previous steps. There can be all kinds of seeds and roots still lingering, and in four weeks you’ll be wondering why you bothered.
The best option to stop weeds growing in your flower beds is to buy a mixture of compost and soil from a garden centre, which will have been steam heated to kill off seeds (as well as pathogens and diseases that could harm your plants – handy, right)!
If your flower beds are simply too large to invest in store bought compost, it’s okay. The best alternative is to rely on the sun to perform a similar decontamination process (although it will take much longer).
To do this, refill your flower beds with the soil you dug out, raking it and tilling it so it’s relatively smooth and even, and then giving it a quick water. Next, cover it with a later of thick clear plastic sheeting, pegging or staking it down firmly at the edge. It should take roughly 8 weeks of sun exposure to kill off the worst of the weed seeds, after which you can remove the cover, rake the soil through and get planting. At this point, you can also mix in some store-bought compost.
Have you been cultivating your own compost? Making your own compost is a great way to reduce your household waste and lead a more sustainable lifestyle. However, you can end up with all kinds of stuff in your homemade compost, so it’s best to mix it into your soil before you do the sheet-and-sun trick, so it can be naturally processed at the same time.
Phase 5: Get planting!
At last, your soil is ready and you’re all set to start planting. There are still a couple of things you can do to stop weeds growing in flower beds that you’ve so lovingly cultivated!
To start with, plan to cover the surface of your soil with plants. Gaps in coverage will allow light through and make it easier for weeds to germinate. Ideally, your mature plants should obscure most of the soil.
While your flowers are young, keep a close eye on new growth and make sure everything looks like it should. Odd-shaped leaves could belong to weeds, so pull them up as soon as you can check they’re not something you’ve planted!
As your plants get settled, take a garden fork once a week and till the surrounding earth. By churning up the top 3-5cm of soil, you’ll make it harder for new weeds to take hold.
Mulch is your friend too. Not only will it make your flower beds look tidier, it helps the soil retain moisture and nutrients for longer than exposed soil! Most importantly, it can stop weeds growing in flower beds by blocking the light and space they need to develop.
When you’re out doing your routine gardening, cast an eye over your beds just to make sure nothing has slipped the net. It’s much easier to pull out a young weed than it is to eradicate one that’s had a month or two to root in and spread.
Finally, you can use chemical treatments to keep weeds at bay. I often prefer to focus on natural strategies for weed and pest control, but using a pre-emergent herbicide in the early stages can save you a lot of work later on. Just remember to be careful about the chemicals you use on any plants you intend to eat – not recommended for vegetable patches!
You don’t have to break your back to stop weeds growing in flower beds, and it doesn’t have to be a tedious chore every couple of weeks. With the right preparation and spot maintenance, beautiful, weed-free flower beds can be at your fingertips!