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January 2013

QuestionFor the last two years my son has used black plastic under his vegetables for weed control . I wanted to suggest pine straw to him , but I don't know what happens with pine straw as it breaks down. We plant tomatoes, okra, peppers, purple hull peas. What should I use in place of the black plastic?


 AnswerBlack plastic can be used in a vegetable garden, and it does heat up the soil early, but can get it too hot by later in the season. If you are using plastic, you need to make sure that there is a drip system or soaker hose under the plastic, or watering can be a real challenge. Pine straw is ok for a vegetable garden, but it is slower to break down than some mulches and will eventually make the soil more acidic. Shredded leaves, shredded paper and straw make great mulches and can easily be added back into the soil.

November 2011

QuestionYou had a recent article about how to prepare dormant veggie garden and what kind of plastic covering to use. I cannot find the article. My garden has been tilled, fertilized and weeded and now I want to cover it for winter. What kind of covering is best?


AnswerEarlier in the year I discussed solarizing soil with clear plastic to kill weeds, diseases and insects. That only works when it is hot outside—during the months of July, August and September. You can still use plastic to smother out winter weeds and prevent them from growing this winter, but you would want to use black plastic to prevent light from getting through. Black plastic also warms up the soil earlier in the spring which can allow for earlier planting. Clear plastic used in the winter acts as a mini greenhouse and allows weeds to continue to grow.

May 2010

QuestionWhat is the safest way to control weeds and grass growing in a vegetable garden? The garden is approximately 30' x 40' - therefore, not easy to apply mulch to ll. We till, but weeds and grass will return.


AnswerThe Santa Clause method—hoe, hoe, hoe is actually the safest and most effective way to control weeds in the vegetable garden. While there are some herbicides that are labeled for gardens, they are usually not recommended for all vegetables, and the waiting period may be too long for you to use. Hoeing is actually preferable to the tiller. Tilling is easier, but actually brings up more weed seeds from down below, which leads to more weeds. Cutting the weeds off at the surface and then mulching is the best thing you can do for your garden. There are lots of mulch options. Spread down newspaper, shred your junk mail and lay that down. It doesn't have to be as aesthetically pleasing in the vegetable garden as it does in ornamental beds. Mulching that large of a garden may seem like a lot of work on the front end, but the amount of weeds it will cut down will make it worth the effort.