How to keep weeds out of garden

image of garden, covered with landscape fabric and plants growing. Title of article and Kitchen Patch logo on top of image

Spring fever has hit hard this year. If you’ve found yourself daydreaming about a whimsical garden season, you are not alone. I’m there too, imagining beautiful flowers growing alongside yummy vegetables. Arched vining squash shading a cozy bench. But then, the thought of weeds creeps in. 

Like many fellow gardeners, I hate the idea of pulling weeds all summer long; sweat dripping down my face, knees aching. I won’t do it. I’ve let several gardens past die a slow, ugly death-by-weeds. 

A few years ago, I had an idea to treat my vegetable garden like I treat my flower beds. And it worked! I’ll admit, it takes a smidge of the whimsy out of my garden dreams. But the sacrifice is worth it to avoid spending time- that I don’t have- weeding every night. 

There are a lot of options for us home-growers to reduce the amount of weeds in the garden. Many of them, I’ve considered. Here is my path to a weed-free, chemical-free garden. I don’t think I’ll be trying any other methods any time soon. At least, not while I have little kids who soak up most of my evenings. 

Liz's garden- the ground is covered with landscape fabric, plants are growing, the cattle panel arch is in the back of the garden.

How to keep weeds out of your garden- without chemicals:

  1.  Choose your garden spot and till the dirt. 
  2. Add your compost and/or fertilizer. 
  3. Cover your garden spot with landscape fabric. 
  4. When you’re ready to plant, draw your garden layout on your fabric with sidewalk chalk. I like to draw circles for each plant that will have a tomato cage around it and write in the plant name, and make lines for each row of plants with the name written above the line. 
  5. Cut or burn holes into your fabric in the places you plan to plant your seeds or started plants. Make your holes a little bigger than the area needed for your seed or plant. You’ll need room to dig up the dirt and insert your plant or seed. Your seeds will also need a little extra space for sunlight to get to the seed.
  6. Use a hand shovel to plant your plants. The tomato cages should easily poke through the fabric. 
  7. Use a stick or rod to poke holes in the dirt where burned holes and poke in your seeds with your fingers. Lightly cover each seed with dirt mixed with compost. 
  8. Enjoy a nearly weed-free garden. Each week, you may need to pull weeds that grow alongside your plants, but the weeding between rows that is often overwhelming should be taken care of! 

That’s it! It’s extra work upfront and does take up an entire weekend. BUT, it’s the first weekend spent in the garden and reaps benefits all season long.

Image of Liz's garden, you can see the first few plants are in and the chalk lines/labels are still on the fabric.

A note on the argument for or against organic produce

Keeping our garden weed-free without the use of weed killers and chemicals is important to me because we tend to eat veggies as we pick them. Since we aren’t washing them before eating in these instances, I try to keep the environment safe. However, if you’re washing your vegetables before eating, or buying vegetables that aren’t organic from the store, no worries. you do what’s best (and affordable) for you and your situation! Full disclosure, when we buy from the store, I don’t always choose organic and that’s okay!

Image of garden covered with compost- Andrew is tilling the garden on the far side.
Our garden, covered in chicken poop (aka fertilizer)- Andrew is tilling the garden to mix in the fertilizer.

To learn more about what it means to be labeled “organic”, check out this article from the USDA.

Extra advice: 

  • To stay chemical free, make sure your landscape fabric isn’t treated with chemicals. I always purchase my fabric at Sam’s Club. It comes in a huge roll, is a little thicker than what other stores offer, and is not treated. 
  • Tie brightly colored ribbon or yarn to each pin before pinning the fabric to the ground. This will help you find all of the pins when you pull them out next season when you’re ready to replace the fabric. 
  • Do not cut a straight line down the rows you plan to plant unless you prefer to put pins down all along both sides of the line. I’ve found that burning holes with a small torch works best because I don’t have to use extra pins to keep wind from pulling up the fabric. 
  • Watering tip: put a sprinkler in the middle of your garden and water each morning. This will help reduce how much water evaporates while watering. Since you’ve covered the ground where plants are not growing, you don’t have to worry so much about accidentally watering weeds. 
  • Have a fence around your garden to keep out rabbits and deer who would love to enjoy your veggies. I throw out my overgrown veggies sometimes to feed the deer and our chickens so nothing gets wasted if I’m too late to harvest. 
  • Plant marigolds around the garden to attract helpful pollinator bugs and reduce harmful pests.

I hope you enjoy this method of controlling weeds this garden season! Leave a comment if you have any other advice for how to keep weeds out of the garden or questions about this method. You can also check out this TikTok video where I put this process into action. 

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