It seems like the weeds are growing faster in the garden than the vegetables. And although I don’t mind spending a little time weeding, I’d much rather tend to other gardening tasks. Planting through groundcover or landscape fabric is one technique Mark and I use to keep weeds out of the garden.
When we started our market garden, there were several feet of old landscape fabric on the ground, left in place from our old tree growing operation. Even through the fabric had been in place for almost 10 years, it was in fairly good shape, so Mark cut some holes in it and planted tomatoes (see photo left). It worked so well, we decided to add more groundcover to our garden.
The groundcover we chose is the same as what we sell at the store. It is made by DeWitt and is a woven polypropylene that allows moisture and air through but prevents weed growth by blocking the available light. The groundcover is UV stabilized to help it withstand exposure to the Texas sun and it is striped every 12″ which makes it easy to plan plant spacing. Our groundcover is available in different widths and is sold by the foot. For example our 3ft wide groundcover is $0.69/ft.
Groundcover is easy to install. After your soil is prepared (soil amendments added, large rocks removed, area relatively leveled). Place the groundcover over the area you wish to cover. There is a fuzzy side and a slick side. The stripes are most visible on the slick side. Place the fuzzy side towards the ground. Secure the groundcover in place with landscape pins. These pins look like giant hairpins and they go through the landscape fabric and into the ground. We place our pins every 4-5 feet around the perimeter of the groundcover.
Next, cut or burn holes in the groundcover. The size and spacing will be determined by what plants you wish to grow. We usually plant transplants into the groundcover but we have also seeded through the holes. It’s hard to tell in the pic below, but the holes are much larger in the pic on the right (about 8″ for tomatoes) than in the pic on the left (about 3″ for sunflowers planted from seed).
We grew spinach, broccoli and lettuce using groundcover this past winter and had no weed problem whatsoever. The groundcover also kept the leafy plants so clean I had very little soil to wash off after picking.
To minimize garden pests and maximize soil health, Mark and I will rotate crop placement in our garden. Lucky for us, groundcover can easily be moved. When we are ready to plant next year’s cucumbers we will prepare the soil in a different part of the garden, pull the pins on the old groundcover then install it over the new site.
There are some limitations to using groundcover. It takes a long time to plant seeds in groundcover. We don’t use groundcover at all when planting beans, corn, or any crop we want to quickly and easily seed using our Earthway Seeder. We also don’t use groundcover for any root crops like turnips, beets or carrots. Another worry for us regarding our groundcover is the reflected heat from the sun. Once the weather gets hot and stays hot we will probably also want to put mulch around our plants to keep them from frying in the Texas sun.