If there’s one thing most gardens are rich in, it’s weeds. If there’s one thing most households have in abundance these days, it’s brown paper grocery bags. Can one work to eradicate the other?
If you’re looking to get rid of weeds in garden paths, the answer is probably yes. These basic brown paper grocery bags also make a great choking mulch for unplanted weed patches; cover the paths or distressed areas with several layered layers of brown bags and top it off with several inches of wood chips or shredded bark. In my experience, layers of 3-5 folded brown bags will last about a year and almost any weeds they cover will be choked. Garden plants too, so don’t use this technique in flower beds.
Notice that word, “almost?” The weeds that can remain are usually taproot types like thistles and dandelions or those with large storage roots like Himalayan blackberries. However, after being suffocated for a year, even these can usually be removed with a weed killer or a hori-hori garden knife, as the ground has now been opened up by the mulch.
One weed that won’t respond as well is the dreaded horsetail. On the one hand, horsetail roots can penetrate very deep into the heavy clay soils that they prefer. On the other hand, horsetail plants in gardens are often surprisingly vigorous and persistent. One of the reasons for this is that when most gardeners see a horsetail stem, they pull it out. Oops. Bad move! Pulling the horsetail scars the root, which triggers a spurt of new shoots. Pull a shoot and four or five will replace it. Instead, cut or pinch the horsetail stems without pulling; which will end up helping to slow down its progress.
To actually get rid of horsetail, we need to make some significant changes. Horsetail prefers heavy, anaerobic soils that retain moisture well. The key to getting rid of it is to create lighter, more open, and well-drained soils. The best way to do this is to improve drainage in the affected areas, usually with a combination of mulch, excavation paths, and elevator beds.
Annual deep mulching with mature compost and / or wood chips adds humus which helps open up acidic and airless soils and improves both soil drainage and air exchange. (Granulated humic acid can also help.) Digging paths 6 to 8 inches or more below ground level and filling them with crushed gravel will also draw excess soil moisture. Making raised or mound beds will further improve drainage and promote better oxygen exchange in the soil. Such changes take a long time to work, so in the meantime, cut, don’t shoot that horsetail!
Is it safe to compost brown bags? Well it depends. When exposed to heat (such as sun exposure and / or composting), paper bags and cardboard products can give off toxic fumes from the glues and inks used in their manufacture. How do you know which ones are safe? Glossy or glossy paper and cardboard are usually coated with wax or plastic, and brightly colored glossy inks are often toxic. Keep them out of the compost and don’t use them in edible gardens. The shredded plain brown bags are probably safe to compost, especially if your compost pile is very hot. The less glossy soy-based inks used on newsprint and grocery bags decompose harmlessly and the glue residue will be destroyed if the pile gets hot enough. If you’re not sure, you’d better recycle paper bags and cardboard and feed your compost pile with toxin-free lawn and garden rubbish.
Manette Edible Garden Tour
The Manette Edible Gardens Tour in Bremerton returns on Saturday August 7 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This year’s tour includes 15 gardens and begins at Discovery Fellowship / Catalyst parking lot accessible from Hayward Avenue, which will open at 9:30 am After a $ 5 donation, attendees will receive a tour button and a map of participating gardens. Children 12 and under are free.
Manette Gardeners support building healthy and resilient food systems and will share a variety of interests, including compost, pollinator support, beehives and chicken coops, native seed conservation, home gardens and purpose-cropping. non-profit. Raised beds and creative ways gardeners use space will be on display.
Proceeds will go to support future tours, projects that benefit the community at Manette, and local nonprofits.
Contact Ann Lovejoy at 413 Madrona Way NE, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110 or visit Ann’s blog at http://www.loghouseplants.com/blogs/greengardening/ and leave a question / comment.