Spring in the Arboretum’s Van Loveland Perennial Garden is a time of dramatic display, featuring an array of early spring flowering aconite, chionodoxa, crocus, and scilla, followed by a stunning variety of narcissus, snowdrops, and fritillaria. It is also a time to tidy up the beds by raking away the past year’s die back and leaves as well as edging and fertilizing to prepare for the coming months.
Spring is also the time many gardeners find it “helpful” to use chemicals for garden upkeep. Rather than risk the loss of their plants by nuisances, especially weeds, a chemical product is applied. Though chemicals are necessary at times, using them as a first resort is irresponsible to both our backyard ecosystem and ourselves.
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of visiting many local gardens and learned several tried and true tips regarding natural garden care. In my experience, one very effective method of weed control is the application of newspaper mulch.
To be successful, weed suppression depends on timing, edging, and mulch. When plants wake up in spring, they use their stored energy to send out new leaves and stems that will create more energy through photosynthesis. Once this first flush has occurred, the plant will have less vigor. Now is an excellent time to weed and edge the beds and then cover the area with newspaper to suppress unwanted new growth. It is easy to fold the paper around plants and bed edges to get the appropriate coverage. It is best to use black and white, non-glossy pages in layers 5 pages thick and then sprinkle with water to mat the paper down. After the paper is laid out, cover it with 2” of an organic mulch, compost, or peat for an additional layer of suppression.
This process will usually last only a single growing season, so it is safe to put down where spring bulbs have died back. While some gardeners use cardboard rather than newspaper, I would advise against using non-compostable materials such as plastic, dog food bags, or old rugs since they will never decompose.
Consider joining the members of the Landis Arboretum Garden Club on Monday, April 10, 10 AM to noon, when they spruce up the Van Loveland Perennial Garden. You can appreciate the early spring floral display and learn about spring garden maintenance the natural way.