Many folks start out with plans to have a perfect garden in the spring, when the earth is fresh and the sun provides welcome warmth instead of burning the skin. It’s easy to ignore the reality of crabgrass and other weeds that can take over the summer garden when life gets too busy for weeding and rain helps the weeds grow.
I’ve seen many gardens covered with knee-high weeds recently, and I empathize with the gardeners; knee-high weeds appear in my garden, too. If you would like to start over and plant a fall garden but despair of ever getting through that mass of weeds to find the soil, it is possible to resurrect the plot of soil you lovingly tended back in April and to have lettuce and broccoli this fall.
If you can, mow the area with a lawnmower with a bagging attachment and throw the seed-filled clippings in the garbage. Make rows and planting spaces in the grass, and then gather a lot of newspapers and cardboard, mush down the weeds if you can’t mow them, and spread the paper on top of the weeds. Do try to remove the seeds of weeds that have made seed. Use thick, overlapping sections of paper—weeds will laugh at a couple of sheets of paper. Make sure you lay out your rows before you apply the paper, or you’ll have to tear through paper to put in your plants or seeds.
Cover the paper with hay, leaves, or whatever you can find, just make sure to put down a layer about three inches thick. Put the paper and mulch up to the edge of the rows. Plant seeds or put in transplants, and make sure the mulch and paper borders the rows. In a few hours, you will have a perfect fall garden with little work, at least compared to digging out all those weeds.
Free mulch is easy to find in the fall. Leaves will soon fall from the trees and people will put bags of them on the side of the road, which you can bring home to cover your weedy garden. Mulch needs to be so plentiful and cheap that you can apply a thick layer to fully shade out any weeds.
One cause of weedy gardens is that the optimistic gardener, in the beautiful spring weather, plants a garden that’s too large for his or her time and energy. Maybe you really have time to tend a garden that’s half the size of the one you have, and you can permanently mulch the other half, and rotate garden sides every year. Or you can put cover crops to enrich the soil and shade out weeds on the unused side. That way, you can enjoy a well-tended garden all year long instead of dreading a weedy mess.