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How to have less weeds in your garden

Creating a garden that is beautiful and easy to maintain is a dream many of us share. The joy of spending time in your garden shouldn't be overshadowed by constant weeding, watering, and plant care. By following the below advice, you can minimise the amount of weeds in your garden and make sure your plants will thrive. Here’s what to do to make your gardens low -maintenance.

 

Starting a new garden

Preparation is Key! One of the most time-consuming aspects of garden maintenance is weeding. Therefore removing any existing grass and weeds before creating a new garden is essential. Begin by marking out the shape of your new garden and removing all existing grass and weeds. This ensures that the only weeds you'll need to tackle are new ones, significantly reducing your workload.

  • Cardboard Method:  My preferred method is using cardboard. Lay down layers of cardboard to

cover the entire marked area, blocking light from reaching the soil, which kills the weeds underneath. It’s an eco-friendly approach that doesn't disturb the soil's natural ecosystem. Water the cardboard and add a layer of mulch on top to keep it in place (and also hide it because let’s be honest, it’s not very pretty!). Leave the cardboard for as long as you can before planting (2-3 months at least). Come planting time, if the cardboard is still there underneath the mulch, leave it all in place and simply cut a hole through it to plant your plants.   


  • Other Methods: If the cardboard method isn't for you, there are other options. You can slice the turf with a spade or a turf cutter, removing the top 100mm of soil and replacing it with weed-free topsoil. Alternatively, spraying the area with herbicide weekly for three weeks can effectively kill off existing vegetation.

Healthy Soil Equals Happy Plants 

Avoid the hassle of maintaining unhappy plants by starting with healthy, nutrient-rich soil. If your soil isn’t already great, adding organic matter such as compost can significantly improve soil health. Mix compost with the natural soil in your planting hole before planting.


  • Benefits of Organic Matter: In clay soil, organic matter loosens the texture and improves drainage, while in sandy soil, it acts like a sponge, retaining moisture. Adding organic matter ensures that your plants have the best possible start.


  • Additional Nutrients: Enhance your soil further by adding a slow-release fertilizer tab, a handful of blood and bone, sheep pellets, or well-rotted manure. For clay soils, consider applying gypsum topically and avoid planting in wet conditions to prevent compaction.



Preventing new weeds

The less light and space there is for weeds to grow, the better.


  • Planting: To prevent new weeds from taking root, plant densely and use plenty of groundcovers. This will leave little space and light reaching the ground for weeds to grow. Photo: Erica darleyensis



  • Mulching: Mulch is your best friend in a low-maintenance garden. Mulch garden beds to a depth of 100mm. This helps retain moisture and prevents weed growth. I recommend mulch that also feeds the soil, such as "Mulch & Feed" bags from garden centers, or this type from a landscape supplies place: https://www.captaincompost.co.nz/shop/Soil++Compost/Bulk/Captains+ManureMulch.html Top up mulch as needed, usually yearly is enough.


 

Revamping an existing garden

If you have existing garden beds with some plants that you want to keep but where weeds have taken over, there is no way around it: You have to put in the work at the start, but once that is done, you can have a low-maintenance garden again!

  • Weed Removal: There’s no way around it—get in there and remove as many weeds as possible by hand, including roots and bulbs. This initial effort will pay off in the long run. If soil sticks to the roots, shake it off or fill the holes with good garden mix. If you’re not attached to the existing plants and prefer a fresh start, you can chop everything down, remove the clippings, and follow the new garden preparation steps.

  • Follow New Garden Steps: After removing the weeds, follow the steps outlined for a new garden: plant densely, use groundcovers, and mulch generously.


 

Weed mat or no weed mat?


Using a weed mat can seem like a good idea, but in my opinion it’s better not to use one and this is why:

  • Weeds will come back: Over time, soil and dirt will accumulate on top of the mat, weed seeds will be brought in by the wind and birds, and germinate in the mulch or soil that accumulates on top of the mat. Aggressive ones will even find their way through the mat, making it even harder to pull them out.

  • Limited Soil Aeration: Weed mats restrict the natural movement of air, water, and nutrients in the soil, which can harm soil health.

  • Microbial Activity: They can hinder beneficial soil microorganisms, affecting soil fertility.

  • Plastic Degradation: Many weed mats are made of plastic, which can degrade and contribute to pollution.

  • Root Restriction: They can restrict plant root growth, leading to poor development.

  • Edge Growth: Weeds can grow along the edges or gaps, requiring ongoing maintenance.


I do make an exception: on a steep bank where you can’t put mulch because it will slide down.


If you are going to use a weed mat, use a spunbonded non-woven one (available at Mitre10, Bunnings, Placemakers) and preferably a geotextile (one made with natural fibres) so that it doesn’t contribute to plastic pollution. Ie: https://www.completelandscapes.co.nz/weedmat-products


 

Other tips for a low maintenance garden


  • Accept Some Maintenance: Especially if you want a garden that looks nice and tidy all the time. Patience is also key. If you absolutely want a tidy and weed free garden, you will have to spend a certain amount of time in your garden. Best to do 15 minutes of weeding per week than do a whole day every three months because in three months some weeds will have established and spread. Never let weeds set seeds in your beds. Even if you’re super busy and don’t have time to pull up all the weed roots and bulbs, at least clip off any flowers or seedheads that have developed on weed plants. You can break them off by hand or use garden snips.


  • Embrace Natural Beauty: Let your garden look a bit wild. Avoid plants that need regular clipping and trimming.

  • Mow Selectively: Only mow areas of your lawn that you actually use.




Creating a low-maintenance garden is all about smart planning and choosing the right methods. By following these tips, you can enjoy a beautiful garden that doesn’t demand all your free time. Spend more time relaxing and appreciating your outdoor space, knowing that your garden is thriving with minimal effort.



 

Low maintenance plant ideas


What is a low maintenance plant? For me it means a plant that mostly keeps its shape without need for regular trimming, a plant that doesn’t need watering (except for the first 2-3 months after planting like all plants, and then if there is an exceptional drought), is frost hardy, is happy in most soil types, and is not invasive. I consider a plant that needs a trim once or twice a year low-maintenance.


Shrubs

Choisya ternata

Dodonaea viscosa and Dodonaea 'Purpurea'

Hebe topiaria

Westringia ‘Grey Box’

Dwarf Leptosperum scoparium (starting with ‘Wiri’ ie ‘Wiri Susan’, ‘Wiri Kerry’…)

 

Medium plants

Agapanthus ‘Finn’ (dwarf variety of white Agapanthus) Asplenium bulbiferum Clivia miniata Dianella ‘Kentlyn’ Hemerocallis (an evergreen variety) Lavandula ‘Grosso’ and ‘Hidcote Blue’ Libertia grandiflora Any Lomandra (just be advised they always grow bigger than what’s on the label)

Phormium cookianum ‘Emerald Gem’

Trachelospermum jasminoides (as a climber)

 

Groundcovers: Carpet roses

Coprosma ‘Hawera’ and ‘Acerosa’

Geranium ‘Rozane’

Lobelia angulata

Osteospermum

Santolina chamaecyparissus

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