"There's no such thing," my ace-gardener mom said when I told her about Weedless Gardening
. I think author Lee Reich would agree that the title is a bit misleading (there will always be some weeds). Also a bit misleading are the blurbs from the publisher, which stop short of calling the book "ground-breaking" only because Reich's system is based on the total eschewal of tilling or otherwise turning over the soil. The building blocks of his philosophy have been in use for decades in one way or another: from low-till commercial farming techniques (which sometimes also involve firebombing the soil with herbicide) to simple green composting with knocked-down cover crops. But in Weedless Gardening
Reich takes it all the way, no tilling, no herbicide unless absolutely necessary--all while providing everything the home gardener needs to know about cover crops, composting, and drip irrigation. In every section Reich lists mail-order and Internet sources for supplies.
The benefits of cover crops, composting, and planting in beds rather than rows are widely known, and they're dealt with in depth here. More controversial is Reich's injunction to rigorously preserve the natural layering of the soil--even when pulling up weeds, dead annuals, or old corn stalks. He makes a good case: tilling under weedy areas kills existing weeds in the short term, but turning over the dirt exposes more weed seeds to sunlight and air, and more of them will germinate; better to kill them first by mowing and self-composting or smothering them with mulch. In addition, Reich explains, water in broken-up, uniform soil tends to flow straight down; water in undisturbed soil travels more slowly, in different directions--down and sideways--thus more efficiently reaching roots. Installing a drip irrigation system further decreases water use (the book includes detailed instructions and formulas for calculating water-flow and timing) and, like many of Reich's recommendations, apparently works best when practiced in concert with his no-till, "top-down" method.
What isn't clear is how effective his system can be in an area that has been worked over by indifferent landscapers or that has already been tilled over and over for years. How long will it take for that plot's soil to resettle into something resembling its pretilled state? If my mom starts "weedless gardening" now, will she be wading through a forest of weeds or, worse, buying tasteless corn at the supermarket come August? --Liana Fredley
From Publishers Weekly
Weeds are every gardener's nemesis, so any book promising to eliminate them is certain to excite interest. Fortunately, Reich's approach is a credible one. A former agricultural researcher for Cornell University and the USDA, Reich (Uncommon Fruits Worthy of Attention: A Gardener's Guide) challenges conventional gardening or gardening from the bottom up, in which the soil is turned over every spring or fall. This method exposes to light and air all the weed seeds lying dormant in the soil and encourages weed growth. Reich maintains that instead, since soil health determines plant health, gardeners should essentially create new soil by gardening as nature does from the top down. This means placing layers of newspaper over the soil to smother weed growth, covering the area year after year with mulch (which can include compost, leaves, bark chips or peat moss), then planting in that rich medium. He outlines his method in detail, offering modifications for different soil types and adding irrigation, planting, harvesting and tidying tips. Numerous charts and illustrations accompany Reich's chatty, highly literate text. He also discusses cover crops, vegetables, various types of flower garden designs, groundcovers, trees (including fruit trees), shrubs and vines, all of which can flourish under the weedless gardening technique. Reich's is a revolutionary approach to gardening, engagingly and lucidly explained. (Mar.)
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