Trying to control weeds in the garden is one of the least desireable parts of gardening for some people, including me. There are however a lot of options beyond pulling weeds every couple of days. I have used all of these methods in both our raised bed gardens as well as our flower beds and in ground garden. I do not use any chemical weed control methods for any of our gardens, I would rather have to pull any weeds that might grow than deal with the uncertainty of introducing harmful chemicals to our yard.
Ways To Control Weeds:
1) Mulch - mulch is the foundation for all of my weed control. I use it as a stand alone weed control tool as well as in conjunction with all of the items highlighted below. In addition to helping control weeds, mulch is a great way to add organic material to the soil, and retain moisture near the surface of the soil where plants can easily reach it.
Although I do occasionally buy bags of mulch that can be found at Lowes or Wal-mart, I more frequently buy it by the "scoop" at our local garden center. If you are on a budget, or just a tight wad like myself, I have also gotten it for free. Our city/county collects downed limbs and trees and grinds them for easy disposal. This mulch is available for free pick up at certain times. Although not as decorative as the purchased mulch it is highly functional. I would suspect that tree service or stump grinding companies also have this type of mulch available.
If I had a limited supply of mulch I would start by mulching between the garden rows. Not only does this reduce the need to weed this area, it makes it much less muddy when you walk between the garden rows when the soil is wet. If you have an unlimited amount of mulch there is no reason not to mulch the entire garden right up to the base of the plants. Of course if you are planting seeds you can't mulch over the area where the seeds are planted until they are up and growing well.
With an unlimited supply of mulch, 3" or 4" is not to deep. As it breaks down and as the rain comppacts it down it is fine to reapply mulch as needed. If you are purching mulch color is something to consider. Dark colored mulch absorbs more heat and heats the soil close to the surface. This is fine early in spring pretty much everywhere, however, for those living in the deep south this isn't a great idea during the warmer summer months. In these regions a light colored mulch would probably be a better option.
2) Weed Barrier Cloth - weed barrier cloth is the only weed control tool besides mulch that I use that really costs any money. The barrier cloth I am using cost about $20 for a roll that is 3' x 75'. The good news is that some of these cloths can last as long as 20 years, so, over time the cost is really very little.
I have used weed barrier cloth for years in different areas of our flower beds. This year I tried something I should have done years ago, I am useing it in our garden. I didn't use the barrier cloth on the entire garden, as an experiment I tried it in three different areas. In addition to the barrier cloth I placed mulch on the cloth, especially between the rows. Areas I used the cloth included the tomatoes, summer squash, and half of the pepper row. In all of these areas of the garden the the time needed to remove weeds was reduced to basiclly no time at all. In addition, the plants in all of these areas are doing very well.
3) Cardboard - cardboard is a free, practicle, option that can be used just like a barrier cloth. I prefer the standard brown currogated cardboard you can get anywhere. Lay it out in your garden where you don't want anything to grow, between the rows for example, then put mulch on top of the cardboard. Like a barrier cloth the cardboard will impede weed growth and help keep moisture near the surface. Of course cardboard will degrade over a few months time, but that is fine it adds organic matter to your garden soil.
4) Newspaper -
5) Weed barrier cloth -
6) Weed barrier cloth -