I’m currently pulling out the weed matting I inherited in my back garden. A while back, I’d noticed that my beautiful palms weren’t thriving and looked like they were on their way out. When I finally saw the soil underneath I understood why. The roots were living in a solid, compacted soil and what had compounded the problem further was the decorative river pebbles that had further compacted and hardened the soil. It had created a dead zone where my plants struggled to survive. Add to this the clay soil of Auckland’s North Shore and I was left with bone-dry cracked earth, or when wet, waterlogged, petrified, smelly earth.
One of the biggest problems I see in gardens are plants dying or at the very least failing to grow because they are surrounded by weed matting. I now routinely recommend to my clients to remove weed mat in their gardens and once I explain why, most are happy to do so.
If you lay weed mat on your garden, you stop the natural cycle that keeps your soil healthy. When plants are growing in soil that is constantly enriched by organic matter in the form of fallen leaves, wood chip mulch, compost, manure etc., worms are attracted into the soil where they aerate the earth (essential if you have clay soil) and leave behind their castings. Worm casts hold moisture, which means less watering and the soil stays lighter and fluffier. The soil’s microorganisms also thrive, breaking down the mineral matter into the nutrients that plants need to grow.
So if not weed mat, what else? Firstly, keep on top of weeds by pulling them when they are tiny. Secondly, lay a good 3 inches of wood chip or forest floor mulch over your garden. It is every bit as effective as weed mat, keeps soil from drying out, (so reduces the need for watering, especially in summer) and allows your soil to enjoy the benefits of the mulch slowing breaking down, adding organic matter to your soil and releasing the nutrients your plants need to thrive.
So, in summary, pull up your weed mat, add in some organic matter, layer over some mulch and watch the garden grow.