lath for weed and moisture control

Photo 1.
Photo 2.

June 1, 2020

By Jonathan Mitschele
Photos by the author

The older plaster walls in my 1850s farmhouse were made by spreading wet plaster on a framework of thin wood strips, or laths. I don’t know what folks shopping at Home Depot or the like buy lath for today, but I have hit on a way of putting it to good use in the garden: Placing lath strips on each side of a planted row of seeds, an inch or so apart, helps minimize whatever close weeding needs to be done when seedlings emerge. The paired laths, held in place with a couple of bricks, also create a beneficial microclimate, which is even more essential for my gardens given the many days of strong spring winds from all directions. The laths keep soil moisture levels higher, so I lose fewer seedlings due to drying out.

This is my process for sowing seeds and using laths:
•    I use my planting frame to position row markers in place. (Photo 1)
•    I position pairs of laths against my row markers. (Photo 2)
•    I level the soil in the space between the laths, adding soil where needed to fill in low spots.
•    I tamp the planting area lightly and then
•    scatter seeds.
•    I cover the seeds with soil, scraping off the excess; and
•    I tamp again to compact the soil around the seeds.

I water the seed beds daily until seedlings appear, then as needed, and remove the laths when seedlings are off to a good start.

Wood lath is not cheap; when I wrote this in April 2020, the price at Home Depot was $13.98 plus tax for a 50-pack of 1/3-inch by 1 1/2-inch by 4-foot wood laths, but with a little care laths will last several years. Laths will work regardless of your row length, but if you plant in 4-foot-wide rows, as I do, these laths are the perfect length. Take them up and store them in a dry place after seedlings are well up so that the laths don’t warp or start to rot.

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