Use the ‘Chop and Drop’ Method to Prevent Lawn Weeds and Garden Vegetable Leaves

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Use the 'Chop and Drop' Method to Prevent Lawn Weeds and Garden Vegetable Leaves

If you have a lot of cabbage or cauliflower leaves after harvesting, don’t just throw them away. Instead, use the chop-and-drop technique. This method involves cutting or pulling off the leaves and placing them on the ground. They’ll form a layer that blocks sunlight and prevents weed seeds from sprouting. This is an effective and eco-friendly way to control weeds in your garden.

The chop-and-drop technique is commonly used in permaculture, a type of farming that aims to create sustainable and productive ecosystems. Although the origin of the term is disputed, the technique itself has been practiced for centuries in Central America and in natural forest ecosystems. Originally, chop-and-drop involved cutting back cover crops to create mulch for the soil. However, it can also be used for weeding, pruning, and harvesting in home gardens.

This technique has many benefits. It helps suppress weed growth and pests, retains moisture in the soil, and encourages the growth of nutrient-distributing microorganisms. By using chop-and-drop, you can improve the health and productivity of your garden without resorting to harmful chemicals.

Use the right tools

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Before attempting to chop and drop that stand of Brussels sprouts or patch of lettuces, you’ll need to ensure you have the right tools. At a minimum, your own two hands will do the job well enough — after you’ve donned a pair of good-quality gardening gloves. If you want to make light work of the task, it’s better to work with a knife or pruning secateurs. Many experts in the technique suggest using a harvesting or rice knife. Garret Wade sells a French harvesting knife with a stainless steel blade and beechwood handle for $27.80. On a tight budget? Get a 6-inch stainless steel Barnel harvest knife for $3.99 on Amazon. Use a machete for chopping and dropping large crops.

There are a few ways to chop (and subsequently drop) the unwanted plants, leaves, and weeds in your garden beds. If you’re harvesting a thick-stemmed cauliflower plant, cut or snap the plant off at the base of the stem. Leave the roots in the ground — they’ll break down and transfer their nutrients back into the soil. Then, holding a bundle of leaves in one hand and your cutting implements in the other, chop off the leaves and place — or “drop” — them on the ground around your other plants and seedlings. You can also tear the leaves off with your free hand. Repeat until all the leaves are removed. Add the remaining thick stems and branches to your own DIY compost.

Chop and drop best practices

person chopping and dropping lettuce

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If you have a roomy garden, you can leave the stem uncut, removing only the existing leaves. It will grow more leaves, cultivating an endless mulch source. If you’re chopping and dropping thin-stemmed vegetables or weeds, you can cut the stem to soil level, leaving the plant where it falls. Avoid using this technique on plants with woody stems. They take a long time and lots of nitrogen to break down and steal nutrients from your still-growing plants. If a plant is diseased or infestated, pull it up and dispose of it. If you chop and drop — or even compost — infected plants, you risk spreading disease through your garden beds.

The chop-and-drop technique works well with almost any species of plant. That being said, some plants are better at extracting nutrients from the soil — to be released later when they break down — than others, deep-rooted dandelions or nitrogen-fixing garden peas being just a few examples. There are also a few downsides to consider before employing this technique. For one, some people find having a layer of random decomposing leaves and plants all over their garden unsightly — particularly when compared with the uniformity of something like store-bought pine straw or bark mulch. Dark and damp-loving critters like snails and slugs will thrive in this type of mulch. It’s not a replacement for composting, so you probably can’t ditch your pile, and it may, like other forms of mulch, be considered a fire risk in some areas.

Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.