Updated Nov 2, 2022
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Weeds are the bane of every home gardener and lawn care enthusiast. Persistent, annoying, and an eyesore, it can feel like an uphill battle to keep weeds gone. Many homeowners utilize commercial tools like herbicides to purge these pesky plants. These herbicides can be effective, but they also come with numerous risks and downsides. Many store-bought herbicides can infect groundwater and damage beneficial plants and soil. Even worse, many herbicides remain in the dirt and can be carried through groundwater to locations like rivers and waterways, harming local wildlife. As homeowners, we should try to reduce our usage of harmful chemicals for our helpful garden plants and lawn, along with the ecosystems we live within. To help provide safe and effective alternatives, we’ve compiled a list of the best natural ways to take care of weeds.
Old-fashioned mechanical removal, or pulling, is a tried and true method of keeping weeds under control. While tedious, time-consuming, and considered an unpleasant chore, removing weeds by hand is highly effective and safe for the environment. Typical lawn and garden weeds like bull thistle, crabgrass, pepperweed, redroot pigweed, and stinging nettle can be pulled and discarded easily. These weeds will begin to pop up in early to late spring, so you need to pull them quickly and early in the season before they spread. Some weeds are perennials and will grow deep, ingrained root systems that require more elbow grease to dislodge. Weeds like buckhorn plantain, dandelions, field bindweed, quackgrass, and Canadian thistle all fall within this category. For these recurring weeds, you’ll need to remove their taproot and remaining root structures with a garden claw or hand trowel.
Removing weeds by hand can be difficult and tiresome, but some of these practices and habits can make it easier.
The best way to get rid of weeds is to stop them from taking root and germinating in the first place, and the easiest way to do this is with a physical barrier. Physical barriers prevent weed seeds from getting into the soil, altogether preventing their growth. While no barrier is perfect, you should keep in mind that a layer of mulch will still significantly reduce the number of unwanted plants you encounter over a season. These barriers only work on gardens and flower beds and won’t work on lawns.
Organic mulch is one of the easiest and greenest barriers for preventing weeds. Organic mulch refers to any mulch composed of all organic material, like bark, woodchips, pine straw, straw, or even cocoa hulls. While most homeowners are familiar with bark and woodchips, each kind of mulch can provide a unique benefit and look to your flower or vegetable garden. On top of preventing new weeds, all forms of organic mulch help provide nutrients and organic compounds to your garden bed, further enriching it.
Landscaping fabric is a standard inclusion in flower beds and gardens. Widely sold in lawn and garden centers across the U.S., it’s known to reduce pest infestation and weed growth. Those tuned into the landscaping and gardening scene will know that gardening fabric is a somewhat contentious topic. Gardeners and landscapers can’t seem to agree on its effectiveness. Upon further investigation, experts seem equally divided, with many articles affirming its usefulness and others denouncing it as a trap for uninformed homeowners. After considerable research on our part, here is what we came up with:
Overall, we find landscaping fabric an effective tool when used correctly. It functions very well for beds located on a hillside or incline, as it works as structural support and erosion preventative. Furthermore, using at-home beds alongside fertilizer and nutrient supplements can significantly reduce weeds and pests with minimal downsides. It can also help smother weeds, especially pre-emergent weeds. However, if not correctly used and maintained, especially when using a low-end fabric, it can weaken soil.
What can’t vinegar do? It’s an effective cleaning solution, cooking ingredient, pesticide, and even herbicide. Due to its high concentration of acetic acid, vinegar can fry weeds where they grow. Vinegar is so effective it can even kill perennial weeds when applied multiple times. To create a simple and effective herbicide, mix 1 gallon of white vinegar, a tablespoon of dish soap, and a cup of salt. If you don’t need this much homemade weed killer, you can instead mix 1 cup of salt with 4 cups of white wine vinegar and half a tablespoon of dish soap. The dish soap allows the vinegar and salt concoction to stick to the plant, allowing it to remove weeds more effectively. Mix this solution into a spray bottle, and you have an easy DIY weed killer.
Household vinegar is an effective tool for weed management, but it isn’t without risks. Vinegar comes in multiple variations, from white wine vinegar to apple cider and even industrial-strength or garden vinegar. Some online guides recommend going to industrial-strength or garden-quality vinegar for tough weeds, and we strongly advise against this. Garden vinegar has an acetic acid level of 20%; this is enough to kill pretty much every weed that has ever germinated, but it also can cause chemical burns on the skin. Vinegar should not be your end-all-be-all weed solution. Vinegar is an appealing DIY herbicide because it’s organic, easy to make, and only contains household ingredients. However, it can cause damage to surrounding plants and your garden’s soil if applied too often. We recommend using vinegar sparingly and only on weeds that resist manual removal.
Have you ever had a weed that caused you such a headache that it made you want to incinerate it? Well, if so, good news, you can. There is a little-known product called “weed torch,” and it does exactly what its name suggests. By applying a small, controlled flame to a weed, you can quickly wither it to death. When using these torches, you have to take care as they can cause fires or damage surrounding plants. We find these torches most effective (and safe) when used on stone structures with weeds growing inside them. Locations like driveway cracks, walkways, and stone or brick patios can get weeds in tough-to-pull places. In these situations, weed torches make for quick and satisfying work.
Another “scorched earth” style natural weed killer is salt. Ordinary table salt is an effective herbicide, as it absorbs into the soil and dehydrates the plant’s cells. You can use salt as an herbicide by utilizing the mixture mentioned earlier in the vinegar section. Alternatively, you can apply a small sprinkling of salt directly to the weed’s base after a rain shower. The salt will quickly result in the weed withering and dying in either case. Using salt as an herbicide should only be considered a last resort, as, like vinegar, it’s indiscriminate and can harm nearby plants. Even worse, if used in excess, it can render entire sections of soil infertile.
There are many practical and safe at-home solutions to pesky weeds. You have many all-natural options, from physical barriers like mulch or groundcover to good old-fashioned elbow grease. You can turn to vinegar or a weed torch for more persistent plants, and when all else fails, a spritzing of salt will kill any weed outright. Combine these tips with good gardening and lawn care habits, and you should be well on your way to a weed-free yard.
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