Best Natural Ways To Control And Kill Weeds

Best Natural Ways To Control And Kill Weeds

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. 

By Hand 

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. 

  • Remove weeds early in the spring season: Most weeds will sprout in early to mid-spring, quickly growing flowering buds and seeds. If you allow weeds to develop before uprooting them, you will only spread and multiply your problem. Taking care of weeds early in the season will reduce your headache later on and significantly reduce your lawn or garden weed population. 
  • Remove weeds early in the day: With how crowded most of our schedules are, it can be challenging to set aside a dedicated time to garden. Because of this, many homeowners have wisely begun approaching gardening like they do workout routines, tackling it bright and early in the morning. Early weeding allows you to keep your garden looking great while not interfering with your busy schedule and makes the chore much more manageable. In the morning, the temperature outside will be cooler, and the ground will be softer, making pulling weeds a breeze. 
  • Weed after it rains: Speaking of moist soil, one of the most opportune times to weed is right after a good rainfall. A spring shower will make the ground nice and wet, and even inset perennial weeds can come up with ease. 
  • Weed with the right equipment: We’ve already mentioned using tools like a hand trowel or garden claw, but other pieces of equipment can make weeding even easier. A dedicated pair of gardening gloves is a must. Gloves’ thick material will protect your hands from thistles, and most come with gripping material that will help you keep ahold of slick weeds like crabgrass. A Cape Cod weeder is an excellent tool for weeds in tight spaces, like the gaps in stepping stones. For larger, more ingrained weeds, a short-handled spade can work well. And lastly, a good gardening knife is an excellent multi-purpose tool that can make quick work of annual weeds while also serving a litany of other purposes. 
  • Deadhead weeds: Sometimes, you can’t get to the root system of weeds, like in a crack or between border bricks. When you can’t get to the roots, your next best bet is to lop off the weed’s head. Deadheading weeds stops them from spreading seeds and can even kill weaker weeds and annuals. 

With Physical Barriers

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.

Mulch

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. 

  • Bark: Bark is one of the most commonly used mulches for a good reason. Bark provides an effective physical barrier preventing weeds from taking hold. It also degrades more slowly compared to other forms of mulch, so you won’t need to replace it as often. It lasts, on average, around five to six years. Bark also enriches the soil with humus and helps with soil compaction, moisture retention, and temperature regulation. 
  • Woodchips: Woodchip mulch is very similar to bark mulch but made from more numerous, smaller, denser wood pieces. These smaller pieces make woodchip mulch better for moisture retention, soil temperature control, and pest control. Woodchips have some downsides: they produce various acids and compounds over time that can be harmful to plants. If you want to use woodchips, you should always replace them every two years. 
  • Pine Straw: Pine straw is growing popular with homeowners and exterior designers due to its consistent coverage and aesthetic appeal. Beyond its pleasing look, pine straw is excellent for water flow, as the shape and structure of the needles allow for water to pass through efficiently. Pine straw also provides above-average weed control due to how dense its coverage is. One thing to keep in mind is pine straw’s acidity – since pine needles are highly acidic, they will decompose and acidify the soil when used as a mulch. 
  • Straw: While not as aesthetically pleasing as bark or pine straw, straw has some incredible qualities as a mulch. Straw is easily the best for moisture retention, and it will add nitrogen to your soil as it breaks down. Straw is also one of the best mulches for vegetable gardens because it’s usually free of harmful chemicals that can be present inside other store-bought mulch. One downside to straw mulch is its lightness, as it can be blown away, creating a mess. 
  • Cocoa hull mulch: Cocoa hull mulch is particularly high in nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphate. Cocoa hull mulch will add a pleasant smell to your flower beds or garden, especially after its placement. However, cocoa hull mulch has several downsides you should consider before choosing it. First, you should ensure that it has plenty of time to dry after watering, as it is known to mold easily. Secondly, it’s not pet safe, as cocoa contains levels of caffeine and theobromine that are dangerous to dogs and cats. And finally, it retains moisture exceptionally well and can attract pests if not allowed time to dry properly. 

Landscaping Fabric 

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: 

  • Garden fabric has its uses: Garden fabric does prevent pests and weeds, at least for a time. The woven synthetic materials effectively prevent most weeds and insects from burrowing into the deeper soil layers in flower beds and gardens. 
  • This protection does not last forever, and quality matters: One of the significant points of contention is when homeowners or gardeners use landscaping cloth, only for it to fail a few years down the road. Over time landscaping cloth will deteriorate, leaving holes for weeds and insects to creep through. The longevity of the fabric varies greatly depending on its quality. Higher-end gardening cloth can last for up to a decade, with lower-end retail variations only lasting a few years. 
  • It works well to help maintain soil stability and reduce erosion: Gardening cloth is excellent at keeping soil in place and reducing erosion from runoff and wind. This stabilizing effect makes it a particularly effective tool for maintaining the structure of beds located on slopes and hillsides. 
  • It allows for water and air to pass through for a time: Another hot point of conversation is the idea that garden cloth does not allow water or air to pass through effectively. This idea is partially false since modern retail garden fabric allows water and air to pass through. However, cheaper gardening fabric contains more poorly woven fibers and can become prone to clogging. This clogging can, over time, reduce the fabric’s ability to breathe and circulate water.
  • It weakens the soil beneath it: This is another misconception, as it technically does not actively make soil worse. Since it acts as a barrier separating the soil surface from everything else, it prevents valuable organic matter from entering. By utilizing a garden cloth, you keep organic materials from mulch and natural debris from incorporating into the ground soil. Furthermore, it prevents earthworms and other helpful insects from tunneling and aerating the soil. You can mitigate this by utilizing nutrient supplement sprays and tablets or incorporating a high-quality fertilizer.
  • It compacts the soil: Garden cloth can lead to compact soil over time if misused. Since landscaping fabric needs to be tightly staked down and covered with mulch or dirt, it can function as a massive press. Over time this will compact your soil, making it harder for plants to grow their root structures. When using landscaping fabric, ensure that it is not staked too tightly, and don’t overload the tops of your beds with too much mulch or dirt. 

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. 

Vinegar 

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.

Fire

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. 

Salt

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. 

Final Thoughts

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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