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5 Ways to Get Rid of Weeds Without Using Chemicals

Weeds are a nuisance, and keeping our gardens free of these pesky plants requires fighting dirty. But you don’t have to resort to chemical herbicides to get rid of intruders. There are several safer choices that work just as well. With a little persistence, you can send weeds packing without compromising your garden’s health!

What’s the Big Deal with Herbicides?

Known most often as weedkillers, herbicides are chemical mixtures that kill unwanted plants. There are several types that vary in potency, with some only targeting certain plants and others killing every plant they touch.

The main issue with spraying herbicides is the chemicals can end up all over your food and seep into the environment. Several studies have shown that herbicide residue in food can disrupt normal body functions and increase the likelihood of diseases, infertility, and other lifelong issues. Certain herbicides are dangerous for wildlife and can destroy habitats and water sources.

Scientists are just starting to understand the serious effects of herbicides, so the less we use these chemicals, the better. Try some of these harm-free weeding methods instead.

Keep your family safe by avoiding using chemicals near food. Keep your family safe by avoiding using chemicals near food.

Identify the Weeds Before Removing

The first step of effective weed control is knowing which weeds you’re dealing with. Are they annuals or perennials? What types of roots do they have? Identifying these will help you remove the entire weed at the right time and dispose of it safely. Always remember that some weeds keep viable seeds long after removing them from the ground, so be careful about what you add into your compost bin.

Deadhead Existing Weeds

If you’re not able to remove the weeds before they bloom, aim to at least chop off their heads before they seed and spread more. Deadheading can buy you weeks of extra time before the seeds start spreading. Some simple gardening pruners can help you with this. Be sure to dispose of the heads quickly and never leave pulled weeds lying around. At this flowering stage, weeds can continue to develop seeds and blow around in the wind.

Feed the Plants, Not the Weeds

Depriving weeds of essential nutrients will quickly kill them off. Try using a soaker hose instead of a sprinkler or standard hose to target your plants. Soaker hoses are dotted with tiny holes that let water seep out and provide hydration right at the plants’ roots. Less targeted irrigation options can give too much water to your weeds and make them bloom faster.

Lay a soaker hose in between plants for discrete and consistent watering right at their roots.
            Lay a soaker hose in between plants for discrete and consistent watering right at their roots.

Use a Hand Tool to Pull the Weeds

Digging up weeds with a hand tool is an effective spot-treatment for almost every type. Some weeds might grow back and need to be dug again, but consistent digging will definitely reduce their volume. Young weeds that are quickly pulled won’t be able to seed, and frequent digging of roots will weaken and eventually kill the plant. Most gardeners have heard the saying “pull when wet, hoe when dry” and it’s wise advice for battling weeds.

Picking the best hand tool for digging up weeds is crucial so you remove the entire plant and its roots. There are tons of different options, with some being multi-purpose and others very specific, like dandelion pullers. Which tool(s) you pick comes down to ergonomic preference, budget, and making sure it can reach down to the roots.

Most options fall within two main categories: short handled and long handled weeders. Short handled are best for working in tight areas while long handled let you cover a large garden and stand while weeding. There isn’t one tool that’s perfect for removing all weeds, so it’s likely you’ll need a combination of products.

Hand tools are very helpful at directly targeting weeds without interfering with your crops.
            Hand tools are very helpful at directly targeting weeds without interfering with your crops.

Make a Homemade Remedy

A quick solution for battling weeds is to try some household concoctions. Vinegar is great at combating weeds with long taproots (like dandelions) and it’s even more powerful when mixed with salt and dish soap. The oil in soap naturally breaks down the surface of weed leaves, and its stickiness will help the vinegar stay on the weeds longer to break them down quicker. Just put the mixture into a spray bottle and target the weeds directly.

Another option is corn gluten meal, a powdery byproduct of corn milling that can prevent weed seeds from germinating. It’s non-toxic to animals and there are even certified-organic corn gluten meals for extra protection. Spread some on your garden to keep weeds at bay.

Try Smothering or Solarizing the Weeds

Covering your garden’s soil with an additional layer of organic materials can smother existing weeds and prevent new seeds from germinating. Try adding mulch, compost, newspaper, cardboard, grass clippings, leaves, or straw. Don’t use hay to smother because it can include a lot of unwanted seeds. You can also put a layer of landscaping fabric, cloth, old shower curtains, or other thick material under the organic materials to prevent weeds from poking through.

A simple barrier under your organic materials can reduce weeds significantly.
            A simple barrier under your organic materials can reduce weeds significantly.

A more aggressive option is solarizing, which involves covering a weeded spot with a heavy plastic sheet. The idea is to literally bake the weeds, so it works best in full sun where high heat will collect underneath. Leave it in place for 4-6 weeks, and when the weeds are brown and dehydrated, you’ll know it’s done!

Popular Weeding Accessories

Weeding can be long work and really take its toll on your body. Make this task more comfortable with a garden kneeler or scooter so you’re not constantly bending over or kneeling on hard surfaces. Don’t forget to also protect your hands by grabbing a pair of gardening gloves before tackling weeds.

After you’ve pulled or deadheaded weeds, you’ll need a place to put the leftover garden debris. Both chipper shredders and composters are handy options to repurpose these scraps into valuable gardening materials. Just be sure to research first if the weeds in your garden can be reused. You don’t want to end up with a composting tumbler full of new weeds!

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Last updated: 7/22/2022

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