Keeping weeds under control doesn't have to mean dousing your garden with chemical weed killers. Natural methods range from mixing up a batch of homemade chemical-free weed killer with handy kitchen ingredients to torching the weeds to death or pulling them out by the roots.
DIY Natural Weed Killer
You can make an effective weed killer with vinegar and regular dish soap. The acids in the vinegar, along with the soap, kill weeds. Just aim the solution only at the weeds you don't want and keep it off the plants you do want.
Things You'll Need
- Dish soap
- 1 gallon sprayer or larger
Add 1/4 cups of dish soap to 1 gallon of vinegar in a sprayer. Shake until the soap and vinegar are mixed.
Spray weeds with the vinegar and soap solution on a windless day. Any wind will carry the solution to other plants, potentially damaging or killing ornamentals and vegetables. Pick a dry day and start early in the morning. Rain will wash the solution off the plants.
Spray each weed until it is saturated and dripping slightly.
Re-spray weeds that reappear as needed. Annuals should die after the first pass, but new weeds will continue to sprout from seeds already in the soil.
Avoid spraying weeds in a lawn as the vinegar could kill grass roots, leaving dead patches. Keep pets and children away from the area until the solution dries completely.
Manual Weeding Practices
Manual weeding, either by hand or using a hoe, is an effective way to kill weeds and slow their return in established garden areas.
Pull weeds by hand when the soil is moist, ideally after a heavy rain. When the soil is damp, weed roots give up easily, making it possible to get the whole thing. Gently loosen the soil around the roots with a weeder or fork. Weeds with long tap roots, such as dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9, require digging to get the whole root. Hand weeding works well for areas with established perennials, shrubs and ground covers. You can lift the weeds you want to get rid of without risking damage to the garden.
Hoeing The Ground
Use a hoe to dislodge new weeds. Hoeing works best for new weeds 2 inches tall or smaller. Scrape the hoe gently over the surface of the soil. This method works best when the soil is dry. Repeat every 10 days to get new weeds that pop up. Hoeing works best in bare soil between established plants. If you're growing a ground cover or plants are spaced close together skip the hoe and go for hand weeding instead.
Torch Them and Scorch Them
Heat kills weeds fast by destroying the top part of the plant. You can kill most annuals with a single pass of the torch. For perennials, which can grow back from the roots, it generally takes two to three sessions, spaced two to three weeks apart, to kill them completely.
Torch weeds in the spring and early summer when the plants are still small and easy to kill.
Water the area until the soil is damp at least 1 inch deep. This helps the heat travel into the plants, making torching more effective.
Light the torch. Make sure the torch has an easy on-off switch near the handle. Never light a torch with a match as it can burn you.
Hold the flame 1 to 2 inches from the weed for 1/10 of a second and move on. Weeds turn dull-colored as soon as the heat kills them. It may take a few hours for the plant to die.
Flam torches are dangerous. Only work on a windless day. Winds as high as three miles per hour can be dangerous, causing burning material to jump or spread. Do not torch weeds near burn piles, dry leaves or other flammable material. When working and once finished, keep the tip away from people, pets and children until it cools completely. Do not store or place in contact with flammable materials until the tip is cold. Do not use torches during burn bans or drought.
Kill Seeds Before They Sprout
Cornmeal gluten is a natural weed suppressant that helps prevent seeds from germinating.
The cornmeal gluten method only works before weeds emerge. Once they sprout, the cornmeal supports growth, making weeding doubly hard.
How to Apply
Sprinkle cornmeal gluten over the soil three to five weeks before new seeds germinate early in the spring. A 5-pound-bag covers a 25-by-10-foot area, or a 250-square-foot space.
Where to Use
Use cornmeal gluten in established beds between perennials, shrubs and trees. You can also use it on lawns.