No one likes weeds. Not only do they make our yards look bad, they also compete with our desirable plants for water, nutrients and sunshine. It’s only natural we want to get rid of them. If you are like many gardeners who are moving away from traditional herbicides, it’s nice to know you have alternatives.
Here are some of the natural weed killers and garden techniques that will help you control weeds without using traditional herbicides. Some work better than others. Remember, cultural weed control methods, such as mulching and hand-pulling, are probably the most non-toxic weed killers you can use but they require a tremendous amount of work to maintain.
Homemade All Natural Weed Killers. If you are one of the gardeners who reaches to their kitchen cabinet to make homemade weed killers, you probably have had varying degrees of success. Common white vinegar (acetic acid) is sometimes used to kill weeds. It will burn the tops down but, unfortunately, it doesn’t kill the roots, so the weeds will often grow back. Young weed seedlings may be killed completely by vinegar sprays, but most weeds will need repeat applications.
Table salt is also used as a homemade natural weed killer. When sprinkled along edgings, cracks in pavement or along foundations, it will kill or damage just about anything growing there or nearby. Unfortunately, salt doesn’t breakdown and can leach from soils ending up where you don’t want it, such as in storm drains, waterways or desirable plantings. Using salt as a weed killer is probably not an environmentally-friendly technique.
Various combinations of vinegar, salt and dish soap are sometimes used as homemade natural weed killers. The dish soap helps other ingredients spread evenly over weed leaves, but the results are similar to those listed above.
There’s one other all-natural, non-toxic herbicide – boiling water. It can be useful for killing weeds in patio cracks and crevices or in paved areas. Yes, boiling water will kill some weeds, roots and all, but is not as effective on tougher, perennial species. And the time and potential harm to yourself just to kill weeds!
Using homemade weed killers has one last downside – they are not registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA registered pesticides, including herbicides, have been fully tested for effectiveness and include specific directions to ensure the safety of the user and the environment. Without that information, you can never be sure of how to mix and use a homemade herbicide, or how well it will work. Even though homemade herbicides may be called natural, it doesn’t mean they can’t harm you or your pet. Vinegar to kill weeds, for example, is an acid, and if not used carefully, can harm people or pets. Many horticulturists do not recommend homemade weed killers. At Natria®, we agree and do not recommend homemade weed killers.
Hand Pulling And Hoeing. What could be a more natural substitute for synthetic herbicides than a little elbow grease? Hand pulling and hoeing weeds is good exercise. Check nurseries and garden centers for the best weeding tools. The right tools can make the work easier. Tackle weeds when they are young and easy to pull, and make sure you get them out, roots and all.
Mulch, Mulch, Mulch. A 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch, such as bark chips or compost, smoothers weeds seeds, reducing or eliminating the need for herbicides. Plus, any weeds that do appear are easier to pull. And mulching has other benefits. Organic mulches cool the soil and conserve water, and as they breakdown, they add organic matter to the soil.
Use Landscape Fabrics. If you can prevent weeds from ever reaching the light of day, you can also put away the herbicides. Landscape fabrics, which are widely sold in nurseries and garden centers, are woven materials that allow water and air to pass through but smother weeds. You roll them out before planting, secure the edges, then use a knife to cut x-shaped holes to plant through. Install drip irrigation on top of the fabric, then cover it with a few inches of organic mulch to make it look good. Even weeds need sunshine to grow. By planting through landscape fabric, they never get it.
Install Drip Irrigation. Drip irrigation delivers water directly to plant roots. Unplanted soil, which would be wet from overhead sprinklers, remains dry. Weed seeds won’t sprout in dry soil, hence, no need for synthetic herbicides. And with drip irrigation you’ll save a lot of water.
Space Plants Properly. As a well-planned landscape, vegetable or flower garden matures, properly-spaced plants grow tip to tip, shading any open soil in between. Weeds are less likely to grow in shaded soil. Add a thick organic mulch and leave the herbicides on the shelf.
Torch Weeds. Propane-fueled weed flamers use the blow torch technique to kill weeds. This practice is popular with many organic gardeners who do not want to use synthetic herbicides. But, as with many other natural weed killers, the flames may only kill the top of the plant, allowing it to resprout. You may have to torch the weed more than once to kill it completely. Weed flamers are available in many nurseries, garden centers and on-line. Follow directions carefully to avoid starting a fire.
Use Sun-Power To Kill Weeds Naturally. Soil solarization is a time-honored natural weed control technique that can eliminate the need for herbicides. Simply roll out thick, clear plastic over the planting area, seal the edges with soil and allow the summer sun to bake it for at least 6 weeks. The heat will kill any existing weeds, weed seeds and even disease organisms. Solarization works best when the soil has been tilled, wet and cleared of weeds. However, some gardeners will mow or cut-down weeds before laying down the plastic and let the heat kill everything.
Seal Cracks In Paving And Patios. Weeds can’t grow if they don’t have room to root or germinate seeds. So sealing joints in patios and paving is a great way to prevent weeds naturally. Repair cracks with cement or mortar, if needed. Or, sweep polymeric sand, which includes a binding agent, into joints between bricks or other paving