Weed Control Techniques

Weeds are a pain in the grass. Get rid of them, no chemicals required

Did you know that if you stop weeds in their first few weeks of life, you’ll also stop them from removing vital nutrients from your soil? Imagine the time, and the aches and pains you’ll save over the course of the gardening season if you don’t have to stop, crouch down, and weed! 

It’s tempting to take a container of chemical weed killer and just be done with them, but don’t do it. Chemical weed killers can be very harmful to you, your family, your pets, and the environment. Critical pollinators like bees and butterflies can suffer from your use of chemicals, so it’s beneficial and just as effective to use a non-toxic method to rid yourself of those pesky weeds. And there’s a bonus—the chemical-free options are cheaper than the chemical weed killers you buy at the garden center.

Those weeds need to go on a permanent summer vacation. Here are some tips to help you send them on their way.

Mulch over them
Shredded leaves, brown cardboard, straw, or wood chips covering the soil around your plants block weeds from sunlight, so they don’t germinate. This also inhibits the growth underneath, and best of all, it helps retain the moisture, so you don’t have to water them as often. Mulch also provides nutrients to the soil as it decomposes over time. Cover the soil between your plants with a layer of mulch, keeping it a few inches away from the base of the plants to discourage insect invasion or rot. 

Keep the light out
Cover the soil with dampened newspaper or brown cardboard. Cover that with about two inches of straw or compost. This makes double-sure the weeds don’t get a speck of light, so they can’t grow. A few persistent ones will still survive, but most won’t. You’ll also save time watering, and your worms and soil will appreciate the nutrients in the decomposing compost. 

Minimal tillage or soil interference when planting
Don’t disturb the soil by inverting it later. If you turn it over through digging or using large gardening implements, you could also bring a lot of dormant weeds to the surface, where there’s light and water. Try your best not to flip the soil. 

Try one of these homemade herbicides instead of dangerous chemicals

  • Boiling water: Yes, just boiling water. It might take more than one application, but they’ll eventually die off. 
  • Fire: Use a small, hand-held torch, or buy a flame weeder. Be extremely careful using this and check with your local fire department for additional guidance. Flame weeders are often used for getting at weeds that grow along fences where mowing or manual weeding isn’t possible, or in the rows between planting beds. Just a brief exposure to high heat is enough to kill most weeds. 
  • Salt: Dissolve one cup of salt in eight cups of hot water. Add some dish soap. Pour in a spray bottle. Spray the leaves of unwanted weeds but protect the plants you want to keep from any overspray. Don’t soak the soil. 
  • Vinegar: Spray full-strength white vinegar mixed with a bit of liquid soap onto the leaves of plants you don’t want. For extra kick, add a cup of salt to this mixture as well. Pickle those weeds!
  • Borax: You can find this in the laundry detergent aisle of the grocery story and if you dissolve a half cup of Borax in one gallon of water, then spray it on the leaves of the plants you are trying to eliminate, you’ll be successful. Keep this away from kids and pets. You can also sprinkle Borax powder directly on to weeds, especially in sidewalk cracks. 

Your hoe is your friend
In the morning, when the soil is dry, take a hoe and cut them cleanly from the soil. Spread mulch over the cleaned-out areas and forget about weeds for the summer. 

Off with their heads
If you can’t weed, then at least keep them from going to seed and making more weeds. Once a week, cut off their heads before they flower. 

Water strategically
If you ensure you’re watering only the plants that need it, you may avoid accidentally cultivating a healthy crop of weeds in unplanted areas like paths, where you don’t want them to grow. 

Cover crops in fall and winter
After your summer produce has had its final harvest, plant cover crops like wheat, barley, oats, rye, or clover. They give nutrients back to the soil, and they prevent erosion, but they keep weeds from growing before your spring planting starts again.  

You might use a combination of the above methods to manage your weeds. Keep in mind, you must remain vigilant, because all your hard work of tilling and planting can be undone by the weeds, which are competing for nutrients, space, and water you’re giving your plants. Try not to let weeds go to seed—that introduces a problem that will last through next season as well.

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