Weeds are the bane of any homeowner’s life, whether trying to keep a drive clear, maintain a beautiful lawn or tidy your flower beds. Using a chemical weedkiller is often put forward as the best solution to get rid of weeds, but there are plenty of reasons why you may not want to do that.
Firstly, chemical weed killers can be indiscriminate in which plants they kill. If you’re not careful, you can end up killing the plants you’re trying to protect them from. They can also harm wildlife, fish, pets, and children playing in the garden. They can also cause environmental problems as wind, and water runoff carries them into other areas.
But What Is a Weed?
To keep it simple, a weed is any plant growing where it’s not wanted, drawing nutrients, water and sunlight away from other plants, or simply causing a nuisance, such as cropping up in your drive. Which plants are classified as weeds is hotly debated in some circles. For example, many of us don’t like dandelions on our lawns, but they can be useful plants; the young leaves are delicious in salads, and the flowers are attractive. So you can see why some people say dandelions aren’t weeds.
Still, if you don’t want them there, they have to go! But what are good ways to get rid of weeds without causing harm?
Newspaper is found in most households and is generally thrown away the day after you buy it. But instead of throwing your old newspapers in the trash, you can use them to combat your weed problems in your flower and veg borders.
Weeds need oxygen and sunlight to grow, so any way of removing access to these will kill them. First, wet the soil, then add a layer of newspaper between 8 and 10 sheets thick and soak it again. Finally, add a layer of mulch a couple of inches thick. The weeds will never see the light of day again!
Adding a chunky layer of mulch will prevent weeds from growing and stop the seeds from getting into the soil. It’s an excellent way to keep the weeds at bay for a long time. Mulches are best applied in the spring before weeds appear when the soil is starting to warm—but take care not to mulch too early, or you may block your perennials from emerging. You can use many mulch types, but they can be divided into two main types.
Inorganic mulches are entirely synthetic and not made from any natural materials. While they are excellent for retaining water and will keep for longer than organic mulches, they don’t add any nutrients to the soil.
Organic mulches are made from entirely natural materials and can be ideal for adding nutritional value to your soil. However, they don’t last as long as inorganic mulches, and some weeds may get through. You will also have to replace organic mulch more often. There are several types of organic mulch, and the most popular ones include:
- Shredded or chipped bark
- Grass clippings
- Pine needles
- Shredded leaves
3. Remove Them by Hand
This is by far the most labor and time-intensive method to get rid of weeds, but it’s also the most effective. Removing the entire root system along with the leaves and flowering portion will ensure they don’t come back. This is especially true of perennial weeds (weeds that come back each year in the same spot), as their tough root systems allow them to regrow from even small pieces of root.
When weeding by hand, you need to ensure you don’t inadvertently spread seeds and cause more to grow. Wearing gloves can help with this. You should also put the weeds straight into a trug or bucket and remove them from your garden. If you’re not keen on being hunched over while pulling weeds or have a health condition that makes it difficult, there are long-handled tools available specially designed to help you remove weeds while remaining standing.
As a commonly-available weak acid, vinegar is useful for all manner of household tasks, from unclogging drains to cleaning cutlery and sanitizing fruit and vegetables. But did you know it’s also an effective herbicide? Unfortunately, the white spirit vinegar you have in your kitchen cupboard isn’t strong enough, so you’ll need to buy special horticultural vinegar to get rid of weeds. This has higher acidity and kills roots very efficiently.
To use, add the vinegar to a spray bottle and very carefully spray the weeds. You will need to take care not to get any on your other plants as it will kill their roots just as well.
5. Boiling Water
If you want to use something without lasting effects on the soil and surrounding plants, boiling water is perfect. No plant’s root can stand up to the heat from boiling water, and once it’s cooled, it just runs off and waters your other plants. However, you have to take care when using this method to get rid of weeds. Make sure you position your body, so you don’t splash yourself, and wear gloves if necessary. Then pour the boiling water directly into the crown of the weed.
While reasonably effective, this method of weed removal might need a few repeat applications so that it can be time-intensive.
Using salt is a pretty drastic way to get rid of weeds, so you should consider carefully the circumstances in which you use it. Salt disrupts the water balance in roots, killing everything in around ten days. However, it does remain in the soil, preventing anything else from growing. For this reason, it’s not a good idea to use salt on lawns or borders. However, you might consider it for keeping your drive or patio clear of weeds.
To use salt as a weedkiller, mix two parts salt with one part water in a spray bottle and spritz directly on the weed. This will reduce the chances of it getting into nearby plants. If you’re unsure, water thoroughly in the surrounding areas when you’re finished. If this solution doesn’t work, try making it stronger, up to three parts salt to one part water.
Spraying alcohol onto weeds in direct sunlight will cause them to dry up rapidly. Instead, place any spirit (cheap vodka is the purest and easiest to use) or rubbing alcohol into a spray bottle with double the amount of water and spray the weeds, taking care not to hit other plants. The alcohol will cause the plant’s moisture to evaporate, drawing it up from the roots and killing it. You might need to reapply several times for perennial weeds with particularly strong root systems, such as dandelions.
There you have it, seven different ways to get rid of weeds in your yard without harmful chemicals or pesticides that can hurt other plants, pets or family members. A happy and healthy yard makes happy homeowners and happy neighbors!