This article is a guide to organic weed control. The use of synthetic herbicides has many negative consequences: polluting the soil and water of an area, having negative effects on the health of children and pets, and messing with the balance of nutrients and organisms in the soil. Organic alternatives may often require a larger investment of time and/or money, but in the long run will be better off for the health of your family and of the earth itself.
PREVENTING WEEDS (PRE EMERGENT WEED CONTROL)
Here are some methods of preventing weeds before they start growing. These must be done early on, and may not be effective once weeds start to sprout.
Mulching is an effective way of increasing nutrients in and improving the quality of the soil. However, it’s also effective at stopping weeds before they start. Putting a thick layer of mulch over an area will stop sunlight from reaching the weeds, starving them while at the same time improving the soil. Grass clippings, leaves or straw all make good mulch. They can be mixed with composted material to add more nutrients. Put a few layers of newspaper between the soil and the mulch to really turn the lights out on those weeds. To learn more, check out how to lay a mulch for your garden.
Corn Gluten Meal
Adding a layer of corn gluten meal over an area will stop seeds from germinating. This will stop weeds from spreading, but won’t kill the ones that have started growing already. Remember this works on ALL seeds, so only use it if the area is all weeds, or if the other plants are already established. This method works well on grass, or in perennial flower beds.
Cooking the Weeds
No, this is not some pothead recipe section. In a weed infested area, remove as many of them as you can. Water the soil, then cover it with a see-thru plastic tarp, and hold the sides down with bricks. Over the next 4-6 weeks, the greenhouse effect will take hold and all the roots will be cooked. Remember this will kill all plants, so don’t do this if there is anything that grows here and you wish to salvage it.
REMOVING WEEDS (POST EMERGENT WEED CONTROL)
So you’ve tried prevention and you’ve still got some pesky weeds? Here are some proven organic methods of removing weeds.
The oldest method is still probably the best. Go through your lawn or garden, and remove the weeds by hand, from the roots if possible. Time consuming, but it works.
Knives and Hoes
No, this isn’t the name of the latest rap song. These tools can be used to cut the weeds off where they come out of the soil. By removing their foliage, they can’t photosynthesize, and die off. Knives are good for getting up close, hoes are good for those with back issues or who are just too lazy to kneel down or bend over.
There are organic herbicides available on the market today. They work by burning off the wax cuticle of a plant, the layer that holds water in. Once removed, moisture evaporates from the plant and they die of dehydration. They will kill all plants they touch, but bulbs and roots underground will be safe (the same cannot be said when using many chemical herbicides).
An issue with all herbicides, even organic ones, is herbicide drift- having the herbicide move from the weeds you want to kill to your good plants. To minimize this spray in the mornings, on days that aren’t windy.
Another great thing to do is place a cardboard toilet paper roll over the nozzle of your spray bottle. This will keep the contents of your spray within a concentrated area.
Household vinegar can be used as an effective organic herbicide. Put it in a spray bottle and apply directly on the weeds during a sunny day (it works best in 60F+, sunny and dry conditions). It works the same way as other herbicides, by burning off the wax cuticle and causing the plants moisture to evaporate.
A more hardcore method is using a syringe to inject vinegar into the roots of the weeds. This is more time intensive, but will kill the weeds regardless of weather conditions.
Household vinegar is 5% acetic acid. For sturdier weeds, you may need something stronger. 20% solutions are available in many gardening stores.
The vinegar will evaporate after 24 hours. Be careful with it as the acid may stain some stone or concrete.
These are a very effective method of weed removal. Weed torches work by, well, burning the weeds alive. It’s a bit extreme, but useful in tough cases. Torches will kill most soil organisms, even the good ones, so only use when you’re at least 5 feet away from any plants you don’t want to risk killing.
The Weed Apocalypse
No, this isn’t some hippy Mayan 2012 festival. This is a recipe for a very potent organic herbicide.
2 cups of vinegar
½ cup of salt
½ tablespoon of liquid soap to help the mixture stick
Put the contents in a spray bottle, with a cardboard roll on the front to keep the spray within a focused area. The mixture is strong, so make sure to avoid any contact with your plants.
TYPES OF WEEDS FOUND IN LAWNS AND GARDENS: A ROGUES GALLERY
Here’s a list of various weeds you may encounter in your lawn or garden. How to handle them all is pretty much the same: Use a preventative measure, such as mulching, to stop the weeds from ever taking hold. If they do, removing by hand or applying a herbicide is the best way to handle them.
Good luck and stay prepared!