Table of Contents

Weed Control Options: Organic and Chemical

Cultivating Curiosity and Confidence

I suspect that most gardeners make a promise to themselves at the start of every growing season. They swear they’re going to stay on top of the bittercress, chickweed, dandelions, spotted spurge, and henbit. But then reality strikes – life takes over, and somehow there never seems to be enough time to stay ahead of the weeds.

Well, after years of making the same promise to myself, I’ve finally found a way to have a weed-free garden every year – without resorting to synthetic chemical herbicides. To do it, I employ a whole arsenal of organic weed control tips to keep my garden free of weeds.

When I started my career in horticulture twenty-plus years ago, I sprayed a lot of chemical herbicides. They were a quick-fix to many weed problems, so I understand their appeal in that regard. But since that time, I’ve come to understand how these products persist in the soil, make their way into groundwater, and may potentially impact beneficial soil life, as well as the humans and other animals that are exposed to them.

I’ve chosen to avoid using synthetic chemical herbicides for the last fifteen years because I don’t want to be around them, and frankly, I’ve found other methods of safer weed control that work just as well. I also avoid using those homemade herbicide concoctions so often promoted on various websites and social media platforms. They almost always involve salt, vinegar, Epsom salts, soap, or other household items, and the sad truth is that these mixtures can be downright dangerous to soil health.

Organic Weed Control Tactics

So, how can you too keep your garden weed-free every season? Let me share my top organic weed control tips:

1. Design the Weeds Out

Start your foray into earth-friendly weed control by using good design to prevent weeds from moving into the garden in the first place. A thick, healthy organic lawn has no room for weeds.

2. Careful Cultivation

Though cultivating your soil too often can destroy its tilth and texture, using a hoe to chop off young weed seedlings soon after they sprout keeps them from reaching maturity. Just don’t till or cultivate too deeply, or you risk bringing buried weed seeds up to the soil’s surface where they’ll quickly germinate.

3. Topping

Among the easiest yet most important of my organic weed control tips, topping is all-too-often ignored by gardeners who, despite their best efforts, still can’t seem to stay ahead of the weeds. It’s a simple rule: Don’t ever let a weed drop seed. Topping involves cutting off weed flowers and seeds before they shed, even if you don’t have the time or energy to dig out the entire weed.

4. Mulch Matters

Suppressing weeds with a layer of mulch is without a doubt one of the best organic weed control tips out there. But mulching only works if you do it right. My favorite for mulching shrub beds is shredded hardwood bark.

5. Newspaper Barriers

A simple layer of mulch as described in Tip 4 sometimes doesn’t do the trick, especially in places where weeds are very prolific or where the weed seed bank contains a massive amount of seeds. In this case, I always employ newspaper among my top organic weed control tips. Before spreading mulch, I cover the bed with a layer of wet newspaper ten sheets thick. I simply cut a hole or slit through the newspaper and plant right through it. By the end of the growing season, the newspaper will be broken down by soil microbes.

6. Compost Monitoring

If you plan to use homemade compost in your garden, one of the most critical organic weed control tips is to carefully monitor your compost pile and its ingredients. Do not add any weeds that have gone to seed to the pile unless you plan to turn the pile at least once a week. If you just dump ingredients into your compost pile and you don’t turn them regularly to introduce oxygen to the microbes, the pile will probably not reach the 160 degrees F necessary to kill most weed seeds.

7. Watch for Imports

Lots of weeds come into the garden accidentally. Don’t accept plants that were dug from a friend’s garden until you make sure they don’t have a weed issue that you could end up inheriting. You should pay the same careful attention to plants you purchase from the nursery.

8. Tarping

For particularly tough-to-control perennial weeds, this is the only one of my organic weed control tips that I’ve found to be effective. I’ve used it to eliminate a clump of Japanese knotweed, a patch of Canada thistle, and an infestation of bindweed. First, cut any existing weeds in the area all the way down to the ground, then spread a dark-colored tarp over the entire area, completely pinning down the edges with soil. Leave the tarp in place for several months to starve the roots of the weeds.

9. Flame Weeding

This is probably the most fun of all of my organic weed control tips. Flame weeders are hand-held or backpack-style propane torches designed to zap the weeds with temperatures high enough to burst the plants’ cell walls. The flame can be adjusted to a very narrow, targeted range, so with care, you can even use them between rows of vegetables.

10. Organic Pre-Emergent Herbicides

If the weeds you battle are primarily annuals like crabgrass, chickweed, henbit, purslane, and others, using an organic pre-emergent weed killer often takes care of the problem. Made from corn gluten meal, these granular products are sprinkled over the soil surface where they’ll form a layer that prevents all seeds from germinating, including desired seeds, so be careful not to use them where you want things to grow from seed.

11. The Right Kind of Hand-Pulling

I know most gardeners don’t think hand-pulling weeds is much fun, but if you use the right tools, it is. My favorite is the Fiskars Stand-Up Weeder, which has a set of stainless steel serrated claws coming out of the base. You simply position the claws over the weed, step on the foot pad to press the claws into the soil, and then bend the handle back to pop the weed out.

12. Commercial Organic Herbicide Sprays

While I don’t spray anything in my garden, even organic stuff, many gardeners will find these products to be a useful replacement for synthetic chemical-based herbicides. Most organic herbicides contain a combination of acetic acid, citric acid, clove oil, citrus oil, and other ingredients. They get rid of established annual weeds and grasses in a snap, but repeat applications may be necessary for tough perennial weeds.

As you can see, there are many organic weed control tips you can employ to help cut down on weeding chores this season. Use as many as you can to have a weed-free landscape that doesn’t require hours and hours of upkeep.

Weeding Is a Lifelong Journey

Weed control is an ongoing battle, but by incorporating these organic tactics, you can gain the upper hand and enjoy a thriving, productive garden without resorting to harsh chemicals. Remember, knowledge is power when it comes to managing weeds, so take the time to identify the pesky plants in your garden and understand their growth habits.

And don’t be afraid to experiment – different methods may work better in different areas of your garden. The key is to stay persistent and keep those weeds from going to seed. With a little creativity and elbow grease, you can cultivate the garden of your dreams, free from the scourge of unwanted plants.

Happy weeding, my fellow gardeners! May your beds be bountiful and your hands calloused from all the good work. For more gardening inspiration and tips, be sure to visit Today’s Gardens, your one-stop-shop for all things green and growing.

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