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If you have a garden, you have weeds – that’s just the way it is. And weed suppression can be one of the hardest things to manage. It can take a lot of time, money and energy, unless you have a plan.


Homemade Weed Killer

Kill the Weeds Naturally

If you already have weeds you can use one of these three things to kill them:

  1. Boiling water – this is more effective than many expensive chemical herbicides. Just boil water and pour it on your weeds, but do NOT pour it on your plants because it will kill them too. In fact, it will kill anything you pour it on, including the beneficial creatures, so use with caution.
  2. Vinegar – this works best on young plants because it will not kill the roots of well-established plants. For tougher weeds spray several days in a row to kill the weed leaves, just be careful not to spray your plants!
  3. Salt – much like boiling water and vinegar, be sure not to get too much salt on your plants because it will kill them too. Just drop a pinch of salt on the base of the weeds you want gone.

Suppress the Weeds Naturally

Landscape Fabric

When you start a garden from scratch, getting rid of the grass and weeds in the existing soil is one of the first things you do. The worst thing to use, yet many people still do, is black plastic. Yes, it will kill anything underneath it. But – it will kill everything underneath it, including all the nutrients, good bacteria and beneficial microbes. I never use plastic of any type for this reason. A better choice would be landscape fabric. Most are made from recycled materials, such as soda bottles and milk jugs. It’s still a plastic, but it’s made to breathe and let in light and moisture. You can cut holes in it, making an X in the fabric where you want to plant. Then just pull the corners back and dig your hole. Plant your plant and push the corners back up to the plant. Cover with mulch and you’re set.

Inexpensive Household Fabric

Another idea along the same lines is fabric. I was landscaping a friend’s house who was on a tight budget. We looked around for the cheapest landscape fabric and decided upon a very inexpensive alternative – old cotton sheets. I took the sheets, which are biodegradable, and laid them on top of the soil. I covered them with mulch and watered it well. When I checked on them a few years later, most of the sheet was gone, rotted away like other natural products. Be sure what you use is a natural material like cotton or linen. You can even cut them to size if you need to.

Cardboard

When I moved to my present location, my garden area was overrun with poison ivy and blackberries. I tried sheets, but the weeds were too tough. So I tried cardboard. I took all the tape and staples off and flattened each piece. Then I cut off all the edges so no adhesives remained because I’m not sure what’s in it. I placed the cardboard on the ground and covered it with a thick layer of old horse manure. Then I built my raised beds on top of that. I’ve had no problems with weeds in any of those spots.

Newspaper


You can also use newspaper to suppress weeds. Newspaper is printed with soy based ink now, so it’s all natural. You’ll need a few layers. Don’t use the glossy advertisements from your newspaper – they’re not made from the same natural sources. Both cardboard and newspaper will break down in a short time, so you may only get one season out of it. But both are readily available and usually free.

Mulch

Of course, a thick layer of mulch, like the old horse manure, will help too. In between my garden plots, I use straw. Wheat straw will break down over time and add nitrogen to the soil. Oat and barley will do the same thing. Pine straw is too loose and will not stop most weeds from coming up.

Wood chips, if aged, are good too. Pine bark mulch is one of the best things to use if it is aged. When new it’s too tough and it usually has pieces that are too large. Mixed mulch can be used in walkways and paths. Don’t be tempted to use new pine mulch or pine sawdust. It’ll take every bit of nitrogen out of the soil. Once it’s aged, it’s ok to use.

Prevent Weed Growth Naturally

Corn Gluten

Many people use products like Preen to keep the weeds from germinating. When used on established beds, these products make a great weed barrier. But, they’re not natural. Or are they? There is an organic version of these products that works very well. It’s called corn gluten. Yep, a by-product of corn. We use to use it in Minnesota for crabgrass prevention and dandelion seeds. Here in Western North Carolina, the window for crabgrass is very tight, but it can also be used to prevent all kinds of other weeds from growing.

Farm Animals

One of my favorite things for weeds is my chickens. Left to run between the beds, they scratch up the soil looking for bugs, taking the weeds along. The weeds are either eaten or they die from being out of the soil. And of course, I can’t forget the horses. The yard was so overgrown with weeds last year that I enlisted the horses from next door. They’re rescue horses that had been starved, so my yard was like an all-day buffet to them! They took it down in no time.

Use the Weeds

Let ‘em Grow

And lastly, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Give in and let those weeds grow. Then turn them under with a tiller and make a cover crop out of them. Or, as is the case in my front yard, it’s full of moss. The area is too dark and moist to grow much of anything else. So now I have quite a few different kinds of moss, and it stays green all year. And weeds in the grass? There was a study done at Duke University not too long ago that looked at the effects grass heights had on weed growth. Turns out, the longer the grass blade, the less weeds there are. So let the weeds go and cut your grass longer next time. It’ll take a while for the weeds to die back, but it’ll work.

Eat ‘em

From nettles to dandelion greens, there are all kinds of edible “weeds” out there. Get a book on the subject and you may be able to start harvesting the very weeds you’ve been working so hard to prevent!


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Comments

  1. Kimberly says

    I love your daily emails as I am trying to do things more naturally. I am not, however, a gardener but was wondering if your weed prevention ideas work just as well for a greener lawn and not just for gardens.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      Many of them do. One of the best things you can do for your lawn is to mow the grass as high as possible. The longer the grass blade, the less weeds you’ll have.

  2. Cheryl says

    Regular household vinegar is %5 acetic acid. It will not work to kill weeds. What is needed is horticultural vinegar which is 20% acetic acid and it does work. Horticultural vinegar is a chemical that requires care, i.e. gloves, eye protection, etc., because it will cause burns on exposed skin. That is how it kills weeds.

    • says

      Thanks for the tip Cheryl. We have used household white vinegar to kill weeds for years, although I’m sure horticultural vinegar would be even more effective. Blessings.

  3. Alanna says

    I have used salt for many years. It is great around the pool and my air conditioner. I have no more weeds at all around those two things. However, I found that if you buy the salt for a pool or water softeners, it is much cheaper and it actually last longer. I just buy the pellets and they dissolve over time and it keeps the weeds out. A bag cost about 4 to 5 dollars for a 40 lb bag. I buy two a year and that is all it takes. For in the yard, I just take table salt and sprinkle or pour it directly on the weeds in my grass and over the last two years my weeds are almost gone. It is great to actually have real grass with no weeds. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      The bad thing about poison ivy, as well as many other vines, trees, shrubs and other such things is that they are very difficult to kill right now. You can wait, or you can kill the leaves so it won’t spread anymore. Then in the late summer, when the sap is going back down to the roots to store carbohydrates for the winter, hit it with glypohsate. This is a chemical, but is a type of salt. It works on the root and kills the plants at that time. If it has nothing else mixed with it, oit will stay in the plant and dissolve in the ground within 28-30 days. It then becomes salts and doesn’t stay in the soil or get into ground water. It’s the closest thing to natural that I’ve found that really works.

      • Donna Smythe says

        Debra: where do you get glypohsate and do you just sprinkle it on the plant or water it after.

  4. Donna Smythe says

    I have rose brambles without the roses, those pesky thorney bushes behind my shed. Can cut them down and as for digging them up, that’s impossible, I’m a senior, so how can I kill the nasties. They keep coming back. Would rock salt and covering them over work.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      Rock salt might work, but you’d kill the grass around it. Take a look at the reply I made to the last comment on poison ivy. Glyphosate will work on those roses as well.

  5. Ange says

    Can you explain the cotton/linen sheet trick in a little more detail? We always till the garden either in fall or spring. So does the sheet eliminate the need to till? Also, do you just plant your garden seeds/plants in the exact holes you cut in the sheet the year before? Or is this just where you put raised beds?

    • Debra Maslowski says

      Usually you can till in the spring the same as you normally would, but yopu may not need to. I’ve found the sheets to break down after about 2 years, so yopu may need to skip a year. You can plant the seeds in other holes or in the same ones. It doesn’t really matter. You can use it on conventional gardens or on raised beds.

  6. says

    Hello Debra, the information that you have posted are very useful for controlling weeds and to create a beautiful garden. All the points about lawn care are greatly appreciated. Thanks for this knowledgeable information, waiting for the next blog.

  7. Marci says

    How do I kill poison ivy naturally other than putting on gloves and a shirt and pulling them out by the roots?

  8. mschaos says

    Thanks for the tips! we are currently tilling the yard in our new home to help get rid of the awful crab grass and trying to ready it for something we can live with and have a garden.

    how do you use corn gluten to deal with crab grass? I am really hating the stuff right now as it is EVERYWHERE

    thanks!

    • Debra Maslowski says

      Right now there isn’t much you can do short of pulling it out or killing it some other way. But, depending on your area, you put it on the ground in the early spring. It’s a preemergent, so it stops it from germinating. Here in North Carolina it’s hard to catch the narrow window, but it’s usually about March. You need to figure out when winter comes to an end and the really warm weather will begin. That’s when you want to put it out.

  9. Renee says

    You can use plain brown cardboard. It will break down and add nutrients to the soil, while preventing weeds for the season.

  10. Melody Pritchard says

    Hi, I live in Western NC too & would love to know if you sell the veggies from your garden. If I’m reading all this correctly you don’t use any nasties on your garden, so I would love to purchase some of your produce. Feel free to email me directly if you don’t want certain things just posted in general on here, lol I know how that is. Unfortunately, the part of WNC I live in is not good for growing anything but rocks unless you do containers, and I have, but sometimes they grow & sometimes they don’t.

  11. Ruthie says

    Thanks so much for the boiling water tip! I actually boiled water and vinegar together and poured a pot full on an exceptionally stubborn weed that keeps coming back year after year. I cut down the stalk at ground level and then applied the combination. The root base turned black and has stayed black :) My son insists on that chemical spray stuff to kill our weeds that grow up on our patio, but I hate it because of the noxious fumes. I will have to try this on those as well.