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.
Kill the Weeds Naturally
If you already have weeds you can use one of these three things to kill them:
- 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.
- 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!
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!