Organic Weed Control: Family Safe Methods for Controlling Weeds
- By: Cheli Scott
- Date: Jan 11 2023
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Organic weed control: Family safe methods for controlling weeds
Weeds are the bane of every gardener’s existence, but we’ve collected some tips to help you with organic weed control that will keep your garden looking neat!
A few common weeds to look out for
There are a number of invasive plants we consider weeds, but we’ve included four of the most common.
Crabgrass is found virtually everywhere, but enjoys setting up in green grassy areas like lawns. It is a coarse grass that can be found taking over softer grasses. It is very tolerant of drought conditions and grows rapidly. It absolutely loves bare patches in your lawn and will set up aggressively.
In some places lambsquarters are grown intentionally as a crop, but for most American gardeners it is an aggressive weed. It is a member of the amaranth family and is actually edible. The plants have many, many seeds which make it very hard to control.
Dandelion is another edible weed that most people don’t want in their garden. We are all familiar with the iconic white puff ball seeds. Those little puffs make dandelions very successful at populating your flower beds and lawn. These plants grow deep roots, making them hard to hand weed.
Shepherd’s purse appears early in the season, closer to early spring and is also an aggressive grower. Fortunately, this weed is an annual and dies off quickly. Mulching over winter can help prevent this weed from popping up in the spring.
Why use organic weed killers
If you plan on growing food for consumption or allow your children and pets to play in your yard you may want to consider non-toxic organic weed control. Toxic chemicals stay on plants and can rub off on pets and children rolling around on your lawn while they play.
Additionally, you never want to put toxic chemicals on plants you intend on eating, like a vegetable garden. Organic weed control is better for the environment, preventing chemicals from filtering into the water table.
The downside to organic weed control is most weed killers are non-selective, meaning they don’t single out one kind of weed. If you use them on one area, they will kill all of the plants in that area.
If you do find you need or want to use toxic herbicides, be sure to read labels carefully. Most have a period of time before you can allow children or pets to return to your yard.
Pre-emergent weed management
Pre-emergent weed management, is simply things you can do to prevent weeds from popping up in the first place. We’ve included some tips to prevent weeds from growing in your garden!
Weeds will grow on bare earth, so covering any bare spots like garden beds or around trees will prevent weed seeds from growing into full plants. Mulch beds in the winter to prevent weeds from popping up while your garden beds are empty.
Landscape fabric under your mulch is an effective way to prevent weeds from growing in your mulched or graveled areas. It’s best to go with a landscape fabric that allows water to pass through, not thick plastic. This fabric also helps regulate soil temperature, helping your plants out as the seasons change and the soil expands or contracts.
The sun can also be used to clear weeds. Place a clear tarp over a patch of grass you want to clear of weeds to let the heat kill the vegetation underneath. This process normally takes 2 to 3 weeks and can be done in the late summer to prepare soil for planting.
Strategic planting and ground cover
Any bare patch of soil will accumulate weeds so an alternative method to mulching is planting ground covers. Ground cover will serve as a visually appealing blanket, preventing weeds from taking root. Cover crops planted in your garden over winter have the additional advantage of adding nutrients to your soil when they are tilled into your garden in the spring.
Corn gluten meal
With appropriate timing an application of corn gluten meal can prevent weed seeds from taking root. Corn gluten meal needs to be applied around heavy rainfall and then there needs to be a dry period afterwards for it to work correctly. This can be a bit difficult to work out, but can be simulated with heavy watering. It can be applied once a month to prevent crabgrass.
Post-emergent weed killer
Post-emergent weed killers are ways to kill weeds after they have already grown. These include spot treatments. Most organic weed control is non-selective, meaning it can’t tell the difference between your daisies and crabgrass. Post-emergent weed killer methods need to be applied carefully, directly to the weed for the best results.
Household white vinegar is an easy and effective weed killer. There are many different formulations online for organic weed killer made of vinegar. You can buy horticultural vinegar from your garden supply store. Wait for a sunny day to apply as the damage to the plant tissues happens when the sunlight touches the leaves.
It’s important if you use one of these recipes not to use any recipe containing salt. While salt will work to kill weeds, it will also make it impossible to grow anything in that patch of dirt for a long time.
You can pour boiling water from your kettle on newly emerged weeds in cracks of sidewalks or in your garden. Cut away the foliage of the weed and apply the boiling water slowly to the root. Plants with deep roots like dandelions will require a deeper application.
Carefully burning weeds is another post-emergent control method. If you have a hand torch very carefully burn the weed until the leaves are wilted. Over the next few days the plant will dry up and die. This method is most effective on weeds smaller than 4 inches.
The classic method of removing weeds is getting down in the dirt and hand weeding them. In order to get the most out of your weeding, water before you weed. Watch your weeds and try to pull them before they seed. Pulling them when they flower is often the easiest way to remember to do this. Do not put weeds in your compost. They can add seeds that end up in your garden beds when you fertilize.
Best hardware store formulas to kill weeds
We took a look at some of the best organic weed control products you can pick up at your garden center or hardware store. Here’s what we found!
Pure borax powder
Borax is a naturally occurring mineral that can be used to control weeds. It works by changing the pH of the soil from a comfortable 7 to around 9, killing weeds. It also kills all other plants, so it needs to be applied carefully. Do not to over use Borax or it can build up in your soil and prevent anything from growing at all. A simple solution is 1/2 cup borax to 1 gallon of water.
Green Gobbler Vinegar Weed and Grass killer
Next, this weed killer eliminates common weeds in less than 24 hours. It’s made from ethanol distilled from corn grain and can be used on any common surfaces like flower beds, sidewalks, driveways, and pavers. Look for the container with the spray bottle nozzle for easy application.
Natural Armor Weed and Grass Killer
According to the manufacturer‘s website, Natural Armor Weed and Grass Killer works to kill over 250 kinds of weeds. It’s safe for people and pets and biodegradable. This killer also comes in a convenient spray bottle for your convenience.
Doctor Kirchner Natural Weed and Grass Killer
Finally, Tested by the University of Florida, this weed killer uses acetic acid to burn away weeds. According to their website it is safe for aquatic life, pets, and children. It comes in several sizes, including one with a spray nozzle.