Gardening is without question an exceedingly rewarding activity enjoyed by lots of people of all age and gender groups.
Whether you’re a commercial grower with large areas of land growing vast quantities of produce, or a weekend gardener that has a few planters and a tiny border, the satisfaction of seeing plants grow from minute beginnings to bud and produce tasty vegetables or beautiful flowers is immense.
All the joy, however, is often completely overshadowed by the annoyance of weeds that, if not controlled, grow in abundance.
It’s often frustrating when, after the demanding work care, and attention that is given to the flowers or vegetables, masses of weeds suddenly appear overnight.
It is not just that these unwanted plants can spoil the appearance of a garden, they’re also in competition for the valuable nutrients that are in the soil.
Although most agree some weeds are attractive and often produce bountiful quantities of beautiful flowers, they can impede the growth of the intended crop of flowers or vegetables.
Inadequate weed control can result in weeds benefiting from any feed or soil improvement that has been undertaken for the benefit of intended crops.
Some gardeners encourage wild growing plants as they are an attractive vitally important part of the diversity of nature.
Wild flowers and plants are vital to attract and support wildlife by providing food and an abundance of natural habitats.
Wild plants are, however often grown and managed in an area separate from where flowers and vegetables are grown.
There is something satisfying about an area that has been set aside for wildflowers.
The diversity of the foliage and flowers are incredibly appealing especially when butterflies insects and birds can be seen enjoying this habitat.
I personally treat this as a separate garden zone that features nature at its best.
What is a weed?
A weed is a wild-growing natural plant that has not been intentionally planted and is not wanted by the gardener.
Although they are not wanted, they are generally safe plants. Some exceptions exist, these can be poisonous to touch or eat.
Weeds, the same as other plants can be classified as either annuals or perennials.
Annuals only live for one season spreading their seed ready to grow the following year.
Annuals are normally easier to kill, but they will definitely grow back the following year unless they are killed before they grow to the stage where they have the opportunity to sow their seeds.
A perennial’s lifecycle is different to that of the annuals in that although the foliage section of the plant dies off the root remains alive, and since they have much larger root structures, they are typically much more difficult to kill.
Cutting the head off has no effect, they will grow back again and again. Often, a little bit of root left in the soil will result in new growth the following year.
They sometimes have the appearance of being indestructible as they keep on returning.
There are also countless trees and woody plants such as brambles that can grow unexpectedly in an area where they are not wanted.
Although not normally classed as weeds, these can be equally annoying, and they can be exceedingly difficult to discourage.
There are some weeds such as the Japanese knotweed that has found its way into several countries, and is so destructive that it can damage the foundations of buildings.
The removal of this type of weed is different to others since it is invasive and aggressive, generally most traditional methods of removal are ineffective. The only way to completely remove it is to remove soil to such a depth that all traces of the root are completely removed.
With this apparent never-ending onslaught from unwanted plants that grow by self-seeding, root propagation or by being bought into the garden by wind and animals, what can be done to combat this frustrating problem?
How can these weeds be removed from a garden? Is it possible to permanently remove weeds from the garden? There are several solutions that can be used depending on individual situations and preference.
1) Pull Them by Hand
Pulling weeds by hand seems at face value to be the easiest and highly logical solution to the problem of ridding these pests from a garden. There is something exceedingly satisfying about pulling a weed from the garden, and throwing it into a waste bucket.
They do need to go in a waste bucket to be disposed of instead of putting them on the compost bin, as tempting as this may be. Weeds that are put into the compost bin will often result in growing again in the location where the compost is used.
However, when pulling weeds by hand it is important to see if the whole weed has been pulled out or has some roots have been left in the soil. If any part of the root has been left there is the chance that in a few days it may grow again.
There are some things that can be done to make hand pulling more effective and efficient. Pull them when they are extremely insignificant, and in the early stages of development. This is when it is far easier to pull the whole weed out since the root will still not have grown to any depth.
The ideal time to pull the weeds is the day after it has rained, as the moist soil loosens the roots. You can also water the soil the night before if no rain is forecast rather than wait for rain. Delaying will only allow the weeds to grow, and become more established.
2) Pull Them Using a Tool
For weeds that have a larger or more developed root, it may well still be possible to pull them out with the help of a tool that can be used to loosen the soil around the root. A hand trowel or an old screwdriver are both effective tools to loosen around the root of a weed.
It is also easy to make a homemade tool from any piece of firm plastic or thin metal that is perfectly adequate for the task.
There are several commercially manufactured tools that are designed specifically to be pushed into the ground next to the weed, and by tilting it, the weed and potentially the root will be removed.
Since these tools remove weeds individually, this is a slow process especially for clearing large areas
I find it far easier to pull weeds in some areas of the garden by kneeling down to ground level and using a trowel to loosen the soil that I have previously watered.
3) Using a Hoe
For large garden areas, the prospect of pulling every weed by hand even with tools to assist is quite daunting. A hoe is a suitable implement for clearing larger areas. This tool works best when the soil is dry.
With a sharp hoe, it is possible to slice the tops of the weeds. Although the roots are left in the soil drier conditions can result in some of the roots drying up and dying. The heads of the weeds can then easily be collected and disposed of.
This is quicker and easier than being down at ground level tackling each weed as I prefer, however, weeds will grow back quicker making this a technique that requires a more frequent application. If I am short of time I find this a quick fix to help prevent the weeds from growing too huge.
4) Water the Plants, Not the Weeds
Weeds seem to have the ability to grow in abundance in any just about any soil in any weather conditions, however, just as other plants they require water to be able to flourish.
By watering only the plants and not the weeds it is possible to restrict the growth of these unwanted growths.
Selective watering is made easier by the installation of a drip irrigation system.
A correctly configured irrigation system will have the benefit of supplying the right amount of water without soaking the complete garden area.
This helps reduce the amount of water available for the weeds and, thus, reduce their growth.
I have olive trees that I use a watering system for, whilst the rest of the area remains relatively clear of weeds once cleared, the slight area around the tree since it is wet from watering does allow weeds to regrow. This is a tiny growing area, and only takes a few minutes to clear.
5) Prevent Annuals from Seeding
Annual weeds only grow for a season before producing seeds, and then dying. If these weeds can be eradicated before they reach the seed stage, there will be fewer seeds in the soil to be able to grow in the following year.
This sounds simple, unfortunately, seeds can sometimes last a long time in the soil if conditions are correct. Consequently, a weed that grows this year may be the result of a seed deposited in a previous year.
Seeds can also be introduced into a garden from another area by the wind, and by animals such as birds. Consequently, complete eradication of annual weeds is virtually impossible.
6) Reduce Digging
As we have said there will be countless seeds in the soil that have been deposited by the wind and animals, as well as from previous year’s weeds, however, only those seeds that are at a certain depth will be able to grow.
By digging the soil aggressively, seeds that would not grow due to their lower level are bought to a level in the soil where they are able to germinate. Digging also helps to introduce air into the soil and aid plant growth.
For some seeds, the merest glimpse of the sun is sufficient to activate them.
I recently had a section of the garden that I had left for some time, I cleared the weeds by hand and dug over the soil to make neat whilst deciding what I was going to plant.
For the whole summer season, it remained relatively clear and tidy, however on the arrival of spring twice the number of weeds grew twice as tall.
7) Cut the Heads Off
If, for whatever reason, it is not possible to remove weeds chopping their heads off is the next best solution. Cutting down annual weeds will help prevent them from growing, and therefore, prevent seeds from being broadcast into the garden.
Removing the tops of perennial weeds damages the plants by forcing the use of food reserves within the plant, thus reducing their capability of spreading.
8) Plant Closer Together
Plants always look best when planted in groups of odd numbers, planting them closer together can help to reduce the weeds’ ability to grow in-between the plants. If the odd one or two do survive they are not as glaringly obvious among the vegetation of the other plants.
It is, however, essential to take into account the space that the plants will require to grow into to prevent restricting their growth.
Vegetable spacing is more precise, it is not always possible to plant them closer without restricting their growth.
9) Reduce Growing Areas
Consider the growing area of a garden, does it need to be that large? If there are large areas of soil that do not contain plants consider reducing them to that which will be fully planted.
This will prevent areas of the garden being available purely for weeds, and avoid the need for constant clearing.
This technique is obviously difficult to apply to vegetable gardens as spacing for countless is crucial for their growth.
I prefer to view flower beds that are full of a wide variety of flowers with little or no soil visible between them.
There are times when space is required between plants to grow, other times space space is needed for other plants that will grow at a later stage. It is possible to restrict the growth of weeds in these areas by applying mulch.
Mulch is any material that is used to cover any area of soil, and can take various forms according to personal choice.
Straw is a popular mulch for vegetable gardens rather than flower gardens for aesthetic reasons.
Since straw decomposes at a slow rate, once in position it should last for a complete season, and is easy to clear with a rake when replanting the next crop. Straw also provides the perfect home for insects that will help to keep some pests under control.
The moisture retention properties of layers of newspaper assists with keeping this covering in place and helps to control soil temperatures.
Since an organic dye is used in the production of modern newspapers, they are environmentally safe and are not detrimental to plants.
Newspapers laid in layers of three or four sheets thick will completely cover an area blocking the sun and air, perfect for covering a weed- or grass-infested area.
This product is not especially appealing for flower beds, although it is possible to cover with another mulching material that can improve the aesthetics.
Compost and composted manure is an effective solution to combat weed growth in any location, it looks decent and has the benefit of slowly releasing nutrients that will help plants grow.
It is, however, important to ensure that the compost has not been made with weeds as any seeds contained within it would grow.
Bark is an effective and attractive mulch for places that require a long term solution, but will not require removing too frequently. Any digging or new planting is not easy since it does not mix in with the soil to well, and is difficult to clear from the soil.
This is an ideal product for mulching around shrubs, trees and walkways.
Grass clippings can be used as an effective mulch, however, if lawn care products have been used on the lawn from where the clippings have been taken, it is best not to use them for mulching as some of these treatments can be harmful to plants.
Grass clippings will suppress weed growth to a high degree, however, since they have a high moisture content they will decompose rapidly creating a dense mat that will restrict water from reaching the garden.
As they decompose they become slimy, and often produce a distasteful odor this method of mulching is best used for out of the way areas of the garden and probably are not best for a vegetable garden.
Shredded leaves are an excellent short term solution as they do rot down, and can easily be incorporated into the soil. Leaves have the added benefit of encouraging earthworms which are beneficial for improving the soil.
They are not particularly obvious but could be a bit off-putting in a highly visible area since when they are damp they will stick together. Spreading leaves over a vegetable plot in the fall will keep weeds down and will decompose and feed the soil over the winter period.
11) Plastic Sheeting
Plastic sheeting works extremely well by smothering the weeds however it may destroy some plant roots and the friendly bacteria. Making plenty of holes to allow some moisture to soak into the soil can help.
Plastic sheeting is best used in areas that will not be worked on very often. Strips of plastic between rows of vegetables are an effective option providing they don’t prevent the flow of water or fertilizer. This will keep weeds at bay for the whole growing season.
12) Fabric Sheet
This style of covering will prevent the majority weeds (apart from the especially aggressive ones), and will allow water to pass through.
It is not very attractive in a flower garden unless covered with something else, although it’s perfect for vegetables as it can be laid, and holes can be cut to plant the veggies.
13) Gravel or Stone
Gravel and stone are both effective at reducing weed growth, and have the benefit of looking respectable. However, placing directly on the soil causes problems as they are difficult to remove to allow maintenance or planting.
For areas that will not have plants, a decorative feature can be created by covering plastic sheeting with stone and gravel. Weed seeds blown into gravel areas will grow but are incredibly easy to pull out.
14) Crop Caover
An effective method for weed suppression in larger garden areas especially vegetable plots is that of planting crops that will cover the complete area.
Specific plants are used for his method, they are plants that become established and grow quickly.
This crop will provide an active root structure to help improve the soil and foliage that covers the ground to inhibit the germination of weed seeds.
The crops used have the benefit of producing chemicals that enhance crop growth but are detrimental to weed production.
When the cover crop has finished growing they will die off and create a cover over the planting area, helping inhibit the germination and growth of weeds before rotting into and feeding the soil.
Devices are available that consist of small butane canisters that produce flames attached to the end of a long handle. The flame is then used to burn individual weeds.
Burning individual weeds is a time-consuming option, however, for smaller more intricate areas it is a viable option. Since only the top of the plant is affected roots may well be unaffected and may grow again quite rapidly.
Vinegar is produced by fermenting natural products such as grapes, apples or grain.
While fermentation is taking place acetic acid is also produced. For the best effect, spray a solution of water and vinegar on to weeds when the sun is shining, as the sun will help to speed the process.
This acid, when sprayed onto leaves, will cause them to wither and brown incredibly rapidly.
Destroying the leaves in nearly all cases will kill the plant, although it may not be strong enough to tackle some of the stronger weeds, hence repeated applications will be necessary. Reducing the amount of water in the solution can help to increase its potency.
Unfortunately, vinegar is indiscriminate, and will have the same effect on any plant that it touches.
Care should be taken to ensure that only the weeds are sprayed, and any other plants are protected. For large areas of weeds that have nothing else growing, this is a great resource, and the smell does not last for too long.
17) Lemon Juice
Lemon juice also contains acid which, when sprayed onto weeds, it will dry up the leaves. Within a few days, the majority of the weeds apart from more hardy varieties will start to die.
Pure lemon juice can be difficult to spray, mixing it with some water, although not too much as this will dilute the acid and reduce its effectiveness, will create a mixture that will spray more efficiently.
Avoid spraying on plants that are required as the lemon will have an effect on anything that it comes into contact with.
For those who do not have an abundant supply of lemons in their garden shop-bought lemon juice still contains the acid and is just as effective.
Alcohol is also an effective weed killer, we are not suggesting using a worthy bourbon for this task since stores sell adequate, cheap alcohol that is used to clean wounds.
Two or three tablespoons of this medical product mixed with a quart of water produce a potent weed killer. Spraying this mixture when the sun is out on to the problematic weeds will affect them in just a few days.
19) Soap and Water
A soap and water mixture is effective especially if sprayed onto weeds at the hottest part of the day. The water evaporates, leaving a sticky soapy residue that will break down any waxy coatings on the leaves, resulting in the leaves wilting, and eventually dying.
The chemicals within bleach are potent, and will, if sprayed onto weeds, kill them extremely rapidly.
Although the chemicals are incredibly powerful, they do evaporate within two or three days, so they will not damage the soils growing capabilities. Any bleach that is sprayed on a plant in error can be washed off to prevent it from killing it.
A readily available household item that is effective in killing weeds is salt. Any vegetation that salt contacts will shrivel and die in an exceptionally short time.
You need to be careful when using salt as if large quantities are applied it will be retained in the soil rendering it unsuitable for plant growth for some time.
Sprinkling salt granules onto a plant will immediately affect it. This is fine to eradicate odd weeds or on paths between paving stones or gravel paths, but if the problem is widespread salt can be dissolved into the water which can then be sprayed directly on to the weeds.
Since the salt is diluted it has the effect of killing the weeds but will be washed away by rain without causing too much damage to the soil. However, repeated applications can allow it to accumulate in the soil, causing problems.
Salt can also have a negative effect on beneficial insects and minerals that occur naturally in the soil.
22) Baking Soda
Another product that is found in the kitchen store cupboard that will help to kill weeds is baking soda. Mixing two cups of baking soda with a gallon of water creates a liquid that can be sprayed onto weeds.
This solution can also be used as a preventative measure by spraying weekly areas of a garden that are prone to excessive weed growth before they grow.
A period of time needs to be allowed after treatment before anything else is planted in the areas to allow the soil to return to normal.
23) Garlic Juice
Garlic has numerous uses in a garden. Its odor is effective at deterring several pests that can damage plants and spread disease. It is also a highly effective weed killer.
Three or four cloves of garlic blended with a little water added to a gallon of water and left to infuse for a few days will produce an effective weed killing solution.
This liquid can then be sprayed on to weeds starting from the base and then moving to the leaves. After a few days, the weeds will start to deteriorate and then die.
Although the odor is an effective deterrent, in this diluted form it is not particularly obvious to humans. There’s something somewhat satisfying in growing a plant that can be used to protect other plants by killing weeds.
24) Boiling Water
Although this sounds ridiculously simple, boiling water will actually kill weeds by cooking the leaves, and sometimes the roots.
Be careful when pouring the boiling water, because if it splashes on other plants it will kill those too. It ‘s best to be close to the weeds before pouring to avoid any water splashing and burning any exposed skin.
This will kill annual weeds but will typically just kill the top of perennials and not the roots. With roots intact they will normally regrow within a short period of time, making repeated treatment necessary.
This is a suitable method of clearing weeds from paved or graveled areas since it can be poured and allowed to run over the complete area.
Historically chemicals were the main product used to dispose of weeds both in the household and commercial growing environment.
Eventually, due to concerns regarding some of the chemicals that were used to produce these products several of them were banned from being used. These products have been replaced with a range of chemical products that are safer to the environment, other plants, animals and people.
26) Weed Preventer
So far we focused on ways to remove weeds once they have grown, an alternative solution is to prevent the weeds from growing in the first place.
As perfect as this solution sounds it is not 100% effective, as it won’t completely eliminate weeds, but it does help to drastically reduce their numbers.
Weed prevention products work by preventing weed seeds from germinating. They don’t work on established growing weeds. What this means is that one or more of the above options will still be required to keep any that do grow at bay.
Corn meal is a popular weed preventer. Scattering Corn meal over a garden area will not kill any weeds, but does prevent any seeds from growing. This will, however, stop any seeds from growing not just weeds.
Areas that will be planted with flower or vegetable seeds could prove to be problematic. However, it might be perfect for areas where established plants are going to be planted.
We have seen that there are loads of techniques and products to help remove weeds from a garden. With organic growing in popularity, more of the natural products such as vinegar and techniques such as mulching are being used for weed control to eliminate the use of harmful chemicals.
There are lots of natural weed killer recipes for that normally include several combinations of the items listed above. I personally do not comprehend the point of mixing more than one effective product unless it is found to be effective on different types of weeds.
Nearly all of the natural weed killers are indiscriminate, and will kill anything that they contact. Care and attention should be taken where and when spraying takes place.
Wind will blow a spray in different directions. The use of a cardboard or plastic shield can help to protect sensitive plants.
There is, however, no technique that will permanently remove all weeds from a garden, so an action plan is needed using one or more of the techniques above over a period of time to ensure that weeds have a minimum impact on a garden.
As a purely personal preference and no other reason, I use mainly cover crops in larger areas and hand pulling backed up with a hoe in other areas.
This works for me. It’s really a question of finding the best solutions that work for you to tackle weed removal from your garden!
Three years ago, I bought an off-grid Cortijo in a small valley in the Andalucian mountains. Although, perhaps the lifestyle is in my genes as my grandfather and his four brothers were Homesteaders in Alberta Canada in the 1900s.
The mountains of Spain are a difficult place to grow many of the flowers that I was used to in the UK. However, veggies grow well year-round. Peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, cucumber, melons and chard all fare well in the Mediterranean climate. Almond trees provide me with a cash crop of around 1 ton while still retaining some to make almond milk and flour.