It’s no secret. I’m not a gardening diva.
And heaven knows I’ve had my share of ridiculous gardening mistakes, like that time I killed my whole garden with poisoned hay mulch.
Even so, I stick with it every year. Every January, I order my heirloom seeds and dream of that idyllic garden that weeds itself and never looks messy. (Are you laughing yet? ?) And then, by June, the weeds are working hard to destroy the dream. In fact, the weeds—and freak hail storms in July (yeah, that happened this month– the lovely picture at the top of this post happened just SIX HOURS before it hit…)—can be the most stressful part of gardening.
I use natural weed control ideas in my garden because, who wants to use chemical sprays on an organic garden? Especially since I worked so hard to grow my garden from seeds (despite summer hail). I’ll never completely eradicate the weeds, but I’m okay with that.
Is there a fool-proof way to permanently banish weeds? No. At least, I’ve yet to find it… But these natural weed control tips I’ve learned over the years will help you enjoy your garden more.
Natural Weed Control for Your Garden
1. Smother weeds
Mulch has always been my best friend in waging the war on weeds, whether it’s old straw, grass clippings (make sure the lawn has not been sprayed with anything), or raked leaves.
If you are a long-time reader, you are probably well-acquainted with my foray into the world of deep mulch using hay, which started magnificently, and then ended tragically.
(Cliff Notes Version: Hay mulch is great. But make sure said hay mulch has NOT been sprayed with herbicides…)
If your weed layer is especially stubborn you can also try stunting it by applying a layer of cardboard or newspaper before you add organic mulch. This is a bit more hardcore in smothering the weeds and will keep them repressed.
And bonus—mulch serves a dual purpose. While it keeps weeds out, it keeps moisture in. Of course, none of this matters if you still wind up killing your garden with chemicals, so make sure you know where your mulch comes from and ask if it’s been treated with chemicals. If you’re going to a local farmer for hay to use as mulch, make sure you ask how he fertilizes and sprays his fields.
Another smothering system I’ve heard of is called “solarization,” which lets the sun’s heat do all the work over the course of a season. To solarize the soil, you would simply put heavy plastic or tarps on the weedy area, weigh it down with bricks or other heavy weights, and let the sun bake the weeds. The downfall to solarization is that it can take many months to complete the process (especially if you are attempting it in winter or you live in a cooler, northern climate).
Also, solarization is non-discriminating, so it will also kill off good organisms in your soil, so use it sparingly.
2. Water wisely
Just like your lovely vegetable plants, weeds love to be watered. Because a sprinkler system is indiscriminate, watering individual plants directly keeps the life-giving water focused on your food.
Drip irrigation and soaker hoses are great choices that focus the water right where you need it, effectively prevent healthy weeds, and save water to boot. I love win-win-win.
In my raised bed garden, I apply this concept by carefully adjusting the mini-sprinklers in the beds to avoid overspray and keep the water contained within the bed and not on the walkways. As the heat of summer increases, the weeds start to feel the burn from lack of water and it definitely reduces their vigor.
3. Plant thickly
One great way to keep weeds from spreading? Refuse to give them any squatter’s rights. Obviously, the less empty space you have in your garden, the less space the weeds have to put down roots. Whenever possible, squeeze more plants in your growing space, keeping the soil covered with good plants (and, another win-win, more food!).
I see this working especially well with my potato and cabbage beds– I tend to crowd my plants in these areas and while I do have to weed normally while the plants grow, eventually they take over the beds and the weeds are discouraged.
If your plants need lots of growing space (like those crazy tomatoes that are always stretching their limbs), try keeping the excess space protected with a traditional mulch (I’ve been using our grass clippings this year with great results) or a living mulch, like buckwheat.
4. Pull ‘em when they’re young
Even when I do all of the above, weeds still find a way to show up all over my garden beds and paths. But I find there is a definite window of time that it’s super easy to deny them long-term living space. If I boot them out when they’re young and small, I find it’s much easier to control them overall. If I don’t get them when they’re baby weeds, it seems like almost overnight they’ve gone to seed or grown intense roots systems, which are much harder to pull.
And never, ever, ever let those weeds go to seed… Otherwise they’ll haunt you for years to come.
With particularly stubborn weeds that I CANNOT remove by the roots, no matter how I hard I try, I’m using the EXHAUST method.
Take yellow dock for example… I have several patches of this in my garden that WILL NOT go away, even though I’ve built raised beds on top of it and smothered it with landscape fabric and wood chip mulch. The roots go down to China, so I’ve given up trying to dig it out. However, as soon as I see a fresh crop of leaves appear on it (usually overnight because that plant is stinkin’ tough…) I chop ’em off to avoid the plant getting any photosynthesis action. Over the past few months, I’ve noticed the plant loosing it’s ‘oomph’ and I’m going to keep exhausting its resources until it gives up.
5. Make Homemade Weed Killer
Okay, so while numbers 1-4 sound great, life can get busy. And weeds seem to get the best of us. Every year. This is where my homemade weed-killer spray takes center stage. But I have to come clean here. It’s nothing fancy. In fact, it’s just one ingredient. And you have some right in your kitchen pantry.
My secret homemade weed-killer spray? Vinegar. I pour vinegar into a spray bottle and spray it directly on the weeds. I soak them well and I wait until it’s a scorcher, dry day. I also prefer a non-windy day, and I’m ultra careful to not let the mist touch my good plants. Because, of course, vinegar doesn’t know how to distinguish my weeds from my peppers. 😉
Two Important Notes About Using Homemade Vinegar Weed Killer for Natural Weed Control:
- I don’t use my homemade vinegar weed killer in or near my garden beds— it’s too risky that it’ll get on my veggie plants. However, it’s a fantastic option for walkways or in your driveway where the weeds just won’t quit
- You can use a super-strength vinegar (also called horticultural vinegar) for this, but it’s more expensive and tougher to find. So unless you have a ready supply, just grab a gallon or two of regular, 5% cheap white vinegar from the grocery store.
I guess this is a good place to mention another weed remedy that everyone has in their kitchen. Believe it or not, boiling water is a detriment to weeds. Just dump it on. That’s it. I don’t recommend this for all your weeds, but if you have a full pot full of blazing hot water after canning, you can carefully carry it outside and pour on the annoying weeds popping up through the cracks in your sidewalk. (Just don’t splash it on your toes!)
6. Give Up And Eat Your Weeds
Now that I’ve spent this whole post bemoaning weeds, I will say that some weeds can serve us well and I’m not completely anti-weed. (Just yellow dock and bindweed… They are my sworn enemies…)
I highly recommend identifying the most prevalent weeds that grow well in your garden and researching if they have a good purpose. You might wind up sparing the lives of a few that you can use for a wide range of purposes.
Some weeds actually have beneficial uses either for your health, as a food, or they can be useful for beneficial insects. Clover, for example, can release beneficial nitrogen into the soil. It is also a favorite food for bees.
I love using dandelions for our homestead. Not only can you make a handy dandelion salve for muscles & joints, you can also eat dandelions in a bunch of creative ways.
I also love eating lamb’s quarters and I have a quesadilla recipe that works great with weeds like lamb’s quarters, purslane, dandelion greens, plantain leaves, and more.
Sometimes, I like to see these useful weeds as just bonus produce in the garden. Produce that I did not have to carefully raise from seed. This positive spin on weeds won’t work for all types of weeds, but it can help you find certain types of weeds as useful instead of annoying.
Listen to the Old Fashioned On Purpose podcast episode #11 on this topic HERE.
Final Advice on Making Natural Weed Control Work…
My BEST tip for effective natural weed control? It’s really true for all of life… slow and steady wins the race, guys. When I weed my garden every day for just 5-10 minutes a day, I find I have much more control over those invasive plants.
Mind you, I don’t follow my own advice all the time. Sometimes I do put off weeding. Then it’s bad and I put it off more. Then I spend all day on the defense in the war against weeds, and wind up grouchy and sore. I’m much happier on those months that I act like a gardening tortoise… slow and steady, Jill… slow and steady…
What are your best natural weed control tips?
More Natural Gardening Tips:
- Organic Pest Control Garden Spray
- Building Raised Garden Beds
- Liquid Fence Recipe
- How to Make Compost Tea
P.S. Want some help canning all your garden produce, now that you’ve got the weeds at bay? Join me in my kitchen for some canning tutorials right here.
I also discovered agricultural vinegar – it works better on plants with leaves more than grasses. It has helped me immensely with a stubborn thistle patch that went to seed one year – oops! Agricultural/industrial vinegar is available on Amazon.
Susan Walters says
We are crazy about trying to keep chemicals out of our home and garden! We are fully convinced that toxins are horrendous for our health and the survival of the natural environmental balance! We thought that you have a similar view? Yet… in reading your blog here comes a Monsanto ad claiming glyphosate is safe…what? You are supporting them? You are profiting through their ads … so disappointing!
Bloggers don’t actually have full control over their ads… whatever ad company they use says “oh, you’re talking about gardening and farming, I’m going to show your readers agricultural type ads.” It’s just an algorithm, based on the content of the site they show ads they think are related. Just an fyi since I find it interesting 🙂
Jill, there’s an effective natural control for bindweed weed if you live in an area that doesn’t have a lot of humidity. Contact the Colorado Extension Service, I believe. Unfortunately I live in Chicago and we have a lot of humidity oh, so it won’t work here!
I love your raised beds!! What are they made out of and where do you source your materials for them
Susan Stone says
Our “lawn” areas are mostly what people call weeds (I call most of the non-grass ones wild flowers). One we have, which is very edible, is amaranth. You see the seeds in health food stores, but the leaves are also edible. They taste just like spinach, although my husband thinks the flavor of amaranth is a little stronger. I haven’t yet tried eating our purslane, but who knows. I’ll have to check out your quesadilla recipe…
Elizabeth L. Johnson says
Jill, every single one of your suggestions were great! I’ve done most of them, and still do, except for the boiling water and eating them. Another suggestion I’ve seen is yanking them with their root, before blooming (with seed) and use as mulch. Yes, using weeds as mulch. Plant thickly is a good one I haven’t done. But the picture of yours looks great, when you’re not going to be yanking lettuce for use, but only taking leaves off for eating. Vinegar is very useful, especially when it’s over a hundred degrees.
Good article, very practical!!!
I really like the tips, and use or have tried most of them. But I am wondering how to control the other areas- the driveway, around the dugout (pond) and around the barn? There are so many areas on a homestead that the weeds just love. Do I just give in and use chemicals?
Jen at Between the Bees Farm & Brewery says
I was wondering if you have ever covered the specifics of your irrigation system, either in a blog post, podcast, or video. We have just finished building our beds (3 – 4’x8’) and need to put the irrigation in place soon. Debating between soaker hoses (water indiscriminately, but seem to last forever) and drip emitters (pinpoint accuracy but tend to break down a lot, at least according to the reviews I’ve read).
Kayla- Prairie Homestead Assistant says
Yes! Jill covered that topic in this post: https://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2017/04/building-raised-beds.html
Paul Byrd says
There is nothing like preserving nature with nature. You don’t have to be an expert in gardening to keep it healthy without weeds. At this blog, Prairie Homestead offers you wonderful tips to keep the weeds at bay using the most natural measures possible. Say no to chemicals and yes to a beautiful garden!
Weeds are one of the major threats in garden. Many gardeners have tried a lot to control them. It will be great pleasure to me if your procedure work properly.
Keep up the good posting, Jill.
Great post Jill. Thanks for all the tips.
i also use vinegar – sometimes i add dishwashing soap to make it stick better to the weeds. and to make sure i don`t spray veggies or flowers – i put a ‘cone of shame’ on my spray bottle (made from some water/soda bottle).
Another natural weed killer is salt. I discovered it by accident, and have used it ever since. Another tried and true one is baking soda, as a pre~emergent. Sprinkle on the paths and any seed heads left behind won’t sprout. neither one are good for beds tho, just driveways, because they will ruin the soil and kill everything.
Marilyn S says
Do you have a common weed identification guide?
Interesting read. I never thought of vinegar. I have just two raised beds and the rest is flat. I use composted horse manure every year and I get carpets of weeds. I just sit on the soil and weed them out an evening at a time and then run the small tiller in between the rows to get anything I miss. Last night I finally found my corn patch! Lol. Sometimes I’m lucky to find some old straw bales and I use cardboard around wandering plants like cantaloupe. My lawn is an old hay field so I don’t often use it as mulch as it still goes to seed, but my daughters have thick lawns and I ask for their grass clippings so I don’t have to weed all summer long other than a few rogue plants. My squash seeds now grow on one of the big composted manure piles in the horse fence so I don’t need to worry about them, lol. Weeds grow then the squash grows choking out weeds….I get to see the bounty after the first frost or when the horses are lazy and they eat the weeds only.
I use cleaning vinegar that I get at the dollar store. 20% stronger than regular white vinegar. Worth a cheap try!
You have Yellow Dock and I have Canadian Thistle….I dug down 2.5 feet and I still came no where close to the root. Otherwise, I bout 30% vinegar that kills anything it touches and then I have to be aware how much I use it in my garden bc where do you think the vinegar goes after the plant dies? I use this as a spot control. Dig as far down the stem as I can and nip it just above the soil level. Then I use an eye dropper and put one whole one on the fresh cut. Otherwise, I pour boiling,I got water when I have it or I weed.