Keep Weeds Under Control (Without Weed Killers)

Subhead

How to get rid of weeds without resorting to chemical killers

Catherine Boeckmann

Dealing with weeds in the garden? Their often persistent nature can make for a truly frustrating experience. In this article (with video demo), we share our top tactics for keeping weeds under control in your vegetable garden—without resorting to chemical killers.

From puny annual weeds that can be dispatched with a hoe to more troublesome perennials that need a more considered strategy, there are ways to win the war on weeds.

Annual Versus Perennial Weeds

Annual weeds germinate, flower and set seed in one season, while perennial weeds continue growing for many years. Both kinds present their own challenges, but they can be kept under control—without resorting to using herbicides.

Regain control of a garden that has become weedy by cutting or mowing weeds to the ground. Cover them with a light-excluding fabric, thick black plastic, or organic mulch such as compost or leaf mold to starve the weeds of sunlight. You could also use cardboard; remove any tape or staples, and lay the sheets of cardboard with generous overlaps to make it difficult for weeds to push up. Weigh the cardboard down to keep it in place, and replace it when it rots down.

Perennial Weeds

Perennial weeds with deep or spreading roots such as bindweed, ground elder and nettles may take a year or more to die off completely, but once they do they will help improve the soil and feed the plants that follow.

Act fast to remove any weeds that make it to the surface. Dig them out with a trowel or fork. Fragments of perennial weed roots can easily regrow, so try to get all of the roots. Only add perennial weeds to your compost pile if you have drowned them in a bucket of water for at least a month first. They should have turned into sloppy goo which can then be poured over your compost.

Hoe weekly with a sharp hoe to keep emerging annual weeds under control. Aim to hoe on a windy or sunny day, in the morning if possible, so that the weed seedlings quickly shrivel up and die. Weeds will quickly spread if they get the opportunity to produce seeds, so always aim to remove weeds before they flower

Organic mulches like compost and leaf mold not only feed the soil, they can also help to suppress weeds. 

If you won’t be growing vegetables in an area of ground for a while, sow a cover crop to crowd out weeds and add valuable organic material. Fast-growers like mustards may be sown as late as fall to produce lush foliage in a matter of weeks. They can be dug up or dug in before planting the next crop.

Intensive planting with vegetables such as potatoes that produce lots of foliage will prevent light from reaching the ground and help keep weeds in check.

Check new plants for weeds, and make sure that any bought-in manure or compost is well-rotted and free of weed seeds too. Cover compost heaps and potting mixes to prevent wind-blown seeds from taking root. And keep tools and boots clean to minimize the spread of weeds. 

See more about identifying your common weeds in the garden and lawn.

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Marianne (not verified)

7 months ago

I am inundated with Lesser Celandine, deemed invasive in many US states. I implore anyone to help me find a method to eradicate this, which is aggressively taking over my 2-acre property and headed into the woods behind, ditches, neighbouring properties... Please help!

Gina (not verified)

1 year 4 months ago

I want to compost in my garden to keep weeds down and retain moisture (we live in the high desert), but it seems to encourage more earwigs and we have too many (they love the strawberries especially). Suggestions?

The Editors

1 year 3 months ago

In reply to by Gina (not verified)

Hi Gina,
There are a number of ways to deter earwigs in the garden! Here is a link to our page that explains exactly how to do that. We hope this helps! 
https://www.almanac.com/pest/earwigs#

Linda Stevens (not verified)

1 year 4 months ago

I love the hoe shown in this video. It appears to be lighter in weight and easier to use than a conventional hoe. Where can I buy one?

Kyle Musick (not verified)

1 year 4 months ago

This might stir up an argument, but I think is worth mentioning. When I started my garden in its current location it was covered with everything from crab grass to thistles. I keep bees, so I take very good care not to use any sprays that might cause them harm. The battle for the last two years on the weeds were intense. I stayed on top the best I could between work and family life. Anyhow, last fall I covered about 75% of the garden with leaves, and that helped more than anything. It did not completely wipe them out, but it limited how many types reemerged in the spring and I also have not noticed an increase (or decrease)
in pests. Also this year I mulched with wood chips and so far it has been incredibly easier to stay up on the battle.