One of my least favorite parts about gardening is dealing with weeds! It seems like new ones pop up every day in my lawn and in our vegetable garden, and I’m hesitant to spray commercial weed killers. I’d love for the toddler and the puppy to be able to play in the grass without worrying about toxic chemicals, and I certainly don’t want any of that near the veggies we plan on eating! Luckily there are plenty of non-toxic ways to get rid of weeds. Here are my favorites!
11 Non-Toxic Ways To Get Rid Of Weeds
Besides being potentially dangerous to children and pets playing outdoors, strong chemical herbicides can also contribute to water contamination. When it rains, those chemicals can end up washing away, polluting the sewer system and the groundwater.
If you want to get rid of weeds without commercial herbicides, try these methods instead.
1. Pull Them
This might seem obvious, but you can always get a small trowel and dig the weeds up by hand. This is a great way to get rid of the occasional weed that pops up in your vegetable garden.
Water the area first to soften up the soil, then pull the weed. For dandelions and other weeds with a long taproot, I love to use this water-powered weeder. It hooks up to your hose and shoots a small jet of water straight down into the ground, loosening the soil all the way down to the bottom of the taproot. You can also use a butter knife or screwdriver and stick it into the soil near the root to loosen the dirt under the surface.
If you compost, set the weeds out in the sun to dry out, then toss them into your compost bin! I have free plans for building a super sturdy, easy to open, DIY compost bin if you’re interested in making one yourself.
2. Boiling Water
The heat from boiling water will wither the weed. This is especially useful for weeds that pop up in cracks in the sidewalk or driveway. You can use leftover water from boiling pasta or potatoes, or just boil a fresh kettle. Pour boiling water all over the leaves and stems of the weeds, and the heat will make them wither up. Once the weed dries up and turns yellow you can pull it up and get rid of it.
Salt is very effective at killing weeds, although you have to be careful because it can kill other plants too. Don’t use salt to kill weeds in your lawn or garden beds, but it’s a great solution for weeds along lawn edgings or in cracks in the sidewalk or driveway. Just remember, salt can erode concrete, so use it in moderation.
The best way to apply salt as a weed killer is to mix 1 part salt to 6 parts hot water. Stir until the salt dissolves, put the mixture in a spray bottle, then spray it directly onto the leaves and stems of the weeds you want to remove. You can also add a few drops of liquid dish soap to help the mixture adhere to the leaves of the plant. Once the weed turns yellow and dies, you can easily pull it up.
Any kind of salt will work, so use whatever is cheapest!
The acetic acid in vinegar is what makes it an effective herbicide. Vinegar you can get from a grocery store is usually 5% acetic acid, and that should be strong enough for most weeds. Put it in a spray bottle with a few drops of dish soap to help the vinegar adhere to the plant, then spray the leaves and stems of the weeds you want to remove.
Alcohol is a great herbicide because it will dry out the unwanted plant. You can use rubbing alcohol or cheap vodka for this; either will work. Add 2 oz of alcohol to 2 cups of water in a spray bottle. Add a few drops of dish soap to help the mixture adhere to the plant, then spray on the leaves and stems of the weeds.
This method only really works on weeds that are out in the sun; the sun evaporates the alcohol and dries out the plant. It doesn’t work as well on weeds that are growing in the shade because the sun can’t help to evaporate the alcohol.
6. Overpower Them
A healthy lawn or garden will fight weeds for water and nutrients in the soil, and the strongest plants will survive. Keeping your lawn lush and healthy will keep the weeds in your lawn at bay. And for your garden, plant flowers and garden crops that will naturally fight the weeds in your garden and overtake them.
7. Smother Them
Cover weeds with a bunch of newspaper or mulch to smother them. Just like any other plant, weeds need sunlight to grow, and this will prevent them from getting any light. This method works best for low growing weeds; anything that shoots up a tall stalk (like a dandelion) will just grow up above the newspaper or mulch.
If you’re prepping a garden bed but not quite ready to plant yet, cover your prepared bed with a layer of newspaper or mulch to prevent any new weeds from sprouting before you begin to plant.
8. Corn Gluten Meal
Corn gluten meal is a byproduct of the corn milling process, and it prevents weed seeds from germinating. However, it doesn’t help you with weeds that have already sprouted. Luckily, this means it’s totally safe to use in your garden bed and lawn because it won’t hurt the existing plants, it will just prevent new weeds from sprouting.
You may be able to find it at your local garden center, or it’s available online.
There are arguments to be made about whether or not borax is actually “non-toxic”, and it really just depends on your definition of “toxic”. I don’t use borax in my recipe for homemade borax-free laundry detergent, but I do use it outdoors and in our garden to get rid of ants. It’s totally a personal preference either way, but it is a very effective weed killer!
For this method, add 10 oz of borax to 2.5 gallons of water, mix, and put it in spray bottle. Again you can add a few drops of dish soap to help the mixture adhere to the plants. Spray the leaves and stems, but be careful not to get the mixture into the soil or on yourself.
What list would be complete without a little fire?! Plants that are alive don’t burn (they have to be dead and dried up before they will actually light on fire), but you can still use a flame to kill weeds! After one pass with a flame weeder (basically a small propane torch with a long handle) the weeds will start to wilt, and within a day or two they will be dead.
Obviously you need to be very careful when using this tool! You don’t want to use this near any dry brush or you could start a fire. Also be careful near wooden decks, garden beds, or sandboxes.
11. Utilize Them!
Ok I lied, this last method doesn’t actually “get rid of” the weeds; instead it utilizes them! Weeds are just plants that you don’t want in your garden, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re “bad plants”! Many weeds are edible; you can even make tea out of some of them. And weeds can tell you a lot about the condition of your soil, and can even help fortify your soil as they grow and die and are reabsorbed into the surrounding soil. Here’s a great article about weeds in your garden for more information.
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