Yes, weeds in your garden are tough to deal with, but you don’t need to use toxic commercial weed killers in flower beds, vegetable gardens or other gardens to get rid of them. Here, an expert gardener’s weed-beating strategies…
Start early. You can save yourself a lot of trouble if you intervene promptly. In early spring, yank weeds out by the roots (right after a rain, when the ground is soft and damp). Or drag a sharp hoe across them, which dislodges them, roots and all.
Kill top growth. For larger weeds that are deeply rooted, try an aboveground attack. If you persist, the root systems will struggle and eventually die. There are several ways you can do this…
Cut. Use a weed whacker or lawn mower set low to scalp them.
Smother. Lay cardboard, one-half inch of old newspapers, a plastic or heavy cloth tarp or a combination of these, over a weed patch. Anchor with rocks or bricks. For a badly infested or very weedy area, leave the covering in place for an entire growing season. It won’t look beautiful, but neither would the weeds, and it’s only temporary. To inhibit an invasion among desired plants, lay down at least one inch of bagged bark mulch or straw.
Scald. It is possible to kill weeds by dousing them with boiling water. This works best for spot-treating small patches. Use a tea kettle filled with just-boiled water. Use oven mitts, and pour with care so that you don’t splash the water on your legs or shoes.
Use homemade weed killer. In a large, clean plastic jug, mix one gallon of white vinegar, one cup of table salt and one tablespoon of liquid dish-washing soap. Shake well. Vinegar and salt dry out plant cell membranes, causing death by dehydration—soap helps the mixture adhere to the plants. Fill a spray bottle with the mixture, and direct it at all aboveground growth on a sunny day—sunlight boosts the vinegar’s effectiveness. Repeated applications often are necessary. Protect nearby valued plants by covering them with an old towel or with an empty carton.
If the above options fail, use one or more of the following products, available at garden stores or online. Follow the label directions on your product, and be prepared to repeat treatments on larger plants and stubborn targets.
Citrus oils: Organic herbicides, such as Avenger, have citrus oil as their active ingredient—this strips leaves of their protective waxy covering, drying them out past the point of no return. These work best on broadleaf weeds including dandelion, pigweed and bindweed.
Garden torches: You can zap pesky weeds with a propane-fueled flame tool called the Mini Dragon. This works brilliantly on nonflammable surfaces such as stone terraces, walkways and sidewalks where weeds have encroached or reared up between cracks and in rock gardens. For safety, follow the instructions that come with this product to the letter.