How to Kill Weeds Naturally: A Complete Guide [2021]

Last modified on: September 20, 2021


Every homeowner knows the feeling: you walk into your yard ready for some rest and relaxation. 

Instead, you see weeds. 

They’re popping up through the cracks in your pavers, invading your garden beds, and rearing their ugly heads in your lawn. You’ve tried everything to get rid of weeds forever, and you’re starting to get discouraged. 

Don’t worry, though. There’s hope. 

Here at Smith’s Pest Management, we provide comprehensive natural weed control as part of our lawn care services to Bay Area homes and businesses, so we know it’s possible to get rid of weeds with natural deterrents.

In this post, we’ll discuss how to kill weeds naturally, and what steps you can take to get the weed-free outdoor space you want.

Let’s dive in. 

how to get rid of weeds naturally

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What are Weeds and Why are They a Problem? 

Before you can go to war with weeds, you’ve got to understand what they are, how they infiltrate your property, and what kind of damage they do. 

Here are a few working definitions of a weed:

  • Any plant that grows out of place, or was not intentionally planted.
  • A plant that is competitive or that interferes negatively with human activity.
  • A plant that interferes with the activity of desired plants, flowers, or vegetables.

No matter how you define a weed, they’re strong competitors in the natural environment. Weeds reproduce rapidly due to factors like abundant seed production, long-term dormancy and survival of buried seeds, and their ability to occupy sites that cultivated plants wouldn’t (or couldn’t) grow in. 

Currently, there are an estimated 250,000 species of plants around the world, with about 8,000 behaving as weeds. 

The most common weeds that affect homeowners in the US include the following:

  • Common lambsquarters
  • Foxtail
  • Morning glory
  • Palmer amaranth
  • Redroot pigweed
  • Waterhemp
  • Horseweed (Also known as mare’s tail)
  • Common ragweed
  • Barnyardgrass
  • Velvetleaf

common weeds

Image: FD Richards via Flickr / CC by SA 2.0

Here in California, the most common weeds are:

  • Grassy weeds such as annual ryegrass, blanket crabgrass, witchgrass, and creeping bentgrass.
  • Broadleaf weeds such as alligator weed, alsike clover, Asiatic hawksbeard, and annual sowthistle.

Left unchecked, these weeds can decimate lawns and gardens, choke out ornamental plants, act as hosts for pests and plant diseases, and negatively impact the appearance of your outdoor space. 

Fortunately, the team here at Smith’s knows how to tackle and eliminate all of these common weeds – and more. 

Conventional vs. Natural Weed Control 

If you want to control weeds on your property, you have a choice between two options: conventional and natural weed control. 

Here are the pros and cons of each:

Natural Weed Control

Natural weed control is an excellent option for homeowners and businesses. In addition to being more environmentally-friendly, natural weed control methods take a whole-system approach to improving your outdoor space. 

Instead of just eliminating weeds, natural weed control gets rid of invasive plants, improves the biochemistry of the soil, encourages the growth of healthy bacteria and the proliferation of beneficial organisms, and creates a more resilient outdoor ecosystem.

True natural weed control does not use synthetic herbicides or fertilizers. Instead, it utilizes a variety of holistic approaches to control damaging weeds. 

While natural weed control methods tend to be more expensive than conventional options, they produce longer-lasting results that are safer for kids, pets, and the natural environment. 

Conventional Weed Control

Conventional weed control methods use chemical herbicides and fertilizers to eliminate weeds. While conventional weed control is less expensive than natural weed control, the results tend to be “skin-deep.” 

Although conventional weed control may ensure fast green-up and rapid removal of weeds, it does not enhance the health of the yard or garden. 

In fact, many conventional weed control formulas actually strip the soil of beneficial organisms and creatures (like worms), and make it more vulnerable to disease, drought, and pest infestation. 

Finally, conventional weed control utilizes harsh chemicals that can run off into local waterways and damage natural environments. 

11 Effective Ways to Kill Weeds Naturally
  killing weed method mulch

Image: Malcom Manners via Flickr / CC by SA 2.0

Wondering how to clear a garden full of weeds? You don’t have to whip out the poison. 

Instead, try these methods to get rid of weeds naturally:

1. Salt, Vinegar and Dish Soap

Do natural weed killers really work? They do if you choose the right ones. 

One of the most effective natural weed control methods is a mixture of white vinegar, salt, and liquid dish soap. You can also use apple cider vinegar, if it’s all you have on hand. 

The vinegar contains acetic acid, which, combined with salt, leeches moisture from weeds.  The dish soap, meanwhile, is a surfactant, which reduces surface tension on the plant’s leaves and promotes absorption. 

For best results, combine one gallon of white vinegar with one cup of salt and one tablespoon of liquid dish soap. Mix the ingredients in a spray bottle and apply it to weeds at the warmest, sunniest time of the day. The weeds should wither and brown within hours. Spray weeds as needed to prevent re-emergence. 

2. Borax

Borax weed killer is especially useful for killing weeds like Creeping Charlie and Ground Ivy.  It should be used cautiously, though, as it can kill grass in lawns.  

To make your own homemade borax weed killer, mix one cup of powdered borax with two gallons of water. Spray the mixture on weeds, directing at the roots, and re-apply as needed. 

3. Mulch

Mulch is an excellent way to control weeds in garden beds. Ideal for suppressing perennial weeds, mulch smothers weeds and prevents sunlight from reaching the soil surface. 

For best results, use a thick layer (3”-4”) of bark mulch between crops in vegetable beds, or around landscaping plants. For maximum impact, use mulch in conjunction with other natural weed control methods.  

4. Boiling water

One of the best organic weed killers is boiling water, which is a simple, fast, safe, and eco-friendly way to kill unwanted plants. According to University of California Integrated Pest Management Online, boiling water works best to kill broadleaf weeds. 

To keep your cultivated plants safe from damage, only use boiling water to treat weeds that are not near plants that you want to preserve. 

Because it’s hard to control the flow of the boiling water, this method is best used on weeds along driveways and sidewalks, or between paving stones.

To kill weeds, boil water in a teakettle and then pour on target weeds, keeping the kettle’s spout as close as possible to the weed’s root. The weed should wither and die almost immediately. Re-apply as needed to prevent regrowth. 

5. Rubbing alcohol

Take a look in your medicine cabinet for an effective homemade weed killer you probably already own: rubbing alcohol. 

When mixed with water, rubbing alcohol will kill weeds and prevent regrowth. To make your own rubbing alcohol mixture, add four tablespoons of rubbing alcohol to a gallon of warm water. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and spray target weeds until they are thoroughly wet, but not dripping. 

Reapply as needed.

6. Newspaper

Newspaper provides the same weed-suppressing benefits as landscape fabric, but is a more eco-conscious choice, since it recycles old materials. 

For best results, lay at least three layers of newspaper down on the soil around plants you want to protect. While the newspaper isn’t attractive on its own, covering it with mulch or gravel creates a neat, clean appearance in garden beds. 

7. Remove weeds by hand

Controlling weeds by hand is one of the oldest, most effective methods of weed control. While pulling weeds manually will work for small raised vegetable and flower beds, larger areas require the help of a hoe. 

Use a stirrup hoe to remove weeds between vegetable rows, or a larger, sharp hoe to cut weeds off just below soil level in larger areas. 

8. Vodka

Have vodka you’ll never drink? Put it to use as a strong homemade weed killer that’s safe for pets and children.

For the best natural weed killer recipe, mix one ounce of vodka, two cups of warm water, and two drops of dish soap into a spray bottle. Spray the weeds around the leaves and the roots, and reapply as needed to prevent regrowth. 

9. Old shower curtains and carpet samples

Want to lay down a weed barrier but don’t want to spend money on store-bought landscape fabric? Why not repurpose your old shower curtains and carpet samples? 

Both create dense, non-permeable barriers that will smother weeds and prevent light and air from reaching them. Use both exactly the way you’d use landscape fabric or newspaper - laying them around plants you want to protect and covering with mulch or gravel. 

10. Goats

Goats can be incredible tools for urban weed management. Small, compact, friendly, and with a hearty taste for many species of invasive weeds, goats graze heavily on brush and broad-leafed, non-grassy plants. 

While goats are not an appropriate solution for every household, they can be helpful for property owners who have large garden or pasture areas that require weed control. 

11. Weed Torch

Weed torches use propane gas to create a hot, localized flame. When held directly over a weed, this flame dehydrates and kills the plant. 

While weed torches won’t work in small garden spaces (since they may kill nearby plants), they can be a good option for weed control in driveways, along sidewalks, or in roadside ditches. 

How do Lawn Care Specialists Get Rid of Weeds Naturally? 
 lawn care specialist

If you’re interested in hiring a professional like Smith’s to provide natural weed control, you may be wondering what to expect. 

Here’s an overview of how lawn care specialists get rid of weeds naturally:

1.  Lawn Analysis

The first step in any natural lawn care contract is a comprehensive lawn analysis. 

An experienced natural lawn care expert will visit your home, evaluate your current lawn and garden health, and identify the species of weeds on your property. 

From there, the natural weed control expert will work with you to create a weed control plan that caters to your needs and suits your property and priorities. 

2. Lawn Treatment

Next, the natural lawn care company you’ve chosen will deploy your custom management plan. 

Depending on the type and severity of your weeds, treatment may include aeration, seeding, post- and pre-emergent weed control, and more. 

Treatment will be reapplied and readjusted as needed, depending on the condition of your lawn. 

3. Lawn Servicing

After the initial treatment, your natural weed control expert will return to your home every 6-8 weeks to carry out remaining treatment, remove persistent weeds, and continue lawn servicing. 

They may also recommend a tip for the best organic weed killer for your property. 

5 Ways to Prevent Weeds from Growing in the First Place

tall grass weed free

Wondering how to keep weeds out of your garden naturally? Here are a few tips to prevent weeds in vegetable garden or flower beds:

1. Let your lawn grow

What will kill weeds but not grass? Grass! If you have weeds in your lawn, one of the best ways to eliminate them is to allow your grass to grow as tall as your mower blade settings allow.

Here’s why this works:

  • Taller grass shades the soil and deprives weeds of the sunlight and nutrients they need to grow.
  • Long grass has stronger roots and a thicker top, which makes it more resilient to weed infestation and other problems. 
  • Deep grass roots naturally break up dense, compacted soil, aerating it and improving the biochemistry within the soil. 

2. Plant ground covers

Looking for a non-toxic weed killer that you can use in the lawn or vegetable garden? Cover crops are an excellent option. Ground cover crops crowd out weeds and provide natural compost when they’re turned under in the spring. 

To give the ground cover a leg-up on the competition, supplement its impact by hand-pulling weeds for the first few months of growth. 

3. Prevent weeds from going to seed

To prevent weeds from spreading, don’t allow them to go to seed. When you deadhead (the process of removing the flower head) weeds like dandelions, it will help prevent the spread of weeds. You can deadhead weeds manually, or attack them all at once with a mower. 

4. Lay down landscape fabric

One of the best ways to prevent weeds naturally is to install landscape fabric as a weed barrier. This is especially helpful whenever you’re installing a new garden bed or landscape feature. You can purchase rolls of landscape material at your local hardware store. For best results, cover the installed fabric in at least 2” of mulch or stone.

5. Use soaker hoses to direct moisture

If you use a sprinkler to water your garden, open spaces will become an ideal habitat for weeds. Instead, install soaker hoses to deliver targeted moisture only where it's needed – at the base of your garden plants. 

This creates an artificial drought in the rest of the garden and deprives weeds of the moisture they need to thrive. 

Looking for Natural Weed Control Services in the San Francisco Bay Area? We’re Here to Help!

You don’t have to live with problem weeds forever. Here at Smith’s Pest Management, we help residential and commercial properties in Northern California – from Marin to Monterey – control weeds naturally. 

Our certified horticulturists and arborists have the know-how to deliver targeted organic lawn care and take care of pests and persistent weeds that invade your lawn. We offer organic lawn care in the form of a comprehensive, soil test-driven and soil health program. With our help, your best yard is just around the corner. 

Ready to learn more? Contact us today. 


Author Bio: Zach Smith

zach smith, owner of smith's pest management

Landscape Pro Turned Gopher Pro: Owner, Zach Smith, graduate of Cal Poly’s Horticulture program worked nine years as a landscape professional- dealing with gophers, moles, and ground squirrels and was quickly recruited by other local gardeners. Fast forward to the past 10+ years, where Zach and his team trap and remove burrowing pests from residential, municipal and commercial properties throughout the San Francisco Bay area, from Marin to Monterey.



 

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