Why use organic methods?
Many gardeners are extremely passionate about doing things the natural, organic way. It's often cheaper and just as effective as using harmful chemicals to control weeds.
Don't let that scare you.
Not all weeds are bad and with careful planning, 10 minutes per day and a couple of tools you can easily & effectively control weeds organically.
When to control weeds
Weeds should be dealt with as quickly as possible, don't put it off.
Procrastination is a gardeners 2nd worse enemy.
What is a 5 minute weeding job on day one can quickly turn into a 2 hour job a few weeks down the line. Some weeds grow rapidly spreading seed across your garden.
In case you were wondering, weeds are enemy #1.
Controlling weeds organically
So you've chosen to manage your weed problem organically, bravo....
Now the hard work begins.
Prevention is the best cure
By far the best way to control weeds is to stop them from growing in the first place. That may sound impossible without the use of chemicals but it isn't.
The easiest way is mulching or sheet mulching, it can be done with some newspaper, cardboard and compost.
Lay the newspaper or cardboard a few inches thick on top of the soil. Remember to remove weeds currently growing first.
Add an inch or two of compost on top of the newspaper or cardboard. If you can get some wood chippings cheaply enough add an inch of those on top for a decorative finish.
Mulching is usually done at the end of the growing season in preparation for the next. Never done it before? Not growing anything? Then right now is the time to start mulching.
The easiest & cheapest way to eliminate weeds organically is by hand. All you need is some gardeners gloves to protect your hands from thorns and cuts then your ready to go.
Pull the weeds out from the base and try to remove the roots as well. Many weeds will regenerate if you don't get the whole plant, roots included, get them if you can.
Not all weeds are capable of regenerating or have enough energy to do so. Can't get the roots? Chop off it's head!
Many weeds will seed prolifically if you let them.
Remove them before they get a chance to spread their seed otherwise you'll soon be battling a small army.
Spend 10 minutes a day in your garden.
If you spend the time, you'll quickly spot new weeds & be able to eliminate them before there a problem.
TOP TIPS :
Identifying your weeds may highlight underlying problems.
If you have a lot of weeds, low mobility or a big area to manage then hand weeding may not be suitable for you.
Luckily, there are hundreds of organic friendly weeding tools that will make your job easier & quicker,
Every good gardener will have at least 3 of these:
On a dry, calm day run your hoe down the rows between plants or along borders to remove any small seedlings.
They will quickly die on the surface without moisture. If the soil is moist they may re-root and your back to square one.
Keep a sharp swan neck hoe nearby for annual weeds. Simply cut right through the weed & it will die.
Hand / border fork
Perfect for picking digging out deep rooted perennials without disturbing the soil too much.
Makes hand weeding much easier.
Digging is highly effective for weed control.
Dig it up, bury it or compost it. We've been killing weeds this way for centuries, it's easy & very effective.
Dig only when you need to. Too much digging may awaken dormant seeds ready to sprout on your freshly disturbed soil. Cover the disturbed area immediately with mulch.
Give your back and knees a rest and pick the weeds with a weed grabber. Often referred to as a daisy picker you can cover a lot of ground quite quickly and tackle weeds in hard to reach areas.
The claws make grabbing the weed easy and many come with useful attachments for eliminating specific weeds.
If you can't get them out, burn them out!
Usually powered by butane the burning heat will quickly kill any weeds it comes into contact with.
Know a man who goes to great lengths to avoid weeding?
GET ONE OF THESE!
I've seen grown men who normally rigorously avoid any type of garden work, go out of their way to use these mini flamethrowers. There is something about the flames.
Effective against small weeds, can be used in and around crops & decorative plants without worry. Deep rooted weeds may simply regenerate, be persistent and try again.
Please be careful, fire is dangerous.
Close ranks and reduce the spacing between your plants or vegetables, this won't help if you already have weeds.
It's often possible to reduce the recommended spacing by up to 25%. Experiment, reduce spacing slowly each year, if problems occur reverse the spacing.
Salt & hot water
Be warned, salt can damage your soil health, preventing or harming growth of decorative plants & vegetables. Scalding hot water will damage any plant it touches.
Best used on hard surfaces, around borders & areas you don't intend to plant in. I have used both methods below, whilst effective I would recommend doing it manually.
Add water to and salt to a pot (200g salt per 100ml water) and bring to the soil. Pour over the weeds, voila, your done. May not effective against large deep rooted weeds.
For small weeds just smother the salt on top covering the whole plant. It'll draw out the moisture & kill the weed.
A preventative technique. You will have to remove any weeds that are currently growing in the area.
Apply your mulch in the autumn for the following year. It will take time to decompose and be suitable for planting.
Grab some paper or cardboard, compost, grass clippings and wood chippings (last two are optional).
1) Lay the paper / cardboard down so that it's 2" deep.
2) Add 1" of compost (add lawn clippings 1st if available)
3) Add 1" of wood chippings, cocoa husks or similar.
4) Water the whole area thoroughly.
Weeds may still blow in and take root on top. They are easily pulled out. The 1st layer is a barrier preventing deep roots forming above & blocks sunlight to the weeds below.
As the mulch decomposes it will enrich your soil creating a fertile land for you to plant on. Keep the mulch 3 inches deep & replenish as required to stop weeds growing through.
TOP TIP :
Leave an inch or two between the mulch and tree trunks or plant stems to prevent root rot and fungi.
>> Read successful mulching for dummies
Often refereed to as weed control fabric. Useful if you're building a raised bed, laying a path or not using an area.
Lay the landscape fabric underneath the raised bed or path to prevent weeds from growing through from the bottom.
For unused areas of the garden peg down the fabric, overlapping by 12" across the seams. It'll block out the sunlight and kill any small weeds underneath.
TOP TIP :
Old organic carpet, rugs, blankets or similar are FREE alternatives if you don't mind a good scavenge.
Corn gluten meal
Scarcely any subject in organic lawn care has spurred more discussion in the past two decades than corn gluten meal.
In the past decade, as the demand for alternatives to toxic chemicals has risen, the use of corn gluten meal on lawns has grown exponentially.
In many cases, though, so has the frustration of consumers who expect the corn gluten meal to work as efficiently as its chemical counterparts.
My standing answer to anyone who asks about this natural weed alternative is that corn gluten meal has been vastly oversold by an overeager industry.
With the rising prices of corn gluten meal in the past three years, homeowners can go broke trying to buy enough product to make a difference in their weed population.
That does not mean, however, that the product has no value in lawn care or gardening . . .SOME BACKGROUND
Dr. Nick Christians, one of the most widely respected figures in the lawn care industry, is credited with developing corn gluten meal as a pre-emergent lawn herbicide.
His product kills the dicot weeds (clover, plantain, dandelions etc.) before they grow to adult size.
The weed seeds actually do germinate, but the corn gluten meal inhibits the expansion of the plants’ roots and they quickly die of dehydration.
So far, so good. Iowa State’s own research on the subject, however, shows that to achieve anything close to full control requires the application of at least 20 pounds of corn gluten meal per 1,000 square feet — at exactly the right time in the spring — just before the weed seeds germinate.
Corn gluten meal doesn’t inhibit weeds that already have root systems; in fact it makes fully formed weeds grow even faster due to the nitrogen content of the product.
The general rule of thumb is to apply the corn gluten just as the forsythia plants break into bloom in the North, or the dogwoods begin to bloom in the South.
If you apply corn gluten meal anytime before or after that window, the product’s efficacy for weed control falls through the floor.
TOP TIP :
Corn gluten meal is used in lawns. It's an excellent fertiliser and semi-effective for weed control.
>> Read the secrets to a perfect, weed free lawn
Organic weed killer
If none of the above options sound appealing then you can always choose an organic herbicide. Avenger is one such product, most are made from organic citrus oils.
Organic herbicides will control most weeds, grasses and broad leaves and the active ingredient is D-Limonene.
Generally recognised as safe it's OK to use around people, pets & wildlife. Avenger is an OMRI listed product and is suitable for organic growing or farming.
7 easy steps for the cheap & lazy
Control weeds with little effort using items most households will have (if not they're really cheap!), you'll need:
- A couple of cardboard boxes & newspapers
- Some compost (homemade preferably)
- A spade, hoe, garden gloves & hand fork.
This is for controlling weeds in soil. For hard surfaces see our guide to eliminating weeds on block paving & patios.
1) Remove all the weeds currently growing, pull out the roots if you can, if not chop off close to the soil.
2) Lay down the newspaper so it covers the soil. If it's windy wet the paper (it'll stop it from blowing away).
3) Lay the cardboard on top of the paper. Ideally you want this layer to be 2-3" thick. Moisten when finished.
4) Shovel over 1 to 1..5" of compost. Add 1" of wood chipping if you can get them (local sawmills are a cheap source).
5) Water the hole area thoroughly. All the weeds below the cardboard will die as the sunlight won't reach them.
6) Weeds may sprout on top but they can easily be removed with a hoe, the cardboard will stop them setting deep roots.
7) Repeat the above process at the end of autumn every year. You can leave holes in the cardboard to plant in.
Things you should avoid
Obviously anything that isn't organic!
- Fresh manure can contain weeds seeds, bacteria & other pathogens. It's also too rich for most plants.
- Chemical pesticides & nutrients. Obviously.
- Cheap seeds. Buy disease resistant varieties.
- Planting the same crops in the same place year after year. Rotate annually to prevent soil disease.
- Over watering, under watering or over mulching.
- Over digging, you may just disturb some dormant seeds and you'll be back at square one.
- Expensive organic plant nutrients. Make your own compost, it's easy, environmentally friendly & free!
Don't give up, with persistence, patience & a little work you can control most weeds problems organically.