For large areas of weeds and grasses, we learned there is one sure way how to kill weeds which doesn't involve spraying of any kind. And it really works (unlike that vinegar-salt solution you've probably read about).
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When we moved from our 50x100 city lot to a semi-rural acre I thought I had a handle on dealing with weeds organically.
Oh, and of course some hand pulling. There's no getting away from that totally.
But I had no idea what we would face with even a relatively small acreage. No idea.
Here are just a few of the areas we routinely had to address or they would get completely covered:
- Drainage ditches all along the front of the property next to the road. These were our responsibility to keep them clear to allow water run-off, though once a year the foot next to the road was mowed.
- Gravel driveway. We had a circular drive as well as one leading from it to the front of the garage. So much gravel that weeds love to grow in.
- Fence lines. If you ignore these, you will eventually not see the fence. In Oregon, many fence lines are completely covered with invasive blackberries.
- Much more pernicious weeds. Like, so many more. Spurge, purslane, plantain, and super strong grasses that I ended up calling "pasture grass." And here I thought dandelion was the worst.
How to kill weeds
So.many.weeds. And areas to grow weeds.
I tried many of the things that you can find if you Google "how to kill weeds." Pages and pages of articles come up with titles like "how to kill weeds naturally," "15 homemade organic weed killers," "13 Best Homemade Weed Killers," "9 natural ways to kill weeds."
There's even a "Hands Down Best Way to Kill Weeds - And it's Not Roundup."
But let me save you from having to google it by boiling all these down to basically one thing:
Mix vinegar, salt and dish soap together and ta-da, weeds are gone!
But are they, really? Or is it just for a day or a week?
And is using salt and/or vinegar in the garden even environmentally friendly?
Sadly, vinegar is NOT permanent, since it doesn't kill the roots. Adding the salt may make it last a bit longer, but the perennial weeds will just grow back. And while the vinegar breaks down and doesn't hurt the soil or create run-off, the same can't be said for salt.
Why using salt on your property is NOT a good idea
The sodium ions you add to your soil anywhere on your property will be there forever - but they won't stay in one place.
Even if you're applying salt in an area you never want anything to grow (gravel driveways, paths, between pavers), rain water will take the salt ions and create run-off to other areas of your yard where you do want things to grow - and potentially contaminate neighbors yards and nearby creeks, rivers, or lakes if used in abundance over time.
Here are most of the other natural methods mentioned and how they worked for me. They include using:
- Newspaper and cardboard - which I LOVE and use all the time in our gardens combined with mulch. It's not an option for gravel areas, ditches, or fence lines, though.
- Only vinegar - like I mentioned, this kills the tops, but never the roots.
- Only salt, rock salt, or epsom salt - same problem with the salt-vinegar solution, plus damaging the environment.
- Boiling water - I did this a lot on our driveway when I had boiling water canners to dump and I can tell you that for persistent perennial weeds, it only takes them down a bit and browns some, but they come right back.
- Bleach - didn't do anything on the gravel drive perennial weeds - nothing.
- Goats (ha!) - doesn't work if you don't have room, the lifestyle to care for them, or if your main weeds are in gravel driveways...
- Mow them - seriously, if they were mowable, they wouldn't be weeds - that's just was we call our 'grass' out here, lol.
- A "new mindset" - sheesh...probably written by someone like I used to be on a 50x100 city lot with wooden fences to keep blowing weeds seeds down)
- Lemon juice - usually combined with vinegar (if alone, mix with dish soap to stick - 1/3 cup vinegar to 1 teaspoon soap) - I haven't tried this one, so I'll have to update this after I do - have you?
- Vodka + soap - this is another I hadn't heard of before searching. I have a feeling it will be like the vinegar, killing the tops but not the roots, but I will need to test it out.
One thing mentioned only occasionally is corn gluten meal - it doesn't kill weeds after they've germinated, so maybe that's why it's not mentioned more. It is a preemergent, so in established beds, you can sprinkle it all around to keep weeds from germinating (though it won't be effective against perennial weeds that come up from established roots).
For large areas we wanted weeds to never grow - gravel pathways and new beds and borders - we tried a couple more supposedly permanent solutions that were mentioned:
- Landscape fabric - please, please as someone who's pulled many previous owners weed infested fabric, just no).
- Old carpet - particularly bad where we live (mild climate + good amounts of rain = lots of grasses and weeds) as the grass and weeds grew right threw and around the edges which were then impossible to remove.
Our Solution for Killing Weeds Without Spraying
So what did we find that works 100% of the time? Black plastic!
Black plastic has become a major weapon in our constant fight against weeds and pernicious grasses. I wrote about how I use it in some of our vegetable beds to help us garden without tilling but it also allows us to create gravel walkways and patios and kills weedy areas we want to plant.
In fact, I have three lidded garbage bins labeled "Black Plastic" in the garden shed to protect the plastic from the mice during the off season when I'm not using it.
And not just because I like it - it's mainly because this stuff is NOT cheap, and I was not happy the spring I went to get the plastic and found it riddled with mice holes.
Here is the type of plastic we use: 6ml black plastic sheeting (the thicker the better)
So we protect our plastic here and we use it to take care of areas we need to keep grass and weeds away on a permanent basis like pathways and between crops like berries.
As you may have guessed, we did not always embrace black plastic as we do now. Here's a video of our story:
Where NOT to use black plastic sheeting:
We do not use black plastic in flower beds covered with bark mulch - a look I find particularly nasty and one that does not enrich the soil for the plants living there. For those beds we use the newspaper-and-mulch method I've mentioned.
What about at the farmhouse - have you used plastic there?
Yes! It's keeping the area of our future sunken deer-resistant garden mostly weed free until we can get to it and it has kept the weeds down around the front of the vegetable garden while I waited for wood chips.
Recently, I added it permanently to the edges of our fenced vegetable garden, covering it with straw to keep the grass and weeds from encroaching into the wood chip paths.
However, it's not a solution to the two issues that drive me crazy: the large gravel driveway and the rock wall borders that sprout weeds like mad.
Sigh - there's always something, isn't there? I'm going to try the more organic-friendly Burnout Weed & Grass Killer in these places.
So, tell me, how do you kill weeds?
This article has been updated - it was originally published in May of 2010.Disclosure: affiliate links in this article will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price. Click here to read my full disclaimer and advertising disclosure.
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