Anyone who has a garden will be familiar with the burden of weeds. No matter if your garden is grassy with elegant flower beds, or paved with stones and plant pots. Weeds find their way everywhere, and for any gardening enthusiast, battling them can be a droll task.
It is a never ending battle between weeds and gardeners, with so many types of weeds and how easily they spread, once one is gone another can rise in its place.
The only true way you can expect to manage weeds, and remove them for good is through understanding and effort. You need to understand what you are fighting, and what each weed’s weaknesses are.
Some weeds are hardier than others, so a simple answer on how to rid yourself of weeds is not going to be enough.
That is why we are here, to give you all the information you need.
Let the battle commence!
Table of Contents
- What Are Weeds?
- Why Get Rid Of Weeds?
- Organic Weed Removal Principles
- Factors In Choosing Weed Removal Options
- Weed Removal Options
What Are Weeds?
Asking what weeds are is far from being a straightforward question. It is not the easiest thing to answer as there is no straightforward definition.
Some gardeners will say that it is a plant growing in the wrong place, however, this is a cliché, yet probably the best definition around.
A weed is not unlike any other plant out there, they require light, water, and nutrients to survive. You can get annual weeds or perennial weeds. Trees and shrubs can even be weeds!
Basically any plant that is not wanted, growing out of place, or has zero value can be considered as being a weed.
In fact, a good 3% of plant species found across the globe are classified as being weeds. This means 8,000 out of 250,000 plant species are weeds!
There are different categories of weeds as well, however, we will define weeds in a simpler way for you.
The truest definition of a weed is that it is a plant growing where it is not wanted.
It might even be a plant that we would otherwise grow elsewhere in our garden, however, it has spread away from its allotted placement either through stealth or through seeding by itself.
It could also be a plant that has been in the garden for a long time, before we were managing this garden, and it has vigorously hung onto its location.
It is also not impossible that we could unknowingly be introduced from seeds that were carried in the potting mix we plant with, or even from seeds that have survived the home composting process and spring up when we spread the compost.
You might find vegetable plants even cropping up as weeds.
Alternatively, there are noxious weeds. These are very problematic for gardeners, and they can also be a problem in the wider environment if they are introduced into conditions which they are extremely well adapted to survive in.
This means they may grow okay in other environments but in some they might grow rapidly.
It is possible that weeds may harm native environments and cause financial loss for farmers and landowners.
Examples of these might include Field Bindweed, Pigweed, Nutsedges and so on, which can be harmful to farmland crops. These weeds are considered to fall into this definition of what a weed is, as they can overrun crop fields and even destroy your crop.
Some plants are considered as noxious weeds in one country and not in another, such as the Castor Oil plant, which is a good plant in the UK, but noxious in Australia. This is due to it posing a threat to natural vegetation.
Why Get Rid Of Weeds?
Sometimes weeds may seem harmless, especially if they are not damaging other plants. However, if the weed is growing well, you can always come across some issues.
We might ask ‘why should I care about weeds?’ Sometimes we think that perhaps we only care because we want our gardens to look pretty.
However, it can depend on a number of factors, and weeds growing in our gardens can be less than ideal for a plethora of reasons.
One of the biggest issues we face with weeds is that they will tend to compete with other plants in our gardens.
Our ornamental plants are usually bred to have certain characteristics, and none of these are hardcore survival skills against hardy weeds. This means when it comes to a competition for space, ornamental plants are typically on the losing side.
An example of this would be the Wisteria plant, while they are beautiful when they flower, most of us loathe them. Why? Well, the vines of this plant will smother, crush, and strangle everything in their path, and they spread very easily too. It can even damage homes.
Competition between weeds and intentional plants are one of the primary reasons we fight weeds so hard. When it comes to hardy weeds such as the Wisteria, it is known that the sooner you fight it the better, or you could lose the fight.
Weeds that have not been cleared can give pests a place to hunker down over the winter months. Slugs and snails often hide out in these.
Many weeds adapt to grow early in the year which gives them a heads-up, and they can become sustenance for aphids. Once your ornamental garden starts to bloom, your garden is already riddled with pests and insects that have been surviving on the weeds.
With how weeds can house diseases and pests, and also be too competitive, it becomes a big problem for harvesting crops.
Every year we produce around 2.1 billion tons of grain worldwide. A good 10% of this is lost to weeds every year, which equates to 200 million tons lost just from weeds!
For the average gardener weeds are just an annoying pestilence, however, for farmers who rely on crops to keep financially afloat, a weed infestation can be colossally destructive for them.
Even if your crop does survive the weeds, this means you will also have to cope with the punishing job of removing weeds that got mixed in during harvesting. Some weeds may be edible, but most are not. So, farmers may have to spend time sifting through crops to separate crops from weeds.
There are some particular weeds that are most problematic for harvesting and crop, including; Field Bindweed (a perennial wine), Lambsquarter (annual broadleaf), Chickweed, and so on.
In spite of all these above reasons. How weeds can damage our plants, stealing nutrients, light, and water from them. How weeds can house pests and diseases and pass it on to the rest of the garden, and also the problems it can cause for farming and crops. The main reason is aesthetic.
A majority of us will want to get rid of weeds because we simply do not like how they look, and it disrupts the look of the garden we are going for.
Many people will carefully design and organize their gardens for the perfect look, if a weed comes in and disrupts it, we want that weed gone because it has ruined that perfect look we worked so hard on.
Organic Weed Removal Principles
Weeds are basically like plants with superpowers, having found a way to dominate their environments and maintain their presence throughout time.
Weeds will develop hardy root systems that are difficult to remove, and even if you miss only the smallest part of a root system, you can get new plants sprouting up from it. Other plants may also have the ability to spread their seeds far, so you need to prevent it before it gets to this stage.
So, before we get into the ways you can remove weeds, or the factors that contribute, we want to inform you of the things you need to keep in mind, thinking about when you are on a weed removal journey.
1. Keep At It
We prefer to remove weeds organically because doing so prevents our ornamental, intentional plants from getting damaged. However, doing things organically is not a one-off.
Most of the time, you will need to persist, performing the same action over and over to completely deplete the weed infestation.
For the most part, you will perform an act once, and then just follow up with maintenance.
Even if you were to use non-organic methods, such as chemical resolves, you still need to use more than one application, and you will need to keep an eye on it.
So, consistency, and repetition are key factors in ensuring that you can keep weeds at bay, permanently.
2. Prevent Photosynthesis
When dealing with weeds, we often just see them as a pest, and not for what they are, which is just another plant. Weeds, like any other plant, need photosynthesis to be able to live. They need their stems and leaves intact and above the soil.
By remembering this we are one step ahead. We can cut off what they need thus weakening them. Okay, a week can grow through its underground part, but if we cut off its leaves continually, it will become too weak to survive.
In fact, a vast majority of herbicides actually target photosynthesis, so if you are going to tackle your problem organically, targeting photosynthesis is a good place to start.
Instead of uprooting the weed, you simply take away its ability to stay strong, and eventually it will be so weak that spread and rapid growth will be impossible for it.
3. Don’t Let Them Flower And Set Seed
Every planet will have the urge to evolve, well, all aside from the ones we have turned into hybrids to be sterile. All others will be able to, and want to, seed.
This is how plants survive and reproduce. Most plants we consider to be weeds are so because they have adapted to flower fast and seed fast and broadly.
One weed known as Sowthistle is capable of producing an astounding 20,000 to 25,000 in a single year. Chickweed (one of the weeds farmers hate) can produce 2,000 to 3,000 per plant, per 7 week life cycle.
Weeds are capable of producing a lot of seed, thus making them common, strong, and highly evolved. This is what makes them tough. So, to get them out of your garden and your life, a good way to cope is simply to get rid of them before they can seed.
Factors In Choosing Weed Removal Options
Not every method in removing weeds will be effective for every single weed there is. We need to target a weed depending on what it is.
It also depends on other things, such as if your garden bed is new or existing. If you have plants in the garden bed you wish to keep. Are the weeds in your lawn or in a paved stone area?
It depends on the type of weed, the specific weed, whether it is perennial or annual. How it seeds, and the age of the weed.
There is so much to consider in your fight against weeds, so you need to be cautious in how you fight them.
Know what you are fighting, how they survive and what options you have.
Firstly consider the area. If you are working with a new garden bed that is fresh and has no plants in it, then you may benefit from laying material over the bed. This could be a bin liner, plastic, tarp, or something else that will block the weeds from the sun.
However, if you are dealing with an existing bed and have plants in it that you wish to keep, you will need another approach, hand pulling can work with this for example.
Consider the area. Whether the weeds are appearing in a grass lawn or a paved area will vastly change the technique you need to use. Hand pulling won’t work with a paved area as you can easily miss the roots, for example.
The size of the area affected also matters. It will be harder to cope with a large area that is infested, and hand pulling acres of weeds will become tiresome, as will be maintaining it.
You also need to consider the type of weed itself. Annual weeds and perennial weeds can be dealt with in different ways. They have different life cycles, so depending on the time of year, you will have to deal with these in different ways.
The characteristics matter too. If they have taproots, runners, rhizomes for example. Runners can be very tricky to deal with, whereas taproots can be easier if you utilize the right technique.
A very common taproot are dandelions. Runners are harder, ground ivy can be one of these, and they are hardier and more tricky to kill.
How invasive the species is also matters. The more invasive they are, the hardier they will likely be, and the more likely they are to have spread seed.
The severity of the infestation will also dictate how you deal with it. You can hand pull a few weeds here and there, but if they are everywhere, you will be doing it for days. You want a technique that will solve your problem faster and without it taking ages every time you perform maintenance.
Note if you have an infestation of more than one type of weed. If you have two very different weeds causing problems in your garden you will need to employ multiple techniques, or perhaps a more drastic technique.
Ask yourself if you can live with their presence for a little while longer. If you can then you can seek out more long term techniques to totally eradicate the infestation in the long run.
Time is always an issue when you are trying to kill off a weed infestation in your garden. Even with herbicides it can take around 2 weeks for the herbicide to fully kill the weed. So, using organic techniques it can take even longer, although there are upsides.
Consider how much time you have on your hands to cope with this issue. If you have plenty of time to do so, you can use vigorous and repetitive techniques. In some cases organic methods are more effective, however, they do take more time to do.
Consider if you are willing to close off a section of your garden for an extended period of time while you wait for your solution to your problem to yield the results you seek.
As we have said there are many options for people trying to remove weeds, however, there are many things that will impact which method is best for you.
The type of weed will probably be the most important factor in deciding which method will work best, however the area in which this specific weed has hunkered down will also be a deciding factor for you as well.
Ignoring the use of herbicides, we are going to look over nine options you have to remove these petulant weeds from your garden. Some things will be simpler than others, but it is worth trying all of these methods if you have a large infestation.
Before we delve into this, let’s inform you of some facts you will want to keep in mind.
- One single weed can generate over 10,000,000 seeds.
- There are 3 main types of weed; sedges, grass weeds, and broadleaves.
- 73% of farmers see weeds as the most common issue in bean production.
- There are weeds which are actually edible.
- Field bindweed is the toughest known garden weed to eradicate.
- Weeds which flower can be useful for beneficial insects, such as bees!
Removing weeds by hand is usually a go-to answer for many, and it should be the first thing you try. This tactic is actually known to be the best way to kill chickweed. Since the species has shallow roots it can easily be pulled.
Hand pulling is where you grasp the weed, careful to avoid any seeds entering the surrounding soil, and pull out the whole plant from tip to the lowest root. It is best used for shallow rooting plants such as chickweed.
Remember that this technique will not work for plants which have deep roots, and very strong roots.
Hoeing is a process in which you cut off the weed below the surface of the soil. You should use a Dutch hoe with a cutting edge, running it through the soil towards the weed and severing it beneath the soil.
This is another method that is well known for getting rid of chickweed.
This method is best used for annual or perennial weeds which do not have root systems that give the plant the opportunity to come back again, such as is the case with tap roots.
You should use the hoeing method if you have weeds growing around your valued plants. While it is not as safe as hand pulling, it is easier on you physically.
This is better suited for dealing with small areas, however, if you have a large infestation it will take forever to do.
This is exactly what it sounds like. You can kill off a weed by using a flame weeder. The flame will burn the plant enough to kill it, but the goal is not to ignite it in a hellish display of fire.
Weeds will only need around 1/10th of a second exposure to a flame, so you only need to slowly pass the flame over the weed.
This is a technique that is best suited to fighting off annual weeds that sit around 1-2 inches tall. They will also work well on weeds that grow around garden barriers, sidewalk cracks, and paved areas.
It also works well for very hardy broadleaf weeds in lawns, as a mature lawn is protected by a sheath, so your grass should be safe, while the weed dies.
Vinegar is used for everything, it can clean your pots and pans, be used to clean humidifiers and the like. However, it can also be used to kill weeds, although it is not really that highly recommended.
Vinegar is thought to be a natural weed killer, even killing young weeds. It is at its most effective in high concentrations, so standard vinegar doesn’t really do the trick.
The vinegar that does work is less vinegar and more chemical, acetic acid, which can easily burn your skin or damage your eyes.
If you do use this chemical, wear protective clothing, goggles and make sure you are really careful.
But, be aware, even if it damages us at high concentrations it is only going to be effective on some weeds, and will likely kill a lot of beneficial insects.
While you can use vinegar, it’s best to stick to other methods.
Double digging is the simple method of removing weeds by burning them at a depth in a way that means they cannot regrow. This is an alternative method that will work for shallow-rooted perennial growers, or annual weeds.
It is cheap to do, and allows organic matter to be used at the time. Of course, it is hard work, and if you are dealing with a large area it can be intense.
You start by dividing the area into sections. Then dig down to a spade depth, and do not disturb the surface setting the soil aside. Use a fork to loosen the soil at the base of the trench to allow deep roots to penetrate when you plant your bed.
Turn up the top layer of the weeds to fill the trench, and do this for each section, filling the trench.
Do be cautious when doing this though. You could damage the soil if it is waterlogged.
If you have plenty of time on your hands and a penchant for patience this can work for you. Start off by preparing a seedbed, meaning you need to hand weed or hoe the weeds growing there.
Rake your soil, and leave a thin tilth to grow seeds. Then, do nothing.
Doing this will bring weed seeds to the surface, wait a few weeks, and they will start to germinate. Leave it until they are big enough and then hoe them off.
You should then have a garden bed free of seeds, and less competition for your future plants.
This does typically work best with weeds that have shallow roots of course. However, it should work well for most.
Chickens are more gluttonous than you may think, but this can be a good thing. They won’t get rid of the toughest weeds, but if they can pull it out or loosen it, they will eat it.
This is best to do before you start planting some prized plants, however, if you already have plants, you can contain the chickens to the area they need to clear.
It is best to use a moveable structure to move them around and clear certain areas. Otherwise, known as chicken tractoring.
Chicken’s favorite weeds include; nettles, purslane, bee balm, wood sorrel, clover, plantain, dandelion, and chickweed, among others.
This method is best used if you have no perennial weeds. Annual weeds are the best weeds to face off with this tactic.
This is because you use a rotavator to break up heavily weed infested areas to allow for planting, and a majority of perennial weeds will regrow and duplicate if you break up their underparts.
Bindweed is a burden for this, as its roots can extend very far beneath the surface and if you cut it, a new plant will emerge.
If you have a large area that is heavily impacted by annual weeds then rotovating the area will help you to clear it, although it is best to combine it with hand weeding or hoeing.
It is best for this reason to know which weeds you face, as you do not want to face perennial weeds with this and end up with more of them.
Saving the best until last. This is a method that prevents photosynthesis. We love it, it simply removes sunlight from the plant, leading to the weeds’ death.
You simply cover the soil with; black plastic sheets, weed suppressing sheeting, cardboard, blankets (thick ones), or a thick layer of mulch.
The best is the last option, it allows insects like worms to help you improve the structure of the soil while the weeds die. It is even better if you add a thick layer of mulch and then sheeting to cover the soil.
It can take a long time to work, and it does depend on the vastness of your infestation. You should see progress in a few months, however, if you want to be certain you may want to keep this in place for quite some time. Even a year, perhaps.
With this method, even if not every weed is dead when you remove the covering, they will be weaker, so if you couldn’t hand pull it before, you can now.
The most effective weed killer of them all is herbicide, however, it can also be damaging to soils, and other plants.
This means that to save your soil and your plants, you need to seek out organic ways to deal with weeds. If you have a hardy infestation, there is nothing wrong with combining all of the above methods to best deal with the situation and kill off the infestation this way.
How you go about it depends on the weed itself, how strong it is, and how much of it you have. Different weeds require different methods of combat. As they say, know your enemy.