10 Non-Toxic, Natural Ways to Kill Weeds

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person holding freshly hand-pulled weeds

You have plenty of reasons to hate weeds, but you can skip the scorched-Earth method that uses chemicals with hard-to-pronounce names and choose a natural removal solution instead. We’ll show you how in this article.

Why should you consider natural weed killers? They’re:

  • Non-toxic: Chemicals, like glyphosate, the main chemical found in Round-Up, are harmful to the environment. It can poison groundwater, cause cancer in humans, and kill habitats for important pollinators.
  • Less expensive: Many DIY natural weed killers contain low cost products you might already have lying around your home.
  • Evolution: Using chemicals creates weeds that learn to adapt to them and therefore require even stronger chemicals in the future.

How do you select a natural weed killer? Pick the one that’s best for your yard or garden — or one that’s in your liquor cabinet. 

We’ve listed the top 10 alternatives to chemical herbicides — even including some recipes — so you can control your weeds and keep a safe space for desirable plants:

1. Mulch

A sprinkle of natural wood chips, pine straw, compost, or grass clippings will block sunlight and stop new weed seeds from sprouting through the soil. A mulch layer of 3 to 4 inches thick will ensure that any breakthrough weeds are easier to remove since their roots won’t be as deep.

Pros:

✓ Attractive
✓ Nutritious
✓ Encourages earthworms that create healthy soil
✓ Regulates temperature
✓ Retains moisture

Cons:

✗ Some organic mulch can be stinky
✗ Dyes used to color mulch (usually red or black) can stain.
✗ Mulch can also harbor other pests like slugs, cutworms, and earwigs that might threaten plants

2. Hand weeding

Weeding might be tedious – or it might just be the best free therapy you have in an increasingly chaotic world. 

If it seems like you’re never gaining ground against these lawn and garden invaders, don’t stress. Weeds are the equivalent of a plant cockroach. They’re always going to survive in the end. So why worry? Next time you feel like you need a break, go outside and weed. It’s the most natural way to get rid of unwanted plants. 

When weeding by hand, you’ll need to make sure you grab the entire weed, taproots and all, or it will return.

Pros:

✓ No special equipment needed, just hands

Cons:  

✗ Time-consuming

3. Landscape fabric

Gardeners use landscape fabric to smother weed seeds and block the sun and air they need to grow. The woven sheet of fabric is sold in long black rolls with perforated holes to let water through. Rolls are about 3 feet wide and more than 200 feet in length. Cost varies depending on the brand and thickness of the landscape fabric. 

Pros:

✓ Useful for prohibiting weeds around trees and shrubs, topped with mulch

Cons:

✗ Unattractive. The tarp appearance might make your yard look like a giant Slip N’ Slide unless landscape fabric is hidden under landscaping rocks or mulch.
✗ Not recommended for vegetable gardens or annual flower beds because landscape fabric stays in place for years

4. Vinegar

Spritz some of this sour solution and say your sweet goodbyes to weeds. Be careful where you’re spraying vinegar. Even though it’s natural, unintended casualties can happen if you’re not taking a targeted approach.

This vinegar mix is good for drying out weeds, though you may have to apply it multiple times on ones with a long taproot, like dandelion.

Recipe:

1 gallon of white vinegar

2 cups of Epsom salt or table salt

1/4 cup of dishwashing soap

Pour all ingredients into a spray bottle. Shake it up until mixed. Let it stand for two minutes then saturate your weeds. Let everything sit for a day then return to watch the weeds die. Vinegar is a lot safer than using chemicals and way easier than trying to whip up a batch of Round-Up in your kitchen.

Pros:

✓ Inexpensive
✓ Great for saturating areas like sidewalk cracks
✓ Easy to make with common products

Cons:

✗ Doesn’t work well in shady areas
✗ You’ll need multiple applications of vinegar on weeds with longer root systems
✗ Pungent, unless you like your yard smelling like salad dressing

5. Organic herbicides

There’s such a large market for organic herbicides now that savvy consumers are questioning the safety and environmental impact of their chemical-laden counterparts.

Organic herbicides made from natural chemicals break down quickly and leave no residual effects. They’re nonselective, meaning they’ll kill everything they touch so unless you want to clear an entire area, they’re better for spot treatments.

They work best on young weeds. The earlier you spray weeds in their growth cycle, the easier it will be to kill them.

Full sunlight with temperatures above 75 degrees is ideal for application.

Choose the organic herbicide that is the best fit for your yard and the types of weeds you are trying to kill. You also will need to read the labels to ensure the organic herbicide will work best with your turf type.

Examples of natural active ingredients found in organic herbicides:

  • Corn gluten meal: (CMG) is a natural pre-emergent weed control for broadleaf and grass weeds in turf, such as crabgrass. It does not kill existing weeds. It adds nitrogen to soil.
  • Monocerin: a byproduct of some fungi and kills weeds like Johnson grass
  • Acids: Citric acid, acetic acid (vinegar), and caprylic acid are ingredients in non selective organic herbicides.
  • Essential oils: d-limonene from the rinds of citrus fruit, clove, cinnamon, lemon grass, eugenol
  • 2-Phenethyl propionate: Phenethyl alcohol and propionic acid have insecticidal and anti-fungal properties and can be used in natural pesticides.
  • Herbicidal soaps: These kill plants on contact but don’t affect underground portions like roots. Examples include sodium lauryl sulfate, which is commonly found in soaps and shampoo, pelargonic acid plus fatty acids, and ammonium nonanoate, which is ammonium soap and salt.
  • Sodium chloride: non selective organic herbicide that can be used as a spot treatment on serious perennial weeds such as morning glory, Canada thistle, and roadside vegetation.

Here’s a homemade organic herbicide you can make at home by adding natural acids, lemon juice and vinegar.

Recipe:

  • 2-quart spray bottle
  • 4 ounces lemon juice concentrate
  • 1 quart white or cider vinegar

Mix the lemon juice and vinegar in the spray bottle. Shake to combine. Spray directly on the leaves and flowers of weeds on a warm, sunny day, preferably over 70 degrees. Check your weeds to see if they’re dying. If they’re still alive after one week, apply a second coating.

Pros:

✓ Low or non-toxic
✓ Safer for people, pets, and the environment than non-organic chemical herbicides

Cons:

✗ Can be expensive depending on the product and you’ll need to read labels carefully so you don’t harm your specific turf type
✗ Reapplication might also be needed on mature perennials that are taller than 4 inches tall

6. Flame weeder

A flame weeder sounds awesome yet slightly dangerous. Who wouldn’t want to walk around their yard with a flaming canister of propane on their back, sending pesky weeds to a blazing inferno? It’s a yard tool destined to propel you to cool neighbor status.

But beyond looking hardcore, a flame weeder does have a real benefit to weed removal. A flame weeder kills emergent weeds by burning them and destroying them at a cellular level that prevents photosynthesis. By doing so, it also gives other plants and crops a chance to grow.

Most annual and some perennial weeds can be eradicated by flame weeding. And flames can destroy seeds of invasive weeds, something that’s harder to do with herbicides.

The wands come with a canister of propane that you can adjust to control flame levels. As for price, there are several decent options online for under $100.

Pros:

✓ No heavy labor or digging
✓ Ash residue is non-toxic
✓ Instant results

Cons:

✗ Can’t use in drought-stricken or dry areas prone to wildfires
✗ Might require multiple applications

7. Ground covers

Ground covers are nature’s blanket. They’re soft underfoot and most importantly, they block the sun so new weeds can’t grow. Some examples of ground covers are creeping Jenny, creeping phlox, red creeping thyme, yellow alyssum, and sedum.

Planting low-growing ground covers can save time on weeding and improve the appearance of your yard by adding color and texture. Ground covers also draw rainwater into the soil and reduce runoff.

Ground covers require little maintenance but do need time to spread and thicken once planted. In the meantime, you’ll need to use other methods to suppress weeds. 

Pros:

✓ Attractive
✓ Low maintenance
✓ Adds moisture to the soil

Cons:

✗ Takes time to grow and spread

8. Boiling water

If you have the time to boil water, you can create one of the most natural weed killers. 

You’ll kill both the weed and the tap root as the sizzling liquid drains into the soil. You can use the water to seep into hard-to-reach areas such as cracks in your driveway or garden path.

The directions are simple: Fill a kettle with water. Boil. Pour the steaming water directly onto the unwanted plant. Consider wearing long sleeves and pants. Take care not to spill boiling water on yourself.

Pros:

✓ Easy
✓ Inexpensive
✓ Non-toxic
✓ Immediate results
✓ Spares other nearby plants
✓ No residue

Cons:

✗ Could be painful if you spill it
✗ Low strength so reapplication is likely

9. Vodka

When you need some liquid courage to battle weeds, reach for your cheapest vodka. 

Use vodka to concoct a natural death cocktail for those unwanted lawn invaders. If you want to save money, you can use rubbing alcohol instead of vodka.

While your weeds won’t feel tipsy, they will die. Be careful not to spray the vodka on your grass.

There are various recipes that use vodka for weed killer sprays. This one is easy.

Recipe:

30 ml of vodka

1 teaspoon of dishwashing soap

2 cups of water

large squirt bottle

Funnel your vodka into the squirt bottle. Add the other ingredients. Mix. Apply on a sunny day to broadleaf weeds, like dandelion and plantain, that grow in direct sunlight. The vodka will remove the waxy coating on leaves, causing them to dry out and eventually die.

Pros:

✓ Inexpensive
✓ Fun to make (potentially more fun if you dip into the vodka beforehand)
✓ Non-toxic

Cons:

✗ You’re using vodka on weeds instead of cocktails
✗ Not good for grass
✗ Might require reapplication
✗ Weeds need to be in sunlight

10. Solarization (Plastic sheeting)

Your yard might appear covered in Saran Wrap but a plastic sheet can be an effective tool to obliterate a large area of weeds.

Solarization uses clear plastic to trap heat and cause thermal destruction via the greenhouse effect. It also holds moisture, increasing the chances that heat is carried to seeds deep in the soil. The steamy combination is lethal and, once you remove the plastic sheeting, weeds are gone. Solarizing kills other soil pests, fungi, and bacteria, too.

A similar method called tarping uses black plastic instead of clear to block the sunlight that weed seeds need for germination. Black plastic is better for cool or coastal areas.

7 steps for solarization:

  1. Choose your site. It should have a minimal slope.
  2. Prepare the ground and clear existing tall plants. You can mow, weed, spray natural herbicides, or use a combination of methods to remove everything.
  3. Till and smooth the dirt to ensure no clumps that could cause air pockets.
  4. Saturate the soil with water until the soil is moist to at least 12 inches deep.
  5. Roll the plastic over the area.
  6. Keep the plastic tightly in place by digging a shallow trench around the perimeter of the sheet and filling it with dirt. This will weigh it down.
  7. Wait four to six weeks before carefully removing the plastic so you don’t disturb weed seeds near the untreated edges. In some cases, you might need eight weeks, depending on the climate.

Plastic sheets come in UV-resistant rolls with different thicknesses. Thin plastic provides better heating, but it’s less resistant to tearing by wind or animals. Medium thickness is best for windy areas. And the thickest plastic, 4 mils or more, is ideal for small treatment areas.

Pros:

✓ Covers a large area and can kill weeds deep in the soil
✓ Non-toxic
✓ No residues
✓ Kills soil pests, fungi, and bacteria

Cons:

✗ Unsightly
✗ Plastic sheeting gives the feel of a giant Slip N’ Slide in your yard
✗ Takes six weeks
✗ Needs to be done during hot weather
✗ Requires site prep

Why you should choose non-toxic weed killers

While natural weed killers might take a few more applications than chemical treatments, maybe it’s a worthy sacrifice if we spare our environment. 

We might have to look at weeds in our garden a little longer but maybe that’s not so bad. A world without weeds would be boring, with a level of lawn perfection that feels creepy and Stepford-esque. 

Weeds add character. And, albeit, some frustration when they’re crowding out our expensive turf. Maybe we can’t always live together in peace, but we can end their weedy lives in a less savage way. 

If you need help getting rid of weeds and boosting your lawn’s health, a Lawn Love pro can help. Some pros even specialize in organic weed killers, fertilization, and lawn care. 

Main Photo Credit: photoAC | Pixabay

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