Stop dandelions and crabgrass in their tracks — or really, their roots. These pesticide-free tactics let your garden grow in all its glory, minus annoying eyesores. Common household supplies like salt, vinegar, newspaper, and even water can kill unsightly weeds pretty much instantly, but mulch and landscaping fabric can save you from future yard work.
Weed control starts way before you spy intruders. "Consider laying down landscape fabric topped with a layer of mulch or straw," advises Missy Henriksen of the . The physical barrier stops unwanted plants from sprouting up in the first place.
With or without fabric, experts agree mulch is a must. "Mulch is such an easy fix and helps keep your soil cool, wet, and eliminates light that weeds need to grow," says Kris Holland at . "Keep it around two inches deep and off your lawn, since it will also kill your grass."
Plain, old tap water can do the trick too. "My favorite 'homemade' weed killer for cracks in sidewalks and driveways is boiling water," says , "The Gardener Guy." "This works really well on young weeds, and results are immediate. If you add a tablespoon of salt to the boiling water, it's even more effective."
Stock up on discounted at the end of winter and sprinkle it on garden paths to fight weeds in the spring (table salt works too). Salt also makes a good weed barrier along lawn edgings and other places a lawn mower can't reach, but apply it carefully. It can erode concrete surfaces and can leave the ground barren for a long period of time.
Don't discount rolling up your sleeves. "The best way will always be good old-fashioned elbow grease," says Teryl Ciarlo of . She advises trying to pull from beneath the soil, but waiting until after a rainstorm (when the ground is softer) can also help. Insert a or screwdriver in the soil to loosen any stubborn taproots.
Cover low-growing weeds like clover and crabgrass with newspaper and eventually the lack of sunlight will exterminate them. Putting down sections and covering them with mulch can also prevent new ones in the first place. "As the paper decomposes, it also feeds the soil, making this a tip no gardener should be without," says Ciarlo.
Douse weeds with vinegar and they'll be DOA. James recommends using the horticultural kind, with a whopping . "It's non-selective, meaning it'll kill anything green, but it's not all that effective on grassy weeds," he says. "Also, realize that vinegar is acidic, which means you run the risk of lowering the pH of the soil." Just take care to wear protective clothing and eye protection.
Physical barriers, like lawn edgings and retaining walls are a long-lasting solution for keeping weeds at bay. Make simple — and cheap — edging out of scraps of pressure-treated decking boards. Cut them into eight-inch "pikes" and hammer the pieces into the ground next to each other to form a continuous edge.
For a big swath of unwanted vegetation, enlist the cutest herd of landscapers around. " can reach areas that machinery and people simply cannot, and their hooves actually rototill the soil as they graze," Ciarlo says.
Yes, the height of your mower really does matter. "The length of your grass can impact its health and make it more or less susceptible to weeds," Henriksen says. "Err on the longer side, about two to three and a half inches." Firing up the mower before weeds set seed also chokes out invaders, advises James.
Dig only where you need to because removing grass creates a new place for pesky plants to thrive, even if you don't see any around. "Most lawns have hidden weed seeds," Holland says. "When you're digging the ground to plant, open only a patch that you need."
The key to making sure your weeds don't go to seed and spread is pulling off their heads. Even though you can do this by hand, you can also mow them down. But consider yourself warned: One mowing won't kill weeds with perennial roots, and even some of the annuals will regrow and try to flower again, so it's not a permanent solution.
In the garden, there is a competition for resources among your plants, where only the strongest survive and thrive. Plant ground covers, flowers, and garden crops that will naturally beat out weeds for sunlight, water, and nutrients.
"It's time we saw the salad bar in our weeds," Ciarlo says. Many are edible, like the young greens of dandelions, dock, and chicory. Pick up a copy of by Euell Gibbons to help identify edible sprouts. (But when in doubt, don't eat it. Many plants are poisonous when ingested.)
One man's weed is another man's rose. Many weeds are native plants that Mother Nature intended to thrive — that's why they're so hard to kill. Learning to love weeds is just a matter of looking at them in a different light. For example, in Japan, moss is cultivated for landscaping, while in the U.S., it's commonly eradicated with pesticides.