Not everyone likes using herbicides.
Aside from the expense, they can be very harmful to the environment, not to mention to ourselves, children, and pets.
And used incorrectly, they can also cause unwanted damage in desirable areas of your garden – such as across vegetable patches, flower beds, and in your lawn itself.
So, what are the alternatives?
In this article, we take a look at how to get rid of weeds in your lawn without using chemicals, as well as for treating other areas in your garden.
Because herbicide use should be a last resort.
- Removing Weeds Without Chemicals – Too Long, Didn’t Read
- How to Get Rid of Weeds in Lawn without Chemicals
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Removing Weeds Without Chemicals – Too Long, Didn’t Read
If you’re in a bit of a rush and don’t have the time to read our full article, here’s what’s covered in a brief summary.
The most effective/popular ways of treating weeds without using harsh chemicals and herbicides are as follows:*
- DIY weed control/Organic herbicides.
- Manual weed removal.
- Using mulch.
- Creating competition.
- Effective water management.
- Care when feeding.
- Care when digging and tilling.
- Soil solarization.
- Flame weeding.
- Rip it up and start again.
Of course, we still highly recommend you continue reading and explore each method in depth, as there will be some top tips and advice included for how to achieve the best results.
How to Get Rid of Weeds in Lawn without Chemicals
DIY Weed Control/Organic Herbicides
Removing weeds manually can be a daunting process if you have a large lawn. It takes time and might not even be as easy as it sounds. But, the weeds need to go regardless of whether you have the time to do it or not.
The good thing is that you can still enjoy the convenience of spraying herbicides without using chemical solutions.
You can use homemade solutions with readily-available items from your pantry, such as:
A Vinegar Salt Mix
Vinegar alone is useful to get rid of weeds on a small lawn. It is even better when mixed with salt and regular dish soap.
This recipe, one-gallon white vinegar, one cup salt, and one tablespoon salt is an example of a homemade weed control mix.
While dish soap alone won’t harm weeds, it can certainly help when combined with other ingredients.
Add dish soap to a vinegar/salt concentration, as it will act as a surfactant, and will help break down the outer layer of the weed, so the vinegar can properly go to work.
A Vodka Mix
If you have a bottle of vodka lying in your pantry, you can make use of it to kill weeds in your lawn. You can use one ounce of vodka, two cups of water and a few drops of dish soap to create a weed-control solution.
When using this solution, be careful not to overdo it and risk destroying the plants. Vodka is quick to dry the leaves and might result in more harm than good if overused.
Corn Gluten Meal
This is quite a surprise, right? You can use corn gluten meal to suffocate weeds in your lawn.
This powder, a byproduct of the corn milling process, prevents weed seeds from germinating. It is suitable for use regularly as it is non-toxic to plants and animals.
However, you need to be careful how much you use. It can quickly suppress plants in your lawn, especially during the seeding period.
Remember, if you are sowing seeds in your yard, you will have to wait until the seeds have germinated to use this method.
If you are looking for a simple solution to get rid of weeds, a kettle of boiling water might do the trick.
This method is suitable when planting a lawn where you need to clear weeds. Be careful when using it on gardens with other plants as the hot water can destroy the roots of the plants.
If you don’t fancy concocting your own DIY weed killers, you can always use something that’s ready-made.
There are plenty of organic herbicide options out there, such as this popular product from Green Gobbler.
You might also like to look at this article, which explores non-toxic, pet-friendly weed killers.
Finally, this piece on nine tips for organic lawn care will offer some expert advice on environmentally conscious care for your grass.
With that in mind, care must be taken when using such formulas around areas of desirable plant life.
If you are wondering how to get rid of broadleaf weeds in your lawn, hand-digging might be helpful. Weeds like broadleaf are easy to pull out using a hand shovel.
This method works well as a spot treatment method or in small, manageable lawns.
You might need to dig regularly to get rid of the weeds completely. The idea is to dig out the weeds while they are still young. This ensures they are not yet in the seeding stage to prevent regrowth.
For broadleaf weeds in your lawn, I highly recommend the Fiskars Weed Puller.
Case Study – some time ago, for a number of seasons, I had an infestation of dandelions in my front and rear lawns. I just couldn’t find the time to treat them.
That was until I decided enough was enough, and I picked up the Fiskars Weed Puller to try and address the problem without the need to use chemicals.
One heavy weed-pulling session later and the lawn was finally dandelion free. The best part, however, didn’t come until the following year.
Using this tool, I’d managed to get almost every single one, which meant barely any of them came back!
Of course, a dandelion problem in your lawn might just be the symptom of something else – your garden is in much need of aeration.
Check out this article on the benefits of aeration (including weed control) and how to do it.
This is one of the most proven methods of keeping weeds at bay. Mulching involves covering the base of the plants with bark, wood chips, or compost.
Mulching suffocates the weeds preventing them from poking through to the surface. Also, it is a beneficial practice as it helps to retain moisture in the soil.
It is important to note that some mulching materials may not prevent weeds from growing. For example, hay, in most cases, has a lot of seeds. These seeds can quickly germinate, creating more of a problem than a solution.
Newspapers, on the other hand, can be a great mulching material. You can create a carpet of newspapers by using a couple of sheets together and wetting them down.
These will block sunlight and oxygen from reaching the soil. On this note, sprouting weeds and seeds will eventually die due to the unfavorable conditions.
You can add any other type of mulch on top to keep the newspaper carpet in place and increase effectiveness. After some time, the newspaper mulch will decompose and add nutrients to the soil.
Well, if your plants can grow faster and choke weeds that are trying to grow, then you can control weeds easily. Weeds only grow where there are favorable conditions and adequate space.
You can add dense ground plants with heavy root systems to prevent weeds from growing underneath. These plants also create a shade affecting the conditions that facilitate weed growth.
Think of this as your lawn grass competing with weeds for the basic growth needs. Sunlight, water, nutrients, and growing space are what weeds need to take over your lawn.
Give your lawn grass an advantage by planting more of it and keeping it in the best shape all through.
Overseeding is the best way to encourage your existing grass to choke out any weed infestation. Think of it as adding ranks to your lawn army in the fight for plant superiority.
Check out this article on overseeding to discover how and why it works, as well as some top tips on how to achieve optimum results.
Regulate How Much and How Often You Water Your Lawn
Again, weeds will grow where the conditions are right and consistent.
On a lawn where you water every other day, it is difficult to keep weeds away. You help create an environment that keeps them nourished and thriving. Therefore, you should give the plants only what they need.
Trees, shrubs, and perennial plants may not need regular watering. Watering deeply but less frequently will provide enough moisture to last a long time.
This article on how to properly water your lawn will tell you everything you need to know.
On the other hand, vegetables may need more water to thrive. But, you can be selective on which ones need the most water and how often you need to do it.
If you are always adding compost to your lawn, you might be creating a bigger problem than a solution.
Weeds are still plants – whether you want them in your yard or not. Overfeeding your lawn adds nutrients to the soil, and will feed the weed just as much as it will feed the grass.
Unless, of course, you’re using a selective weed and feed formula that’s been designed to suppress weeds before they grow. Just remember, these pre-emergent herbicides are going to be of no use for removing an existing weed problem.
Overfeeding can also cause fertilizer burn, which can scorch grass blades and other desirable plant life. Follow that link for more information about this unsightly but treatable problem.
As such, it’s important to regulate how much fertilizer (feed) you’re adding to your lawn and other areas of your yard.
In fact, I would highly recommend addressing any weed problems well before you start laying down the fertilizer.
Take Care Digging and Tilling
As much as a poor fertilization regime can cause you additional weed problems, so can too much digging and tilling in your flower beds and vegetable patches.
Every time you turn over the soil, you bring more weed seeds to the surface, and provide them with the best possible perimeters for germination.
Of course, when planting new desirables, tilling and digging (especially over large areas) is unavoidable. You still need to prepare the soil for accepting seeds.
With that in mind, you need to make sure you’re taking steps to prevent weeds from developing in the future, such as laying down weed barriers, and – if you’re fine with it – using a pre-emergent herbicide.
Unless you want to completely kill your lawn (more on this below) soil solarization is only suitable for areas where you want to remove all plant life.
But it’s a very effective, albeit time-consuming method.
It involves blanketing an entire area with tarpaulin, landscape fabric, heavy-duty trash bags, or rolls of special plastic sheeting – basically blocking out access to the sun, oxygen, and other nutrients a plant needs to survive. Effectively suffocating them.
And for a plant, no sun = death.
It also significantly raises the soil temperature, which creates a hostile environment that will kill and/or significantly restrict plant growth.
However, this process can take several months before you see results, and it can be a laborious effort on your part – particularly if you’re laying down cover over large areas.
Additionally, as you’re looking to get the temperature under the sheeting to over 140 degrees Fahrenheit, this method is only at its most effective through the summer months.
But if time isn’t an issue, and you can afford to wait it out, solarization is a great way to treat large areas of unwanted plant life, where you can just lay down sheeting, forget about it, and let nature take its course.
Case study – after I removed a section of my lawn, I made the error of dumping the excess turf and soil next to a wall, the full length of my yard.
In no time at all it had been taken over by an enormous Creeping Charlie infestation!
As this was close to vegetable patches and flower beds, treating it with chemicals was not an option. Instead, we laid down black plastic sheeting to completely cover this horrible weed.
It’s taken the best part of a year, but this process has been effective in killing off (or at least controlling) this invasive species. And not once was a chemical used as a result.
Weeding Using a Flame
Flame weeding comes in handy when you start to notice a few weeds growing. This process involves passing a flame over the weeds to kill the plant tissues.
The method, however, does not deal with the weed from the roots. Therefore, you might need to flame a few times to eliminate them.
This method should only be applied when there is the least risk of fire. You want to avoid flaming during the dry spell period for safety.
Thatch is a layer of dead plant material that sits at the base of grass blades, close to the soil.
While it can be beneficial to a lawn (especially when protecting it from the scorching sun), it can also harbor pests, disease, and create an ideal environment in which weeds can flourish.
As such, it’s important that you dethatch your lawn at least once a year.
Dethatching won’t remove any existing weeds that have already broken through your lawn’s surface, but it does remove some of the building blocks that weeds require to grow.
But how do you dethatch a lawn?
Read our Ultimate Guide to Dethatching for all the information you’ll ever need on the subject.
Back to the Drawing Board
Sometimes, in extreme cases, weeds are so far gone in a lawn that there’s nothing else for it but to rip it up and start again.
This is a viable option if you’ve tried everything else, and/or you don’t want to go down the road of using harsh chemicals.
Like bankruptcy, but for lawns.
The advantages of killing off or removing a weed-infested lawn is that it will completely clear the problem, and give you a blank canvas on which to start again.
There are several ways to do this, but as using a grass killer herbicide would totally defeat the purpose of avoiding chemical use, the main options are by hand, using a sod cutter, or solarization.
Once the weed-ridden grass has been removed, you can then either lay new turf down, or you can try reseeding the entire area with new grass seed.
This article on lawn care after winter has a useful section on reseeding and overseeding.
Done correctly, you should have a brand-new lawn completely devoid of weeds.
But I wish it were easier done than said!
The almost overwhelming disadvantage to this option is that it’s going to be an extremely arduous process.
Regardless which method you choose, it will take a lot of time, effort, and – perhaps most notorious of all – money.
It might also put a strain on your relationship with your significant other. Trust me – I’ve been there, and this disadvantage is not to be overlooked.
Lifting and replacing a lawn is a huge undertaking that can be more trouble than it’s worth.
I personally would only recommend this course of action if you’re in dire straits, and you’re suffering from a weed problem that Poison Ivy would be proud of.
Check out the video below, which provides an excellent example of stripping and replacing a moss-filled lawn.
How do I get rid of weeds in my lawn naturally?
There are multiple ways in which you can achieve this goal, and most (if not all) are outlined in the article above.
I would say the top three ways would be:
Remove them by hand (or with an appropriate tool), use an organic or homemade weed killer for spot treatment, and/or smother the weeds with mulch/newspaper/tarp.
How do you kill weeds in grass but not grass?
With great care! You have to use a selective weed killer that will kill the weeds without harming the grass.
Unfortunately, most selective, post-emergent herbicides are going to be classed as harsh chemicals.
If you’re 100% against using them, the only genuine way to kill weeds in your lawn without risking damaging the grass is to remove them manually.
Only then can you be sure you’re only targeting the weed.
What’s the easiest way to get rid of weeds in your lawn?
The easiest way might not be the safest, or the most ethical.
Using a selective herbicide on your lawn is the fastest way to eradicate unwanted plant life – but these products can be harmful to the environment, children, pets, and ourselves.
And just because you think you’re spraying them in one area, doesn’t mean they can’t travel to another – especially in windy conditions, or with run-off.
Remember, prevention is better than cure, and if you practice a good lawn care regime, you won’t need to be on your hands and knees with a trowel every year.
How do you permanently stop weeds from growing?
Alas, there is no guaranteed way to stop weeds from growing, as even with the harshest of chemicals, there’s a chance they might come back at a later date.
Life will always find a way.
But there are several methods you can put into practice to keep them at bay for as long as possible. Including using weed barriers, pre-emergent herbicides, and regular yard maintenance and upkeep.
What household products kill weeds?
Salt and vinegar (with 20% acidity) will kill weeds, while dish soap acts as a surfactant. Bleach, baking soda, and vodka will also work – although I would take care in their application.
Particularly when it comes to bleach – which shouldn’t be used in your garden at all, but rather on patios and driveways.
Is it better to pull weeds or spray?
It depends on the extent of your infestation.
Spot pull weeds by hand if there are only a few of them, but for larger areas with more extensive coverage, you’re going to want to use a spray of some description.
If you were wondering how to get rid of weeds in a lawn without chemicals, I hope this article has helped answer that question.
Some methods mentioned here can work independently, while others require additional strategies for effectiveness. Depending on the condition of your lawn, you can find a favorable solution without exposing your yard to chemicals.