Weeds seem to appear out of nowhere. Then, before you know it, they’re everywhere—surrounding your landscape plants, popping up between cracks in your driveway and choking out your garden vegetables. Most homeowners take one of two possible paths when dealing with weeds. Either say “live and let live” and admit that the weeds have won, or go all scorched-earth and fight back with nasty chemicals.
Fortunately, there’s a third option many gardeners ignore: fighting weeds the natural way. Forget about chemicals that can be just as harmful to you as to weeds. These five simple weed killers will eliminate weeds without harming you, your pets or your prized garden plants.
Spreading a carpet of newspaper blocks sunlight from reaching the soil, which kills recently-sprouted weeds and keeps new ones from germinating. Simply lay down moist newspaper about 10 pages thick on the surface of your garden, and then cover with a about an inch of mulch. If you already have desirable plants growing, you can cut newspaper into smaller pieces and arrange it so that these plants are exposed to the sun. Over time, newspaper will break down, adding nutrients to the soil, and you can add additional layers as weeds begin to grow in the mulch.
2. Corn Gluten Meal
A common corn byproduct, corn gluten meal doesn’t kill established plants, but it does stop seeds from germinating. This is true of weeds and desirable plants alike, so only spread it in your garden after the plants you intend to grow have sprouted and become firmly established. You can also spread a little corn gluten meal in your garden after harvest to deter late-season weeds.
Vinegar contains acetic acid, a desiccant that sucks the moisture from plants’ leaves. Simply spray or sprinkle a bit of 5% vinegar on weeds and undesirable plants, and they will dry out and die in no time. Be advised that vinegar is just as lethal to your favorite vegetables, flowers and shrubs as it is to invasive weeds, so use it with caution. Vinegar is most harmful to young plants with tender leaves and immature roots, but it just rolls off of plants that have waxy leaves.
4. Boiling Water
Water is about as simple and natural a weed killer as you’ll ever come across, and it does the job quickly once you’ve brought it to a boil. Boiling water is best for weeds that grow in sidewalk and driveway areas, because the hot water will roll away harmlessly rather than damaging the roots of nearby plants. Be careful to avoid desirable plants as you pour boiling water on weeds.
Remember how vinegar is harmless to plants with waxy leaves? Plants like pennywort and thistle have a waxy coating on the leaves that helps them retain moisture, but the oil in soap breaks down this waxy surface, making the leaves more vulnerable. Just add a little dish detergent to your vinegar spray for plants with especially tough leaves.