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Even though we are in that sort of sweet spot of summer when there isn’t much to be done in the garden other than enjoy all the hard work, there is still one job that must be done: weeding.

I have a lot of weeds in my garden. Honestly, this year I never really got out in front of them. I manage the areas farther away from the house as well as I can and keep the gardens closest to the house the tidiest. So I don’t profess to be a champion weeder. But I know that weeding is something every gardener must do and here are the five ways I manage weeds without chemicals.

Five ways to deal with weeds without chemicals: The Impatient Gardener
When hand-pulling weeds, try to grab them as close to the soil as possible. This jewelweed comes out easily with hand pulling but some of the other nasty weeds growing in this area don’t pull quite as easily.

I probably deal with 80% of the weeds in my garden by hand pulling them. Some weeds, like Jewelweed, garlic mustard weed and even oxalis can just be pulled out with a couple fingers so long as the ground is soft. The key, of course, is to pull out the whole weed, roots and all, otherwise you’re just making more work for yourself.

Pros: Requires no tools, can go quickly, can be done with a wine glass in one hand.
Cons: Sore back, sore hands, doesn’t work for all weeds.

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Five ways to deal with weeds without chemicals: The Impatient Gardener
Wild violets are considered a weed in my garden and the only way to really get them is to dig them up.

When hand pulling won’t do it, that’s when I turn to my hori hori and dig them out. Dandeloins, quack grass, plantains, tree seedlings and anything else that doesn’t want to come out easily gets this treatment. It’s slower than hand pulling but you can be sure to get the entire root.

Pros: Guaranteed to get the root out, very salt-of-the-earth kind of gardening.
Cons: Time consuming, laborious.

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Five ways to deal with weeds without chemicals: The Impatient Gardener

3. HOE ‘EM
Some gardeners are big hoe fans, but I’ll admit to be relatively new to world of hoes. In fact, I only really have one proper hoe and I like it because it has sharp corners that I can dig in to pop out more deeply rooted weeds. It works better for young weed seedlings, as it’s difficult to dig the hoe in deep enough to get the roots on larger weeds so if you’re a person who likes to do a little work more frequently, hoeing would probably work well for you.

Five ways to deal with weeds without chemicals: The Impatient Gardener

Pros: Easier on the back, fast
Cons: Hard to get the root so needs to be done frequently

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Five ways to deal with weeds without chemicals: The Impatient Gardener
This area was covered in cardboard in May and has done a great job smothering out the weeds all summer. I still haven’t gotten around to covering it with mulch. 

This is my favorite method for dealing with large areas infested with weeds. I often use this for areas I intend to plant in a year or two but I’m just not ready to deal with yet. Although I’ve used multiple layers of newspaper (or newsprint on rolls, which is much easier) in the past, lately I’ve been using mostly cardboard, which is easier and works much better but is perhaps a little more difficult to find. I cover up the cardboard with the least expensive wood mulch I can find to make it look a little more presentable. You can also use plastic or even an old piece of carpet to smother weeds, but I prefer paper or cardboard because it breaks down naturally and you never have to worry about removing it in the future.

Five ways to deal with weeds without chemicals: The Impatient Gardener
The light brown mulch at the top of the photo is an area that I covered in newspaper. I didn’t have enough plants to fill this new garden area all the way to the back of the bed, so the cardboard plus mulch keeps it looking tidy this year and next year I’ll be able to fill it with divisions from elsewhere in the garden.

Pros: Quick, effective, manages large areas easily.
Cons: Material collection (cardboard or newspaper) can be onerous, mulch to cover it can add up in cost.

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Five ways to deal with weeds without chemicals: The Impatient Gardener

There’s no doubt that this is the easiest and most fun way to deal with weeds although it is certainly the most dangerous. I bought a large weed torch a  year or two ago after I decided I wasn’t getting enough power from my small weed torch. This one hooks up to a large propane tank (like you connect to your gas grill) and you pull it behind you on a hand truck. Because heat is obviously non-selective, you have to be careful not to get too close to anything you don’t want to kill. When you use a weed torch, the goal is not to incinerate the weeds, but to desicate them so they die back on their own. To do that, I just hold the torch on them until the foliage gets bright green. Within a day, they’ll be shriveled up. I pretty much only use the torch on my stone paths and the cracks in the patio, but it works like a charm. I did burn myself pretty badly just by touching the hot torch (turned off) accidentally to my leg this spring so you should probably be smarter than I am and wear some protective clothing (and not flip flops) and maybe have a hose handy when you’re going to get crazy with the weed torch.

Pros: Fun, easy.
Cons: A good chance you could burn down your house or send yourself to the emergency room.

What’s your favorite weeding method?

9 Responses

  1. Weeding – darn, it never ends!!! My favourite tool is the "cobra" – have you seen it? Short, boomerang shaped hoe. The downside is that you have to kneel to do it. The upside is that you can get into just about any tight spot.
    I also like the black plastic garbage bag method for smothering weeds when I renovating an area – the added bonus to this over cardboard is the the black heats up so the plants die quicker.

  2. So if I can tell a story… Way back in my college days, I worked at the dairy barns on campus at Michigan State. One time, the barn manager needed to tidy up the barns for a spring expo. I was assigned to burn the weeds growing in the cracks between the asphalt pavement and the cement and wood foundations of the barns. I had my bucket of water with me the whole time, and poured water along the exposed wood after burning the weeds. At the end of the day, I retraced my route to double check that nothing was burning. To my dismay, an area of the barn had smoke pouring out the corrugated siding. And of course we were in the middle of the afternoon milking. I hollered for help, a coworker grabbed a pickax, I grabbed a nearby hose and we started soaking the charred 2x4s. We look up to see several fire trucks, an ambulance, campus police and another worker's wife descending upon us. The charred area was along some upstairs student apartments, where the firemen found the students had been engaging in their own recreational farming. The worker's wife was convinced when she drove in that her husband had been injured – yet again – as an ambulance had already been at the barns twice before for him over the years. The cows had to be evacuated from all the barns when the fire was discovered, they were eventually returned to their proper stalls. And I swore off any more burning of weeds, someone else got to finish it the next day. At least I kept my job, and I still shudder to this day thinking what could have happened if I hadn't gone back and double checked my work at the end of the day.
    So, I hand pull and smother now in my yard. But any of you who are brave/careful enough to do the burning, more power to you!
    Cathy S

  3. I mostly pull weeds to get the roots out. Yes, the day after a soaking rain makes the work much easier. My tip came by accident. I have a cheap hand tool that broke where the weld was. Turns out, what is left is a wonderful tool to get in between slabs of sidewalk. It works in much the same way as the linoleum knife I had purchased for the same use.

  4. I tend to pull most of my weeds by hand, even in the walkways. In the large gravel areas my husband always uses chemicals. I think he would be thrilled if I gave him permission to use a weed torch. Ha! Thank you for the advice.
    On a side note: never did it occur to me that I could drink wine and also pull weeds at the same time. Woot! I may be out weeding a lot more than usual. ;D
    And finally, Thank you. I love reading your blog. It inspires me to try new things; and reinvigorates me when I need it the most.

    1. Weed torches DEFINITELY increase husband interest in gardening I've found. Mr. Much More Patient has used ours to start bonfires in the past as well!

      Oh, and weeding and wine go very well together.

      And thank you so much for the nice comments on the blog. It's much appreciated.

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