It’s exciting when plants you have nurtured begin to grow in your yard. Green, lush grass. Colorful flower beds. A thriving vegetable garden. Unfortunately, when it comes to caring for our outdoor spaces, there’s always one thing you can count on: you’re going to have to deal with weeds. One topic that’s always in season is how to get rid of weeds in your lawn without chemicals.
While weeds can be annoying, if you make a plan in advance and attack the problem early in the season, you can make less work for yourself over time. Below, we identify some common weeds in the south and what you can do to get rid of them naturally, without harming your lawn or garden plants.
Many weeds in our gardens spread through airborne seeds or runners and can be difficult to fully eradicate. Some of the weeds to watch out for in your garden include the following:
- Broadleaf or common plantain, a plant with oval leaves and parallel veins. This weed likes disturbed and infertile soil and can withstand repeated mowing.
- Henbit has ruffled leaves and tiny purple flowers that provide an early food source for butterflies.
- Lambsquarters has oval or triangular leaves and appears dusty from a white coating on the leaves.
- Purslane has succulent-like teardrop leaves on the end of long branches. It propagates by seed, root division and from bits of stem.
- Ragweed shows up early in the season, often in vacant lots and other areas that aren’t regularly maintained, and can be easy to miss. Then by late summer the plants can shoot up to three feet in height and cause terrible allergies for those sensitive to it.
- Prostrate spurge is the plant that fills in exposed soil and grows in the cracks in your sidewalks. Growing low to the ground, spurge has pink, hairy stems and small oval leaves.
- Yellow woodsorrel has three leaves that look similar to a clover, sometimes with a purple tint and has white or gold flowers.
- Crabgrass may be one of the most annoying weeds. As a “grass”, it can be difficult to notice initially, but its thick, spreading habit in both the lawn and garden make it a nuisance with no redeeming qualities.
- Dandelion is a common and recognizable plant with its sunny yellow flowers that turn into puffballs of seeds. It loves to grow in well-fertilized lawns.
What Is Your Best Protection Against Weeds?
The best way to deal with weeds is to tackle the issue before the growing season ever begins, by smothering garden beds, mulching winter gardens or using natural pre-emergent weedkillers. One natural weedkiller is corn gluten meal, a byproduct of the corn milling process, which works best when applied early in the season. It can prevent weed seeds from sprouting in your lawn and garden and it’s entirely nontoxic.
Once weeds start to appear, try weeding by hand. It’s inexpensive and can offer you a healthy workout. For weeds with a taproot, get a dandelion weeding tool, which is a long tool that you can insert into the ground to easily pop the entire plant out by the root. Be careful about composting weeds, as some may go to seed in the compost pile unless immediately covered. You can even involve your children in removing these unsightly additions to your landscape.
When weeds are widespread, use a hoe to dig them out, roots and all. Even though it might feel like a losing battle, each time you remove a weed, you prevent it from reproducing via roots or seeds.
Discourage Weeds From Taking Over
There are several common gardening techniques to prevent weeds from getting a head start in your garden:
- Mulching with bark or wood chips or compost is a great way to smother weed seeds. You can also put down plastic or ground cloth under pathways with wood chips or gravel to prevent grass and weeds from poking through. One of the other benefits of mulching is that you can keep your soil more moist, which helps plants grow in the hot and humid environments in the southern United States.
- Avoid turning your soil in your garden beds, digging only as deeply as you need to plant seeds or bedding plants. By following a no-till method, you will be less likely to encourage new weeds and studies show it helps encourage soil fertility.
- When feeding your lawn, be careful not to over or under fertilize. Too much fertilizer will encourage crabgrass and other weeds, while underfeeding will keep your lawn from being healthy enough to compete with weeds.
- Water garden and lawns deeply but only as often as necessary. Light watering discourages your plants and lawn grasses from sending deep roots into the soil and instead encourages many weeds that have shallow root systems.
Other Methods To Kill Weeds
When weeding isn’t enough, or you have a large area to cover, try one of these non-toxic options before reaching for weed killers:
- Use the sun to kill weeds. Cover a large patch of ground with a heavy plastic sheet. Over the course of several weeks, the heat from the sun will kill the weeds underneath.
- Make a weed spray from 1 oz of vodka to 2 cups water or combine 4 cups horticultural vinegar (also known as 20% vinegar, it’s considerably stronger than household vinegar) and ¼ cup salt. For both sprays, add a squirt of dish soap to help the spray stick to leaves. Spray the weeds (taking care to avoid getting it on your lawn or other plants) and allow them to dry. Both sprays will work best in full sun.
- Pour boiling water on weeds. This is a great option for weeds in between stepping stones or in cracks in the sidewalk.
- Get a flamethrower (really). You can purchase a flame weeder from a local garden or hardware store. Be careful not to use this option any time there’s a risk of fire and only use it on tender green plants, not on larger, woody plants.
The best form of weed control is a thick, well-fed lawn. Some homeowners implement a tactic to overwhelm weeds with healthy grass by overseeding a weedy lawn. If you have exhausted all of these options and are still dealing with a weed problem, you may consider talking to a trusted lawn professional about chemical interventions that are designed for use around homes, businesses and schools. If you do decide to use a weed killer on your yard, use the lowest concentration product possible.
Losing The Battle Against Weeds?
Sometimes all of your hard work just isn’t enough to control weeds in your lawn and garden. If you feel like weeds are taking over your yard, give ABC Home & Commercial Services a call. We can help you with all of your lawn care needs, including fertilizing, watering, mowing and weeding, as well as to advice you on what natural alternatives to chemical products might work on your landscape.