This is a confusing topic and a great deal of mis-information is out there about organic weed control. So let’s start with the basics.
Weeds typically show up in your yard because by any number of means weed seed ended up in your yard. Maybe birds, mostly the wind.
Weed seeds need just a few things to germinate and become a prolific pest in your yard. They need moisture, they need soil that is at least fertile enough to support them and it seems that weeds are not that fussy. And weeds need sunlight.
We can’t control the rain, more than likely we want our soil in our yard or gardens to be more fertile, not less fertile so we have little control over that except to make the soil more fertile.
So that leaves us sunlight. Ahhhaaa! We can control sunlight!
That’s what we’ll do, we’ll take away the sunlight!
Controlling sunlight is probably easiest done by mulching our beds with some kind of shredded bark mulch. Usually all that is required is 2″ to 3″ of bark mulch to do a nice job of controlling weeds. However, nothing is fool proof and gardening will always require a watchful eye and some effort.
That could mean sweat on your brow and dirt under your fingernails.
Warning, warning, warning!
Please, please, please be careful how you use weed control fabrics in your gardens. Do they work? Not really. Usually quite poorly. The weeds will grow right through them and almost permanently attach the weed barrier fabric to the ground making removing it the worst job ever.
How do I know that? I spent years and years re-landscaping homes and we encountered miles of this stuff and I can assure you, it does not work in most situations.
There are two ways to look at this.
- You can say that Mike is full of crap, he has no idea what he’s talking about, my landscaper said weed control fabrics are a good idea. And . . . it says right on the packaging that they work.
- Or you can say, “Gee, Mike hasn’t lead me down the wrong path yet and if he really has been working in the dirt, on his hands and knees since the mid 1960’s , maybe he does know what he is talking about. And . . . he has nothing to gain or lose whether or not I use weed barrier fabric or not. Mike has no skin in the game either way!
- And you can see some real life examples of me and my life dealing with weed barrier fabric right here.
Does Mike ever use Weed Barrier Fabric?
He does! “The lyin little cheat uses it all the time but tells us not to! I knew I couldn’t trust him!”
Yes, I do use weed barrier fabric. I actually have miles of weed barrier fabric in my nursery. We use a really high grade, heavy duty fabric on the ground and we place our nursery containers on top of it and it does a pretty good job of controlling the weeds, as long as we do our job and deal with any weeds that show up, because yes, they grow right through the stuff.
But here’s the big take away!
I never ever, ever put anything over the fabric like soil, mulch or gravel. Because I know that doing so will encourage weed growth like nobody’s business! And I also know that sooner or later I will have to pick up that weed barrier to either replace it or return those areas to their natural state.
It would be an absolute crime to let the weeds grow up through that stuff and then leave it in place.
If You Watch the Movie on this Page you will see how we use weed barrier fabric and how easily the weeds grow right through it. You will also see how my neighbor Richard uses it in his veggie garden but pulls it up each year.
So there you have it! Weed barrier fabric used correctly and incorrectly.
What other organic weed control techniques work?
Newspaper and cardboard work great and controlling weeds and grass and are 100% organic.
A while back I did a pretty good article on this topic, you can read that here.
Tilling or cultivating.
Those things work incredibly well and this is why. If you keep the soil worked in your garden, in between the plants, you can disrupt and eliminate weeds right after or just as they are about to germinate.
In order for weeds to get a foot hold, they need a little time to themselves. If you work the soil once a week, or every ten to fourteen days you should be able to effectively keep weeds at bay. Oh you’ll get weeds alright, it only takes a few days for weeds to germinate and start to grow. But if you disturb their happy little playground just as they are getting started you will end their lives immediately and interrupt other weeds that are just emerging from that germination stage.
Tilling and or cultivating work because . . .
- You disturb weed seeds that are just about to germinate and therefore eliminate them.
- You up root and expose weeds that are post germination exposing their roots to the sun and wind, drying them out and killing them.
But these strategies are only effective if you are diligent and keep at it. If you take a few weeks off, all is lost and you have a lot of work on your hands to get the garden back to a state where tilling and cultivating can once again be effective.
What about vinegar as a weed killer?
Yep. It works. There are a lot of recipes floating around on the Internet and vinegar is being touted as the best weed control product ever! Works almost immediately and lasts forever!
That’s a half truth and a half lie.
Vinegar does work almost immediately, or at least within a matter of hours you can see some results. But here are some things you should know . . .
- It’s pretty effective on broad leaf weeds but not nearly as effective on any kind of grass or grass like weed.
- It does not kill the roots of the weed, just the top part that you can see and spray. The weeds will come back from the roots.
- Regular household vinegar is only about a 5% solution and that really is not enough to be effective.
- You need horticultural vinegar. That’s more like a 20% concentrate and considered by some to be dangerous. This Article Addresses the Dangers of Vinegar in the Garden.
And there you have it! Some common sense approaches to organic weed control.
Questions, comments, mean things to say? Post them below and I will respond.