Chemical-Free Weed Control

WHAT’S YOUR METHOD FOR KILLING WEEDS WITHOUT CHEMICALS? That’s a question from reader Andrea, who wants to manage a big weedy patch on her property without relying on Roundup. Do you have any tips for organic weed control? I hope you’ll share them in the comments field below. In the meantime, have a look at the things I’ve used to reduce the weeding chores here at A Garden for the House:

Vinegar. This is an effective herbicide for weeds which grow in tight spaces, like the cracks between bricks. I pour it by the gallon into a big pump-sprayer, and apply it to the brick walkways in the Rose Garden, and also the gravel paths in the Herb Garden. A squirt of dish-washing liquid added to the vinegar increases its effectiveness. If you use vinegar in a pump-sprayer which has any metal parts, be sure to clean it with water after use. Vinegar has a corrosive effect on metal.

Vinca Minor. Who needs Roundup when you can have a bed of Vinca Minor, or “myrtle?” This evergreen groundcover has thoroughly smothered weeds on the central terrace of my Serpentine Garden. There it provides a graceful green foil for tulips and other bulbs. Enchanting too are the tiny blue flowers which appear on vinca’s trailing stems from April through May. It thrives equally well in sun or part shade (I have it in full sun).

Pachysandra. This one also thwarts weeds, although it is slower to establish than vinca. I have giant sweeps of pachysandra between the boxwood and yew borders in the Rose Garden, where it thrives in full, blazing sun (it grows faster in semi-shade) . It has brought great beauty to patches beneath trees here, too, where previously only weeds would grow.

Mulch. I apply a thick, 3-5 inch layer of partially decomposed wood chips as a weed-suppressing mulch in all of my perennial beds. The same product is used here for pathways in the Kitchen- and Woodland Gardens. I get wood chips for free, and so can you.

Newspaper. Want to turn a weed-filled patch into a low-maintenance garden? Then proceed this way: go to the dump and collect from the recycle bin all the cardboard or newspaper you can. Set the material directly atop the bed of weeds, and cover with a thick layer of partially decomposed wood chips. I did this very thing for a weed-infested strip on the north edge of the shady Woodland Garden. I planted pachysandra directly into the wood-chip mulch. The thickly-laid newspaper has kept weeds from popping up while the pachysandra establishes itself.

Gin & Tonic. This is my favorite system of weed control where hand-pulling — a job I absolutely hate — is the only option. Sipped from a tall I Love Lucy glass, the gin helps pass the time as I dig out weeds from the bed surrounding my fish pond. For this is the bed where I neglected to lay down newspaper and mulch before planting. Mea culpa.

Well, these are my tips for ridding the garden of weeds without the use of chemicals. What are yours?

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From Parking Lot to Rose Garden
No-Fail Groundcovers
How I Made My Serpentine Garden


  1. Right outside my kitchen door is a patch of weedy driveway. I like to take the tea kettle of boiling water and pour it in the cracks. Kills the weeds quicker than anything!

    I like your last suggestion, a gin and tonic would certainly make weeds less annoying! I will have to give that a try.

  2. Terry – great tip. Wish I could boiling water on the brick walks, but alas, there isn't a large enough kettle to handle the job in one go.

  3. Do you know or have written down anywhere the variety/color of those tulips? They are beautiful with some purple flower in the background. Hard to tell if it is grape hyacinths or regular hyacinths or scilla. Help me out there! I love that combination. The China Pink Impression is on my list but now that I've seen yours, I like it better. Blends so nicely.

  4. Betty819 – Thanks for asking!

    The tulips in photo #1 are 'Purple Flag,' with common blue grape-hyacinths behind.

    Tulips in photo #3 are 19th century heirlooms called 'Van der Neer.' The blue flowers beneath them are from the groundcover Vinca Minor.

  5. Betty819 says:

    Thanks for the information. The two colors are so similar but their shapes are a bit different in my eyes. Beautiful..looks almost like a silk shantung fabric..

  6. Betty819 says:

    Kevin, I don't mean to bug you. The “purple flag” tulip. I did a search on google and came up with some by that name but they appear very deep purple on my monitor, these in photo#1 appear to be a rosy/purple color. Could different growers have same variety but different shades of color for same tulip? Do you recall where you purchased them? Not doubting your information..just wondering if more than one company may sell tulips by same name and they look different color than what is shown in your photo?

  7. Kevin, as far as weed suppressing abilities, which do you recommend the most? Pachysandra or Vinca?

  8. Eric – definitely vinca, because it fills in with lightning speed (as opposed to pachysandra and other groundcovers). In 2 years I have not seen a single weed penetrate the vinca bed in my Serpentine Garden.

  9. Betty – The tulips in photo #1 are 'Purple Triumph.' So sorry if I called them 'Purple Flag' elsewhere! I bought them from Van Bourgondien.

    And you are certainly not bugging me…I cherish your comments!

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  11. I have a huge vinca bed that has been infested with weeds now that it is sunny since we cut down the brush around it. We have to pull the weeds 3 times a summer by hand but it is totally worth it. There are wild raspberries, wild cimicifuga, wild ferns, and numerous other weeds/ground covers that have invaded, plus wild honeysuckle roots from the bushes we cut that keep putting out suckers. Oh did I mention it’s on a steep hill and there are tons of ticks? Thankfully, I can sit on the vinca without damaging it while I am weeding.

    The rest of my garden, I had the same problem. I have about 2 acres of gardens. I tried everything from mulch (most came infested with weed seed) to weed cloth that lets the water through (after 2 years weeds grew right through it) to eliminating the smaller plants that would get overwhelmed, to weed wacking the weeds (not very sitely). Then after much thought and threatening myself to convert back to grass, I came up with a solution that so far (3 years now) is working like a Charm.

    I put 8ml dark green poly sheets on everything, cutting holes for each plant. I am just finishing up the final sections this year. I really thought things would dry out but to my surprise, everything is as lush as ever. I think the plastic holds the moisture in. The plants love having their own space. It took forever but was so worth it. I put red shale stones over the plastic to hold it down and look better. I also used metal clips intermittently. If I want to put in a new plant or bulbs, I cut a circle, dig out the dirt and put it in a bucket, then plant the plant and fill in with dirt. The areas that are sloped I made sure to put the upper plastic sheets on first, and the lower ones over them with some stone between the layers, so the water traveling downhill can get under the lower ones. I also build up the dirt on the lower side of the plants to hold in water better. Where there are trees I cut a bigger hole in the plastic around the tree and put regular weed cloth over the hole and tuck it into the other plastic. When cutting plastic around a tree, I use 2 pieces that overlap because I can’t get over the tree. Finally, for variation, I use camouflage poly plastic – it looks great – and I only need a few stones over it. The garden is now very neat and tidy. I only have to weed a little right around each plant, but only if I am being a perfectionist. The little bit of weeds don’t look bad.

    So it looks like I will finally get to enjoy looking at my garden ( I always enjoyed working on it).

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  1. […] also benefiting the environment.  For weed control -Don’t Use Toxic Pesticides- try using undiluted white vinegar – it will kill the weeds & is environmentally […]

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