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How to get rid of weeds

How to kill weeds
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s the age-old problem for gardeners - how to get rid of weeds. However hard we work to make our lawns and our backyards look great, those pesky unwanted weeds come along and ruin our efforts. Whether you have a yard full of flowers and shrubs, or a family-friendly space for the kids to play in, keeping weeds at bay will help it to look its best.

Here we’ll explain just some of the ways in which you can get rid of weeds - and prevent them coming back. If you are an organic gardener - or just want to avoid using chemicals - there are plenty of non-chemical options for tackling the weeds in your yard. The gadget lovers among you will be glad to hear there are a couple of nifty tools that can help, such as the best electric weed eaters (opens in new tab) - and there’s even some useful ingredients to be found in your kitchen cupboards!

What the expert says…

Ray Brosnan says, "You need to exercise extreme caution with using salt as a weed killer, never use it on a lawn or when the weed is surrounded by other plants as the salt will inevitably work its way around, killing off everything in the vicinity."

Ray Brosnan, of Brosnan Landscape Gardening (opens in new tab), says: “Salt is highly effective when it comes to killing weeds but you need to be extremely careful when using it. By using salt on weeds you’re simply dehydrating the plant, which disrupts the internal water balance of the plant cells. You can apply the salt by either just sprinkling some onto the plant itself or creating a saline solution and spraying it onto the plant. You are probably better off creating your own solution though, as it makes it easier to target weeds that sprout up between cracks or are in other hard-to-reach places.

"Salt doesn’t actually degrade when it enters the soil, instead it gets washed down to a different location by the rainwater over a period of time – if too much salt leaches into the soil it can become sterile and barren for years.’’

How to get rid of weeds

1. Use a weed eater

Weed eaters are electric or gas-powered tools that use a fast-spinning line to slice through weeds. They are usually used to tackle hard-to-manage areas, such as around trees, along fence lines, lawn edges and so on, where other methods won’t work. 

They won’t permanently get rid of weeds, as they don’t pull out the roots, but they’ll certainly make them less unsightly, and stop them flowering and spreading their seeds. They are also quick and easy to use - no bending down or digging needed! There are both corded and cordless varieties, so there should be one to suit most situations. The gas models are usually found in more professional settings, such as public gardens and parks, and they tend to be quite noisy. But they may be the right choice if you have a lot of ground to cover.

2. Try hoeing

This low-tech option sees the gardener using the hoe to slice through the weed stems. They are ideal for using in flower beds and vegetable patches, where you need to get in between the plants without damaging them.To be effective the hoe’s blade needs to be sharp. It’s also a good idea to hoe on a hot day, so that the remaining vegetation dries up quickly and can be raked away. Leave wet remains on the ground and the weeds may even take root again!

3. Incorporate bark mulch into your yard

Mulch has two benefits - not only does it suppress weed growth, but it also helps to keep moisture in the ground. This means you may not have to water so often, and when you do, the moisture doesn’t just evaporate away - especially useful in hot areas. As well as bark chippings (which can be bought from garden supplies and home improvement stores) you could also use grass clippings. If you have a large yard with trees that have to be pruned, you could even make your own chippings using an electric chipper.

4. Invest in a weed burner

Another method that is easy to use if you find it hard to bend down or do manual digging, is a weed burner. An electric weed burner is a gadget that works by killing the weeds’ leaves with a really high temperature. It won’t destroy the roots, though, so you may find you have to tackle the weeds more than once. You must also be careful as some weeds (such as poison ivy) can give off toxins when burned. Gas burners run on a can of butane gas and have an adjustable flame. They are best used for areas such as paths and driveways, where there is no risk of damaging adjoining plants.

5. Use boiling water

A fuss-free (and chemical-free) solution is to pour boiling water over the weeds. Make sure to pour it on the roots to kill them off. Once dead they can be easily removed. Be careful not to pour on any nearby plants that you want to keep. A good choice for weeds in cracks in paving - but don’t use it on your lawn or you’ll kill the surrounding grass! It goes without saying that you must be careful that you don’t spill the water on yourself - and keep children and pets out of the way.

How to get rid of weeds

Try manually digging up the weeds in your yard to ensure you get the entire plant. (Image credit: Getty Images)

6. Go fuss-free and try digging

If you want some exercise, you can dig up the weeds. It’s a good option, because you can make sure you get the whole plant including the roots, preventing them from reappearing. A garden fork or hand trowel is your best choice of tool. It may be daunting at first, but once you get them all out, you’ll be able to keep on top of the few that reappear if you do it regularly.

For weeds in lawns, it’s worth investing in a weed puller - there are versions of this tool that allow you to use them without bending over if you want to save your back.

7. Make your own weed killer

You’ll find some ingredients in your kitchen cupboards that can be used to kill weeds. One way is to water the weeds and then sprinkle baking soda on the leaves - it’s not a quick fix as it can take up to a month to work! You can also try using vinegar as weed killer (opens in new tab) by taking white vinegar mixed with a little dish soap to help it stick to the leaves. This works best when sprayed on new weeds, but make sure the spray doesn’t go on any of your precious plants.

How to dispose of weeds

Once you’ve gathered up all the weeds, don’t add them to a compost heap, or you’ll be spreading the seeds back onto your garden when you use it! Put them in your green waste bin - or you could burn them (if that is allowed in your district). Be careful though, as some weeds, such as poison ivy, can give off poisonous fumes, so should not be burnt.

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Naomi MacKay has been a freelance writer and editor for the past 20 years. She previously made the move from local newspapers and consumer technology magazines into the gardening press as Assistant Editor at Garden Answers magazine, and has also worked for the Royal Horticultural Society, and writes garden columns for a number of publications.

With contributions from