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How to Deal With Weeds in Your Garden

The number one question I see on gardening forums and Facebook gardening groups is, “how do I get rid of weeds in my garden,” or “what is the recipe for the homemade, organic weed killer.” My first instinct is to reply, “just pull the dang weeds.” I realize not everyone is crazy like me and enjoys pulling weeds. And, if I don’t take certain measures with all my gardening beds, I will be overrun with weeds. Today I’m sharing what works and what doesn’t work, along with tips on How to Deal With Weeds in Your Garden and Weed Prevention.

How to Deal With Weeds In Your Garden

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Do Homemade Weed Killer Sprays Really Work?

There are so many “homemade” weed killer recipes just on Pinterest alone. Most of them start with a base of vinegar and add all sorts of other things like lemon juice, Dawn dishwashing detergent, salt, borax, bleach, boiling water, etc., etc. Many of these recipes tack “natural” or “organic” to the title and people wanting instant results flock to them. My favorite (said in jest) is “an alternative to chemical weed killers.”  Humm, vinegar, Borax, bleach, Dawn dishsoap are chemicals and there’s nothing organic or natural about them.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they don’t work! Sure if you mix up one of these concoctions and spray weeds with it, the weeds will wither and turn brown, and there will even be pictures of the proof. But, are the weeds dead or gone for good? Chances are in a week or two, that weed will be right back at it, growing and annoying you. There is a horticultural vinegar that is touted as safe, but it’s acid and it’s toxic, and will burn skin if it comes in contact with it. Ouch! No thank you! The base of a healthy garden is the soil. Who really knows what these so-called safe weed killers do to the soil? I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination, but I suspect these weed remedies will trash your garden soil. 

When using some of these weed killing mixtures, yes, the weeds will look dead, but it is not systemic, meaning it doesn’t travel through the plant to get to the root. It simply kills what it comes in contact with. So again, it might look like it’s dead, but it will be back in a week or two. Plus, would you rather have a green weed, or a brown one? Said in jest, but don’t the dead looking things still have to be pulled?

I recently posted this article on Gingham Gardens Facebook page. When you’ve finished up here, pop over and read it. It’s sort of a comical take on homemade weed killers.

Are Commercial Weed Killers Safe?

Let’s talk about Roundup, the herbicide made by Monsanto (or whatever company owns it now). I don’t like Monsanto and the politics behind promoting the giant corporation, but this isn’t the place for that debate. I think there is a place for Roundup, just not in our food supply. I’m also not sure it should be so readily available to people who want a quick fix to their weed problem and tend to overuse the stuff. If you decide you need to use Roundup, just use it as a last resort on weeds that can’t be dug out, or invasive species.

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How to Deal With Weeds In Your Garden With No Chemicals

How to Prevent Weeds in Gardens

If you can get weed prevention down, that is half the battle. No really, it’s more like 75% of the battle. Weed prevention will go a long way towards dealing with weeds in your gardens. 

There are millions of weed seeds in your gardens just waiting to germinate. The more you cultivate the soil, the more seeds you’re bringing to the surface, the more you’re giving them a chance to germinate. Now that’s depressing news, isn’t it.

Here’s what I do to prevent weeds in my gardens:

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know that I’m a huge proponent of mulching. Always use a good, shredded wood mulch, not wood chips. Shredded mulch is much more dense than wood chips and will serve better to keep weeds out. If you can, buy mulch in bulk. We have purchased bagged mulch and bulk mulch that we had to haul or have delivered. The quality of the bulk mulch is so much better. I have no idea why, but that has been my experience.

Once I get a garden bed cleaned up in the spring and all the plants rearranged like I want, I will put down a thick layer of mulch. A good shredded wood mulch is best to reduce sunlight to weed seeds and choke them out. If the bed is new, I will also lay down a thick layer of newspaper around the plants before I mulch.

How to Deal With Weeds In Your Garden

What About Using Preen As Weed Prevention?

If I’m working in a garden that was left unattended, once I get the bed cleaned out, I will use Preen. The use of Preen is controversial for some, because it can be dangerous to aquatic life. I definitely would not use it, if there was a chance it would run off into a body of water. I’ve also read that some say it will kill earthworms. I have not seen that to be the case at all in my gardens- the earthworms are alive and happy. Just a note on Preen – it is a pre-emergent, so it will not kill existing weeds. Preen only keeps new weeds from germinating. As far as vegetable gardens go, definitely don’t use Preen. 

Don’t Use Landscape Fabric as Weed Prevention in Flower Beds  

Why? Because it does not work! And, you really don’t want it in a flower garden where you will be moving plants around and adding more plants. Plus, once dirt, debris and leaves accumulate on the top of the landscape fabric, weeds will grow on top of it. If you’ve ever tried to weed an area that has landscape fabric, you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s a complete nightmare. The roots of weeds grow into the landscape fabric and they are impossible to pull.

If you’re thinking about using it in an area where you’re never going to plant or move plants, go ahead, but just know that it will never stop weeds from growing. I do use landscape fabric for walking paths and places where I’m never going to plant, but knowing full well I will need to do some weeding now and then.

Practical Ways to Deal With Weeds In Your Garden

How To Keep Weeds Out of Vegetable Gardens

After all your veggie plants are in and direct sown seeds are up a couple of inches, it’s time to add some mulch to the rows or in between the plants. I like to use grass clippings (use only clippings from untreated grass) and leaf clippings. If the grass clippings are fresh, keep them a few inches from your plants, because they can heat up while drying out and can potentially burn your new vegetable plants. As the grass and leaf clippings dry, they will form a mat and this mat will form a barrier to help keep weeds down. The clippings will also help fortify the soil as they break down. You will still have to pull some weeds by hand, but that will be minimal especially if you stay on top of it and don’t let the weeds get out of hand.

If you have a vegetable garden that is cut into the ground and not a raised bed, be sure to add landscape edging around your entire garden. That will go a long way to keep grass and weeds from infiltrating your gardening space.

For walking paths, or between my raised vegetable beds, I use cardboard, newspapers or landscape fabric underneath a thick layer of mulch. 

How to Clear A Weedy Overgrown Garden Area

When we moved into our fixer upper home in late summer of 2016, the gardens were an overgrown mess. When you’ve finished up here, go check out the makeover of this garden bed. It was a complete nightmare! On this huge tiered bed, I simply started digging, digging and more digging. So, if you’re dealing with a huge mess like mine, I would recommend just start on one end with a really good shovel.

How to Deal With A Weed Pit Garden

I really pushed myself because this wasn’t the only mess that needed work, but I’m crazy. Really, just take your time and dig a little bit every day. If it’s going to take weeks or months to clean out an area, be sure to cover the part you’ve already dug with cardboard so you don’t have more weeds popping up.

With the makeover of this garden bed, I approached it differently. Yes, I dug the yucky plants and weeds out, but then I covered it all with cardboard. On top of the cardboard, I added a thick layer of shredded leaves and grass clippings and then left it for the winter. The next spring, I had a blank slate to work with.

On other areas in the yard, I’ve simply used the lasagna method to kill off grass and weeds. And that, has worked very well. Below is a picture of an area in my back yard where I used the lasagna method.

Lasagna Method to Kill Off Weeds and Grass

The Best Tools for Weeding

In addition to the shovel I mentioned above, this weeder, cultivator thingy has been a huge help. In some of my heavy duty garden makeovers, I’ve used it to break through root masses and rocky soil. Plus, it’s just an awesome multi purpose gardening tool and I use it just about every time I’m in the gardens.

I just purchased a stand-up weeder that was recommended by some other gardeners. There’s a learning curve to using it, but I’ve just about got it down and it’s going to work great. I’m hoping it will save my back.

#1 Way to Remove Weeds from Driveways and Sidewalks

We discovered this amazing gadget for removing weeds from our paved driveway, sidewalks and patio and it’s been amazing! We wish we would have tried it sooner. So what is it you ask… It’s a simple, inexpensive weed torch. Just go check it out when you’ve finished up here.

A Few More Tips on How to Deal With Weeds In Your Garden

Unfortunately, we’re always going to have weeds, it’s just a part of gardening. To help deal with them, here are a few more practical tips:

  • The best time to weed is after a rain shower when the ground is soft.
  • Stay on top of weeding! Once weeds produce seed heads, your battle against weeds will greatly intensify.
  • Spend 10-15 minutes every day to make a pass through your gardens and weed. Use it as a time to unwind.
  • If you have a weed pit to contend with, don’t just leave it. The weeds will go to seed and you will have double the problem. If you can’t pull weeds, at least use a weed whacker to chop them down.
  • Be okay with imperfect. A few weeds here and there aren’t going to hurt anything. (This is for me!)
  • Strictly personal preference here, but I do not throw weeds in the compost bin.
  • You might hear packing plants in tight will help to avoid weeds. This isn’t my style of gardening, but if it’s yours go ahead and pack those plants in. Just be aware that some perennials, like Tall Garden Phlox and Bee Balm, need air to combat fungal diseases.

Related Posts You’ll Enjoy:
Flower Gardening 101
The Best Annual Flowers
Classic Perennials
Perennials You Don’t Want In Your Garden
Tips for Transplanting Perennials
Low Maintenance Flower Garden
Dealing with Garden Pests

Do you have any tips for dealing with weeds in your gardens that I didn’t cover? If so, please leave a comment and let me know. Also, if you have a question, feel free to ask in the comments section.

Thanks so much for stopping by Gingham Gardens today! Be sure to stop back soon.

Happy Gardening,

p.s. Follow Gingham Gardens on Pinterest for lots of great gardening ideas and tons of gardener’s eye candy.

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  1. Every year I’m clearing out the weed growth in my yard because of a neighbor who doesn’t tend to his yard at all ever, homes here in NYC are 8 inches apart. I’m 62 and tiring… So what can I do?

    1. Hi Sandy, thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens. Sad to say, but I don’t think there’s anything you can do about neighbors with a less than tidy yard. Just do the best you can. If you have a weed whacker, I would recommend staying on top of the weeds that border your property. I’ll bet your neighbors love that you keep your yard looking great. Good luck and happy gardening, Joanna

  2. Joanna, read your suggestions about preventing weeds…have to agree with you about the garden fabric😬😬😬. When we bought our house that we have now, she used it and I really didn’t know what it was that I was trying to put a shovel into, I thought the ground was that hard!😂😂😂 Then I tried removing it! What a mess, I too ONLY use it where I know that I would be digging it up, EVER!!! I like newspaper, and it works really well!! We live in a very rural area and I, too use Deer Repellant and use Irish Spring soap that I shred. We have ALOT of Virginia Creeper and a few other invasive, but I try to photo and check on line with PlantNet or some other source before I pull weeds to make sure I’m not destroying a native. Here in Missouri, I have found sooooo many natives that I was not familiar with and was glad that I checked. One of my rare finds is Jack in the Pulpit. Shade loving, early Spring and it doesn’t last very long. What a treat! I have found other natives that I have moved, so the mean ‘ol lawnmower won’t whack it off!🙂. I might suggest this to all your readers, were losing our native plants to all this imported stuff.🙁. Thank you for your articles, we must be on the same wave length, especially when it comes to “job hopping”😂😂😂. And, YES! I make lists or notes to keep me on track. Love your readers comments, were never to old to learn and I’m all about safe and natural ways of doing things. Have you ever heard of Jerry Baker? I have several of his books…GREAT recipes for using in and around the gardens. He uses stuff like cola, chewing tobacco, vinegar,etc. check him out! Happy Gardening…gotta go weed!

  3. Very well written! Glad to see someone else not recommending weed mat. It makes it so much harder to pull weeds that germiate on top and end roots below…or weeds like dandelions that can poke through rips or tears and make an even bigger hole when you pull them, but can’t really get at them through the mat.
    Listen, most people don’t like pulling weeds, but I know from experience that it’s the only way (really) to get on top of things. The more you pull, the les re-seeding. It took me about 6 years to completely erradicate chickweed from my garden. But there was less and less each year. Also, when you pull weeds, wait for a few hot sunny days to dry the soil. The soil will be loose and weeds come right out easily by the root. . Weeding when the ground is wet or compact is much harder. Here’s what I actually DO like about weeding. First of all, enjoy being out on a nice day. As you weed you get up close and personal with your soil to really see what is going on. If you pay attention, you’ll get to watch earthworms and centepedes and lady bugs, butterflies and honey bees up close. None of these will harm you in the least. You can also inspect your plants for signs of insect damage or infestation or fungus etc. that you might not otherwise see. I had top soil brought in from the marshes and farmland around my area and though the soil was very fertile, it was full of horsetail. So my big project is to get it all out and put down thick layers of cardboard but cover with compost mulch (I don’t personally like the look of bark. I’ve also heard to plant thigs closer together so the weeds can’t compete as much. Anyway…to all, Happy gardening. I’d come help you weed if I could!

    1. Hello Kris – thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens and taking the time to comment. I’m so glad you enjoyed How to Deal With Weeds in Your Garden. I enjoyed reading your comment and your tips. Happy gardening (or dreaming about it), Joanna

    2. Get used to it! If you are a gardener, you weed. The goal should be to get to the weeds before they flower and seed. The more you weed, the fewer weeds in your future! I walk my property daily and try to pull a few weeds when I do.

      1. Hi Sue – I agree! I actually like to weed and I agree that the more you stay on top of weeding the less of a problem it becomes. Thanks for stopping by, Joanna

  4. I have a 25x25ft vegetable garden. It was overgrown last year with thistles and grass so at the end of the season I dug up everything including my strawberry berry patch and covered it all with black plastic. It looked great when I removed it in the spring and prepared it for planting. I cut up and moved the plastic to the pathways covering them with mulch. Well the pathways are great but I have been overrun this year by thistles, crabgrass, clover, and purslane in all the beds. We can eat the purslane and have but even after hand weeding the entire Arden on my hands and knees (ugh) the crabgrass just keeps coming! I was able to eradicate the thistles so that makes me happy! I have not tried Preen because I really try not to use chemicals but I think I’m about ready – either that or abandon vegetable gardening altogether…☹️

    1. Oh no, don’t give up. This fall try covering your entire garden with cardboard. Then add grass clippings and shredded leaves on top. Next spring when you plant, try digging as little as possible, so you don’t stir up all those nasty weed seeds. After you’ve planted your veggies, use grass clippings to mulch everything, the paths and around the veggies. The grass clippings will form a mat to keep weeds down and moisture in. You can also use newspaper under the mulch around your paths. This will greatly minimize the weeds, but you will need to stay on top of the weeds you do get or they just multiply. If your garden isn’t a raised bed, considered putting in a border of some kind to keep the lawn out of your garden bed. I cannot recommend using Preen in a vegetable garden, and I don’t and wouldn’t use it in mine. I do use it in flower beds. I hope this helps. Good luck and happy gardening, Joanna

  5. Thankfully I read this article prior to trying one of those “organic weed killers”. I was just about to do it. I have read about the cardboard and and how horrible putting black plastic down is for weed control.
    I cleared a large hill area that had grass or I really should say weeds with grass. I hate lawns. I like them when they look nice but mowing a hill as steep as mine was a pain so I cleared it last summer as was planning on building a retaining wall and planting some drought/slope tolerant ground cover along with some perennials. My dad happened to take a massive heart attack so everything is on hold until next summer because he was going to help me with the wall, mulch, and soil. Right now it is covered with weeds. I tried keeping up but it got too much to do and maintain my other gardens. Should I just weed wack it and cover for the winter. I live in Boston, zone 6., use round up ( newer one), or just leave it. I can’t stand looking at it but I can’t start doing anything until the retaining wall is done and soil is added along with mulch. Also, any advice on ground cover plants and perennial flowers that would look good together. At the bottom of the hill are forsythia bushes which I absolutely hate. I don’t know who planted them because it’s on the property line but my neighbors do not help control them. I took some out but I don’t want to remove all due to soil erosion. After the bushes is a ledge/cliff. So, they are difficult to reach on my neighbors side. Their trumpet vine has grown into the bushes. I just keep cutting my side back and removing the ones that probably grew from the branches touching the ground and rooting. I have them on the other side of my property line too but those neighbors are in their 90’s so I don’t expect them to take care of their side. I asked them if I could try to get them under control and they said I could do whatever I wanted. They like my work. I recently planted some drought tolerant easy care perennials on their side of the of the bushes. There is about a two foot gap between their lawn and the bushes and it was full of weeds.. I pulled all the weeds and put some plants. I know she use to garden so she will enjoy looking at them over weeds. I will mulch it next year. I used a shovel to take them out but I know they will come back. The area receives full Sun and is on the South side. The hill is on the North side and receives late morning and afternoon Sun. Any advice on what I should plant near forsythia bushes? Ground cover and perennials that are drought tolerant. There is a lot of sand on the South side. Also, this fall I’m putting in a new lawn. Should I remove the lawn due to it being mostly weeds or can I till it and add soil? Any and all advice would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Michelle – thanks for reaching out. I’m sorry to hear about your dad. You definitely have your work cut out for yourself. I would definitely weed whack everything down and cover it with layers of cardboard, along with grass clippings and shredded leaves. Because of the slope, you may have to use landscape pins (like the ones to tack down landscape fabric) to hold the cardboard in place. Do some research over the winter as to what you want to plant. I would recommend using perennials that don’t get taller than about 18 inches. If you go taller than that on a slope, you’ll always be fighting with plants flopping over. It’s hard for me to give you plant recommendations without seeing your yard. You have lots going on, so try to just deal with one area at a time. By next spring, I hope to able to offer online garden consulting through the blog. You can do this, one garden at a time and one project at a time. Just make lists and do what you can get done in addition to taking care of your other gardens. Happy gardening, Joanna

  6. I agree with you about weeds needing to be pulled. Got to get that root out!!! So many people think they’re doing something by simply weed-whacking. Nope. I used to use roundup years ago. Absolutely nothing grows where that stuff has been sprayed. The soil is ruined for a few YEARS.
    This newsletter keeps me encouraged. I also joined a community vague garden.

  7. I LOVE pulling weeds. THere is something soothing about walking round looking for the little boogers and ripping them right out!! Now for larger spots of weeds, which we really do not have any more, I confess that I love roundup It works so well and you barely need a drop. Our summer problem has been of course, the heat, It breaks my heart to see my “lovelies” so thirsty at the end of the day. We are supposed to have a timed irrigation system but it has not been reliable this year, so we drag out the hose and sprinkler and move it around half the night. My really big problem is not bending over at neighbor;s homes and ripping out their weeds while we are standing there talking. I don’t mean to embarrass them, I just cannot lose the chance of pulling up a chunk of weeds. THanks for your posts and sharing your beautiful garden with us!!!!

    1. Oh Jeannie – you make me laugh… I too want to pull my neighbors weeds. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your fun comments. Joanna

    2. Same here! When I walk by the beds at my work, I can’t stop myself from bending down and pulling out the weeds!

      1. Hi Jodee – thanks for stopping by! I caught myself one day as I was waiting at the gas station for my gas tank to fill, deadheading and weeding the gas station planters. Lol!

    1. Hi Laura – the lasagna method is where you lay down cardboard and then cover it with grass clippings and shredded leaves. That will kill off grass and weeds. It works great is you’re starting a new area and can wait for the cardboard and leaf/grass mulch to do it’s work. Thanks for stopping by and happy gardening! Joanna

  8. I used the cardboard method to clear weeds this summer, left it on the bed for weeks then covered with mulch. As soon as the mulch was laid, 50 turkeys came by and picked up the cardboard and scattered the mulch and have continued to come by every night. Looks awful. We had to remove the cardboard, some of it even pinned down with landscape pins. Not a great solution. I have to weed sitting and can’t stand long enough to use standing weeders. This is worse each time. So the job just gets worse and worse.

    1. Hi Paula – oh my goodness, this sounds like a nightmare! I have squirrels doing the same thing, but they do leave everything in place, they mostly just toss it around. I would suggest that you do a little research to see what the turkeys are interested in. Are they going after grubs in the soil, or what? I’ve never had to deal with wild turkeys, so I don’t have any advice to share. Don’t give up, you can outsmart those stupid turkeys! Hang in there! Joanna

  9. Any suggestions for getting rid of starts of mulberry bush/trees? Had two large ones that birds enjoyed and so I let them grow. Unfortunately, birds also spread the seed and I have found the new plants are very resistant to being killed.

    1. Oh no, we have the same problem and they are really bad right now. So far I’ve been able to stay on top of pulling the seedlings. If it’s in a garden area, maybe try smothering them by laying down newspapers between the plants and then covering them with mulch. I’m sorry I don’t have any easy answers. Good luck!

  10. I have found that planting periwinkle has cut down on my weed population immensely!! Periwinkle has been known to choke out a good portion of the weeds. It keeps spreading and gets very dense which prevents the weeds from emerging. In the early spring, it produces beautiful, tiny blue flowers! I have had great success with this plant!

    1. Hi Angie – thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I’ve never grown periwinkle myself, but I’ve had many comments on another post that it is quite invasive, chokes out other perennials and is very difficult to get rid of. That being said, I love hearing other perspectives and I find your’s very interesting. Happy gardening, Joanna

  11. I have serious back issues and I moved into a home with a huge yard. The home at been rental for 15 years so the garden consisted of thistle and other weeds. I could not dig as much as I would like so I got very heavy cardboard and laid it on top of the weeds and added mulch. This was done last year….so far so good, no weeds.

    1. Hi Cass – thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. That sounds like our home when we moved in. That was very smart of you to cover everything with cardboard. Be sure to mulch good once everything is planted. Take it easy and pace yourself. Good luck and happy gardening!

  12. I just moved into a new home here in east TN and have planted a couple of flower beds. The flower beds have clay and compost with several kinds of perennials (Daylilies, Hostas, Gladiolas, Iris, a couple roses and some Easter lilies. My question is should I put down Preen before I put mulch or wait to see any weeds.. I’m buying bulk mulch and hope to have at least 2 inches thick. Look forward to your suggestion.

    1. Hi Anita, if you had to pull lots of weeds, and/ or did lots of digging, then yes I would use Preen. If not, don’t bother with it and just mulch. Btw, if you wait to see weeds, it’s too late for Preen.

    2. The weed of the year in my garden is vile silt grass or also called Japanese bamboo grass. The more I pull the more it grows. Any ideas on how to eradicate it?

      1. I’m sorry, Kathy, no advice other than to keep doing what you are doing. Try to be sure to get all the root. Good luck and happy gardening.

  13. Joanna, All of your weed control tips are helpful & your advice is sound. I have a problem with Canadian Thistle & an effective way to kill the individual plant is to cut it at the base & put a pinch of table salt directly on the stem. . Of course these have huge root systems & they pop up elsewhere. There is a specific product out for this plant but the label warnings are horrific.
    Thank you & have a good day,Joe

    1. Hi there, Joe. I’ve missed your comments lately. I We’ve had a terrible rainy cold spring but it looks like things are warming up. I have terrible time with Canadian thistle too, especially in our church gardens that I take care of. I just keep digging it but I don’t think I ever completely get the root. I’m going to try your table salt remedy. Happy gardening and stop back soon.

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