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Looking out at your garden and seeing a sea of weeds staring back at you can be discouraging, to say the least. Weeding is a job that sounds easy enough on paper, but in practice, it’s back-breaking work. And the more weeds you’ve got to deal with, the more insurmountable the task can seem. But, don’t despair — we’re here to help! There are plenty of things that you can do to clear a garden full of weeds.
Boiling water, baking soda, and vinegar kill weeds quickly, usually within a 24-hour period. Digging the weeds up is always an option, but covering garden beds with black plastic is just as effective, and can save you hours of labor.
How to get rid of a garden full of weeds
Preparation is the key to a good garden, and the first step involves clearing the space of weeds. Here are 10 strategies for removing weeds from your garden beds so you can get planting fast.
Dig them up by the roots
Sometimes nothing beats the old-fashioned way! If your garden is full of weeds, the best way to tackle the issue may well be to remove them manually. Raised beds are easy enough to weed with a hand trowel and weed fork. Remove weeds by digging up their roots, and be careful not to jostle the weeds around if they’ve gone to seed. Keeping the weeds as still as possible prevents seed dispersal, helping your weed problem improve down the line.
For large in-ground gardens, removing weeds with a hand trowel would be next to impossible. So invest in a weed remover, like a dutch hoe, that works by slicing off weeds at the roots. This allows you to get rid of more weeds in less time. Claw weed pullers are another great option. These tools pull weeds up by the roots, and they allow you to do so from an upright position, sparing your back and knees.
Mow over them
Now, this option may not be feasible if you garden in raised beds. But if you have an in-ground vegetable patch, you can put a stop to weeds in a jiffy simply by mowing over them. Knocking the weeds down with a push mower or riding lawn mower may not kill them, but it will certainly compromise their health. It’s a great first step.
It’s best to mow over the weeds before they go to seed. Otherwise, you run the risk of creating more weeds for yourself to deal with next season. Try to mow over the weeds after they’ve flowered to give your local pollinators a chance to enjoy the food supply. Weeds may be an unsightly nuisance, and they can certainly deplete your garden’s soil of nutrients. But they’re highly beneficial to bees and other insects, and, consequently, your ecosystem as a whole.
Plow the garden under
Tilling your garden soil may not eliminate your weed problem. But what it will do is loosen the weeds, making it much easier to remove them manually. Use a rototiller to plow your vegetable patch or flower beds under, then use a weed fork or metal rake to fish out the weeds. This is also a great opportunity to mix in soil amendments before planting. After all, removing the weeds from the space will invariably take rob the soil of valuable nutrients. So be sure to mix a healthy dose of manure or compost into the soil to replenish lost vitamins and minerals.
Try baking soda or vinegar
You may not think it, but these two common household cleaning agents can work wonders when it comes to eliminating weeds. Baking soda kills unwanted plants by pulling water from their cells, causing foliage to shrivel up and die. Meanwhile, vinegar’s high acetic acid content burns weeds, killing them within about 24 hours.
Both baking soda and vinegar can be used to kill weeds, but you need to be careful not to over-apply them. Too much baking soda may cause your soil to become more alkaline, and too much vinegar may make it too acidic. So to avoid significantly altering your soil’s chemical makeup, and doing serious damage to the plants in your garden in the process, apply baking soda and vinegar only as spot treatments.
Spread a thick layer of mulch
The easiest way to get rid of weeds in your flower beds, raised or otherwise, is by applying a thick layer of mulch. Wood chip mulch works best for this, not just in terms of effectiveness, but also in terms of attractiveness. Flower beds look much smarter with a new layer of wood chip mulch around them. But old straw can be used to great effect, too, although its rustic appearance may not fit in with your landscaping.
Mulch smothers weeds, depriving them of sunlight and oxygen. If you need to de-weed a large space quickly, cover it with 2 to 4 inches of mulch, and then remove weeds manually as they pop up. It’s worth noting, however, that mulch can be a breeding ground for mushrooms, so keep that in mind.
Use boiling water
For small-scale weed problems, boiling water makes an excellent weed killer. This method is especially useful for old window boxes and raised beds, limited spaces that you’re still getting prepped for planting. Boiling water scorches a plant’s roots, killing it almost instantly.
Burn them with a weed torch or heat gun
If you’ve ever wanted to just set fire to the weeds in your garden, then, boy, have we got great news for you. Weed torches are handheld gas burners fueled by small propane tanks. The flame produced scorches the weeds, damaging them at a cellular level. This method for killing weeds is incredibly useful because it allows you to target each weed individually and kill them quickly without introducing any damaging chemicals or other soil-altering substances into the ground below.
Heat guns can also be used to spot-treat your garden for weeds. This eco-friendly option applies extreme heat to unwanted plants, obliterating the foliage and preventing photosynthesis. Unable to produce food for themselves, the plants quickly die back. The only downside to this weed-removal method is that stubborn weeds may need to be treated with a heat gun multiple times before they finally bite the dust.
Plant ground cover
Instead of removing the weeds, why not try planting a ground cover and letting it handle the problem for you? Fast-growing ground covers can be used to snuff out the weeds. And, once established, the ground cover acts as a living mulch to protect the plants in your garden. For shady, damp spots, try growing mint, and, for dry, sunny locations, choose lamb’s ear or creeping juniper.
Spread out black plastic sheeting
It can take a few weeks for black plastic sheeting to kill off weeds. But, even though this solution isn’t fast-acting, it is highly effective. Covering a vegetable patch with black plastic sheeting prevents sunlight from reaching them, suffocating the weeds below. Plus, it allows the weeds to die back into the soil, where they will decompose and continue feeding your garden once you finally get it planted.
For best results, cover your flower bed or vegetable patch with black plastic sheeting in the fall. This gives the weeds plenty of time to die and disintegrate over the winter. Once spring arrives, the ground beneath the sheeting will be weed-free and much easier to plow under.
Try a commercial herbicide
Commercial herbicides have an excellent track record for killing weeds. Just be sure to choose the appropriate weed killer for your garden’s needs, and follow the instructions on the back of the bottle to a T, to maximize the product’s effectiveness. Use the herbicide only as necessary to prevent serious damage to your local pollinators.
How can you prevent your garden from being overrun by weeds?
Once you’ve got your weed problem under control, it’s time to take a few preventative measures to keep things from getting out of hand again. Start by weeding your garden regularly. Removing weeds as you see them will help you stay on top of things. You can also spread landscapers’ fabric, newspaper, or cardboard around your plants to discourage weeds from sprouting up.
Another easy way to prevent weeds is to avoid tossing them into your compost, especially once they’ve gone to seed. Throwing those wish flowers into your compost bucket may seem like a good idea at first, but when your garden is overrun by dandelions next spring, you’ll regret that decision.
Should you just leave the weeds alone?
While it’s true that weeds rob neighboring plants of valuable nutrients, a handful of weeds scattered throughout your vegetable patch aren’t likely to do much damage. So, unless the weeds are snuffing out surrounding plants, or you’ve noticed a significant decrease in crop yield, you don’t necessarily need to worry about killing every single weed.
You don’t have to go overboard. But, by arming yourself with the methods shown here, you’ll be ready to tackle your garden’s weed problem head-on and keep it under control for good.