Natural ways to fight weeds, from cornmeal to newspaper

Eradicating weeds is an ever-present and often frustrating part of gardening. If left alone, weeds can choke a garden and sap away the water and nutrients that should be going to your crops. At the same time, many gardeners are reluctant to use harsh sprays near the fruits and vegetables they wish to harvest.

Many weed killers have been labeled as natural or organic, and these products can be effective in keeping your garden healthy. You can also combat weeds with a variety of everyday household materials. To be most effective, however, these applications should be combined with proper garden management.

Decide how aggressively you want to target the weeds on your property. Rebecca Cuttler, writing for the home design site Houzz, says weeds such as clover or Queen Anne's lace can have beneficial effects, such as attracting pollinators or insects that will prey on harmful garden pests. Dandelions are often considered a pest, but many homeowners like to keep them around to help local bees or even harvest for their edible greens.

Establishing healthy soil is an important part of keeping weeds at bay. Weeds tend to do better in soils that are compact, low in nutrients, or otherwise have poor quality, so you may need to modify your landscaping. Spriggs Brothers Organic Landscape & Lighting, a Texas company, says you can improve the health of your lawn by putting down grass seed in the spring, watering during dry periods, and pruning nearby tree canopies if they are causing too much shade on your property.

Use an aerating tool to help break up the soil if it is too compacted. When mowing the lawn, keep the setting high so that grass blades will help crowd out and smother any weeds trying to get a foothold. Treat bare spots to keep weeds from establishing in these spots.

One option is to establish a new raised bed garden and fill it with rich soil. Cuttler says you can help keep weeds from cropping up by putting down a couple of layers of cardboard. Doing so will help smother the weeds, while the cardboard will deteriorate over time. Jennifer Noonan, writing for the home improvement professional Bob Vila, says a layer of newspapers will have the same effect.

Perhaps the easiest form of natural weed control is to pluck out any weeds by hand. Use a gardening claw or trowel to make sure the entire root is removed. Spriggs Brothers Organic Landscape & Lighting says weeds should be composted or thrown in the trash, since leaving them on the ground can transfer seeds that cause new weeds to sprout.

Remove weeds regularly. Cuttler says the process should be completed once a week. Start as soon in the season as possible, since removing young weeds can help keep them from spreading seeds.

Purchase some mulch to spread on top of your garden beds. Noonan says this material not only keeps weed seeds from settling into the soil, but it also blocks existing seeds from receiving sunlight. Mulch also helps retain moisture in the soil and looks much nicer than bare soil.

A variety of natural remedies are available for attacking weeds. Corn gluten meal keeps seeds from germinating, so it can be effective in preventing weeds from becoming adult plants. Salt placed at the base of a weed will become diluted with water and kill the plant. Be cautious with either approach, as they can also harm your grass or desired plants.

Vinegar is another celebrated natural method for fighting weeds, as it can easily be put in a spray bottle to spot treat any unwanted plants. David Beaulieu, writing for the home design site The Spruce, says the most effective way to use vinegar is to coat as much of the weed as possible with the substance on a sunny day.

Since vinegar will also harm any other plants as well, it's best when applied to weeds sprouting from cracks or other hard surfaces. Spriggs Brothers Organic Landscape & Lighting says vinegar can also be applied in the early spring when weeds are starting to appear but the grass and gardens remain dormant.

You'll likely have to apply vinegar more than once for it to be effective. Tougher weeds like dandelions can be very resilient against this method.

Boiling water can also eradicate weeds when poured into the garden. Noonan says the water should be poured on the crown of any unwanted plants, and that weeds with long taproots may take a few applications before they disappear.

Perhaps the most satisfying way to take on the weeds in your garden is to burn them out. Weed torches can be used for this process, which causes water in the plant to turn to steam and rupture cell walls. Simply wilting the weed rather than incinerating it will be effective.

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