Here are 10 ways you can win the battle against weeds this summer without doing irreparable damage to either your wallet or the environment:
Master the art of weed-pulling
It sounds simple, but if you’ve ever tried it, you know that some weeds are much tougher to pull than others. Dandelions and other weeds of the taproot variety have a mighty grip. Try watering the area directly around the weed or pulling weeds after a rainstorm, when the ground is softer. Also, insert a knife blade, screwdriver or “dandelion puller” alongside the deep root and pry it loose a little before pulling.
Pour boiling water on them
When I boil potatoes or pasta during the gardening season, I repurpose the boiling water by draining the pot directly onto the weeds that like to invade my backyard herb garden and patio. A splash of scalding water will shrivel even the toughest weeds in a couple of days.
Cover low-growing weeds such as clover and crabgrass with several layers of newspaper. Eventually, the lack of sunlight will exterminate them. Similarly, put down layers of newspaper (remember, it’s biodegradable) and then cover them with mulch. This is a highly effective way of keeping weeds from sprouting up, and it helps the soil retain moisture.
I stock up on discounted rock salt at the end of the snowy season and sprinkle it on my gravel garden paths to keep weeds from coming up in the spring (pool salt and regular table salt work as well but are more expensive). Salt also makes a good weed barrier along lawn edgings and other places you can’t reach with a lawn mower. Apply it carefully, because it will erode concrete surfaces and can leave the ground barren for a long time.
Divide and conquer them
Never underestimate the value of physical barriers such as lawn edgings and retaining walls to keep unwanted weeds from invading your lawn or flower beds. Acting just like a fire break, physical barriers are a long-lasting solution for keeping weeds at bay. I make a simple — and cheap — lawn edging out of scraps of pressure-treated decking lumber, cutting the scraps into 8-inch “pikes” and hammering them into the ground next to each other to form a continuous edging.
Gardening is all about a competition for resources, where the strongest not only survive but also thrive. By choosing ground covers, flowers and garden crops that will naturally outcompete weeds for sunlight, water and soil nutrients, you can dramatically reduce the number of weeds. The same principle applies to controlling weeds in a lawn: Maintain a thick, healthy lawn, and you’ll have fewer weed invaders.
Pour vinegar on them
Douse weeds with vinegar or a mixture of half water/half vinegar (or better yet, the leftover vinegar from a jar of pickles), and they’ll be dead a few days later. This is a good method for exterminating weeds with long taproots, including dandelions, dock and plantain.
Can you tell when grass is fake?
You don’t need to set weeds on fire to kill them; quickly running a flame over them will usually cause them to wilt and die within days. You can buy a propane-powered weed scorcher designed specifically for this purpose at garden-supply stores, or just use a handheld blowtorch. Be careful not to torch poison ivy: Coming in contact with its smoke can trigger an allergic reaction just like touching it.
Many so-called weeds are edible or have medicinal uses. The young greens of dandelions, dock, chicory and other common weeds can be eaten raw in salads or cooked like fresh spinach. Chicory root is often added to coffee to enhance its flavor. Pick up a copy of the classic wild-foods field guide “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” by Euell Gibbons, and you may find yourself having weeds for dinner.
Learn to love ’em
One man’s weed is another man’s rose. If you can’t beat ’em, maybe you should just join ’em, and appreciate weeds for the beautiful wonders of nature they are. Many weeds are native plants that Mother Nature intended to thrive in your area; that’s why they can be so hard to kill. Learning to love weeds is just a matter of expanding your cultural horizons.
For example, in Japan, moss is cultivated and prized for use in landscaping, while in the U.S. and elsewhere, moss is commonly eradicated with chemical pesticides. There’s even a Dandelion Appreciation Society.