As I look out into my backyard gardens, I see knee-high weeds happily seeding themselves as they awaken from a dormant winter. I don’t see anything that resembles my summertime garden… But, I know that it can become the garden of my dreams again.
Although toxic chemicals have been used for decades to get rid of weeds, today’s gardeners, including me, use more eco-friendly and sustainable weed killers.
Did you know that since the mid-20th century, toxic weed killers have been the most popular weed control method? The problem is that even though these chemical weed control methods are effective in controlling unwanted plants, they leave toxic residue on food, pollute the environment, and cause disease.
A few of the most toxic chemicals in conventional weed killers are 2,4-D, Paraquat, and Dioxin. Glyphosate (the chemical used in Roundup) may be a bit safer than its predecessors, but it too is far from non-toxic (maybe we’ll go down that rabbit hole another time.)
I’ve been researching DIY non-toxic weed killer recipes for several years in the hopes of finding one that works for my vegetable and flower gardens. I’ve had success with several that use common household products that I’d like to share with you. Hopefully, they’ll help manage weeds and still renew the goodness of the soil, wildlife, and the environment.
P.S. If you’d prefer to buy a pre-made weed killer instead of making your own, check out our recommendations here!
The Organic Approach to Weed Killer
When you start thinking about an organic approach to managing weeds and pests in your gardens, it is not just about switching from chemicals to non-toxic weed killers. It’s also about getting a better understanding of nature and the decisions you make to grow better plants, improve your family’s health, and keep the environment safe.
If you’re ready to use a DIY organic weed killer that prevents toxic chemicals from damaging soil organic matter, stimulates living organisms in the soil, and keeps your family and pets safe, give these recipes a try.
Basic DIY Weed Killer Recipe
The following weed killer recipe is made from common household ingredients. Keep in mind that it’s not for lawns. It’s a non-selective weed killer that kills the foliage of any plant, so it will need to be sprayed directly on the plant you want to get rid of.
When you apply the mixture to the weeds, use a spray bottle, so you can direct the spray directly onto the weeds. Try to do it on a calm day, so the weed killer doesn’t drift onto other plants or your lawn.
Here are the ingredients you’ll need:
- 1 cup Epsom Salt
- 1/2 gallon vinegar
- ⅛ cup dish soap
Just mix all the ingredients together and pour the mixture into your spray bottle. This non-toxic weed killer recipe isn’t waterproof, so you need to reapply after it rains.
This isn’t really a recipe, but it’s an effective DIY organic weed killer recipe. Just as the title suggests, it’s just boiling water.
All you have to do is get a pot of boiling water and pour it over the weeds. This works very well for weeds growing through the cracks of your driveway, walkway, or patio.
It also works for weeds in your garden, if the weeds aren’t too close to the plants you want to save. The boiling water travels under the soil, so you might damage the roots of other nearby plants if you’re not careful.
Citrus Oil, Soap, and Vinegar
Citric acid is a natural weed killer. You can use the citrus essential oil as a substitute for citric acid in this recipe. The oil comes from citrus peels. When the oil combines with vinegar and soap, it makes a potent weed and pest killer. If you can’t find citrus oil, lemon juice works as a substitute.
- 1 gallon vinegar
- 2 ounces dish soap
- 1 tablespoon citrus oil
Mix the ingredients together and pour the mixture into your spray bottle. Spray the solution directly on the base of the weeds, the tops of the leaves, and the undersides of the leaves. It might take two or three applications before the weeds die.
Full Strength Vinegar
Apple cider or white vinegar is one of the most widely used natural, non-toxic weed killers. You can use it full strength on any type of weeds.
You can also dilute vinegar weed killer with water if you want to use it for weeds on your lawn, but only if you have hardy grass.
I found that vinegar kills most pesky weeds right away. I use household vinegar that’s five percent acetic acid. If you try this and don’t see results, you can find stronger vinegar up to 20 percent acetic acid at garden supply shops.
If possible, treat the weeds while they’re young. That gives the best results. Spray straight vinegar on any weeds from tip to bottom. Try to keep the vinegar out of the soil because it can damage any nearby roots and live organisms living in the soil.
Table salt is a strong, natural weed killer. But, one problem with salt is that it can harm the soil. If you use salt, apply it only to the weed’s foliage.
- Use an 8/1 mixture of hot water and salt
- Add one tablespoon of dish detergent
Pour the solution into a spray bottle and spray the weeds. Try to do this on a warm, sunny day. That way the mixture dries on the leaves quickly, so it doesn’t get into the soil. Once the weed dies, pull it up right away, so the salt doesn’t wash into the soil when it rains.
You can find Borax at most home goods stores, grocery stores, and hardware stores. It’s most often used as a laundry booster in the wash. Even though this is a natural boron product derived from lake evaporation, it can be harmful if swallowed, so be careful to keep it away from pets and little ones.
After you mix this homemade weed killer recipe, use it right away.
- 10 ounces Borax
- 4 ounces of warm water
Mix these two ingredients together in a glass or plastic container to dissolve the Borax. Once dissolved, pour it into two gallons of water. Mix well and apply it with a sprayer. This is non-selective, so it will kill lawns and other plants, so take care when using it on weeds.
Alternatives to Spray on Weed Killers
Sometimes, I just want to get out in the garden and use my hands. This is a great way to get rid of weeds without having to mix DIY recipes or use chemical weed killers.
Pull Up the Weeds
Start in the spring before the weeds set their roots too deep. Put on your garden gloves and start pulling up the sprouts of weeds like creeping charlie. If you catch them as young weeds, you don’t need any tools to dig them up.
Once you pull them up, don’t leave them anywhere near your garden. The seeds could blow everywhere, and you’ll have to start all over again in a few weeks.
Cover with Mulch
After you plant your garden, pull up or hoe any weeds and dispose of them. Then get your shovel, and spread mulch in your flower and vegetable gardens. Spread the mulch about 3-inches deep to stop weeds from germinating and preventing any other future growth.
You can buy mulch at the garden center or save your grass clippings. Using mulch also preserves the nutrients in the soil and holds in moisture.
Plant Ground Cover
Ground cover is an attractive, maintenance-free way to prevent weeds from growing. There are many types of ground covers, such as creeping sedum or curly ivy. Some thrive in shady areas while others prefer full sun.
They’re hardy, drought-resistant, and also repel foraging animals. Once ground cover is established, it blocks sunlight from the weeds and chokes them out.
One of the best natural weed killers is to restore your soil before you plant your vegetables and flowers. This method is soil solarization. It brings your soil back to its natural state.
You do this by uprooting all the vegetation in the garden area. Use a rototiller or pitchfork to remove all the weeds, plants, and grass. Spread the loam out with a rock rake and remove all the debris.
The next step is to cover the entire area with plastic. Leave it on the garden for a few days. This allows the sun to burn off any seeds or weeds left in the soil. After the soil solarization finishes, all the weeds will be gone, and your garden is ready for your plants.
FAQs about DIY Organic Weed Killer
Here are some of the most common questions about weeds and organic weed killer solutions:
Is it important to identify the weed species in my garden?
It’s a good idea to know which weed species grow in your gardens and lawn. That way you can decide on the best non-toxic weed killer to use. Some weeds are more aggressive than others and are hard to manage.
Why do I have so many weeds all over my yard and gardens?
Many factors influence why weeds grow. Many times, weeds drift in on the wind, or you bring home various seeds and weeds from outside sources, such as mulches, topsoil, and other plants.
Also, you might have bare spots in your yard where weeds love to establish themselves. Spreading mulch in any bare spots is effective for killing (and preventing) weeds.
How often should I weed my garden?
You should weed your garden as soon as you see weeds sprouting so they don’t have a chance to establish and mature.
What are some hardy groundcover plants I can plant to prevent weeds?
Groundcover and shrubs that are low-maintenance and effective for choking out weeds are California fuchsia, sage, yucca, wild rose, and bush monkeyflower. These are just a few samples. Talk to your local garden center for more recommendations for groundcover in your area.
Do I need to replenish the mulch during the growing season?
Keep an eye on the mulch layer. The rain often washes away the top layer of mulch. Add more if the depth is less than 2 inches.
How do I kill weeds from between the brick in my rock garden?
The best way to remove weeds between bricks is by handpicking. Use a weed knife or screwdriver to get between the bricks. This is a safer method than spraying weed killer that could drift onto other plants.
How do I know if I have invasive weeds growing in my yard?
Invasive weeds are a real problem. They are not native weeds but came from another country. These weeds are hard to control even with a full-strength vinegar weed killer. Check out your state’s invasive and noxious weed list for more information on the different species in your area.
Where do I find information about killing specific weeds in my area?
Ask at a local garden center about how to kill weeds and weed management where you live. Also, check the Pest Notes Library. It lists the names of most weeds, and where they grow.
Written by Karen C.