With unyielding resilience, weeds thrive through drought and flood, standing tall in mockery of wilting neighbors. By definition, weeds are valueless plants. They are annoying thieves—stealing nutrients from seeds we purchased and planted and toiled over. And they torture us and trick us. They even make us doubt ourselves.
Hmmm. Is that a weed...or will an award-winning rose or a prized tomato emerge? I didn’t plant that there...or did I? Was it relocated by a bird, or the wind...or a regrowth from last season? Pull it or leave it?
But it’s not just that.
The toxic chemicals sometimes used to eradicate weeds threaten the miracles of Mother Nature—bees, butterflies, worms, plants and their habitats. Watershed runoff carries toxins to waterways, threatening ecosystems and water supplies miles away.
If you are in search of non-toxic ways to clean up the garden—other than wresting control of the green shoots and yanking them from the dirt—read this list of nature-safe methods:
Boiling Water: The power of living water never ceases to amaze. At room temperature, water is an essential ingredient for weed’s growth. Heat it to boiling, pour over weeds, and watch them wither. This works especially well for weeds emerging between bricks or cracks in sidewalks.
Soil Solarization: If you live in a warm climate and your garden is in full sun, leverage its power to eradicate weeds. Cover weedy areas with a thick, clear plastic sheet for 4-6 weeks. As the plastic captures the sun’s warmth, the soil heats up and cooks the weeds, killing them. Weeds can be removed sans effort when they become brown and dry.
Mulching: Layering organic mulch on soil will inhibit most weeds from germinating. For added prevention, add a layer of newspaper between the soil and mulch. In addition to weed prevention, organic mulch will infuse nutrients into soil as it decomposes. Refrain from mulching all the way to the base of the stem or trunk; leave about one inch of exposed soil for smaller plants and 6-12 inches of exposed soil for larger plants and trees. Shade from plant foliage will likely prevent weeds from germinating in exposed soil.
Crowding: Planting seeds in strategic proximity to each other in wide rows crowds out unwelcome wisps. As foliage develops, it throws shade on weed seeds, preventing germination and leaving the nutritious soil to fortify plants.
Still the Till: Tilling the soil unearths weed seeds, providing them surface area and the ability to compete with plants for nurturance. When planting, only disturb soil where necessary; refrain from tilling the entire bed.
Flame Weeders: Powered by propane, flame weeders do exactly as their name implies—torch weeds. Two or three flame applications may be necessary to get the job done, as flame weeders treat the leaves, not the roots. Use caution—especially during dry seasons— and follow manufacturer directions to ensure safety.
Preserving and protecting the environment is a collective responsibility—and using non-toxic solutions rather than commercial weed killers is one way to contribute. The next time you hear the buzz of a bee, consider it a thank you.