pulling weeds from garden

If you’re an avid gardener, you know just how toxic weed killers can be. Sure, they’ll knock out garden pests, but they may also hurt carefully tended flowers and vegetables and may be harmful to children and pets. Organic gardening is popular for precisely this reason — people want to reduce pesticide and herbicide exposure, particularly since many of these chemicals are known carcinogens.

Without using traditional herbicidal agents, though, how can you keep your garden well-maintained? One effective method for killing weeds naturally, solarization, is also a good way to put to work old, clear plastic sheeting that would otherwise end up in the landfill. But if you don’t already have the plastic sheeting, there are other great solutions to kill weeds naturally without applying chemicals. The following four natural approaches will eliminate weeds if you give them a chance.

Pull ’Em Out

As any old-school gardener will tell you, the best way to get rid of weeds is to pull them out by the roots. This can be time-consuming, but it allows you to protect select plants and eliminate surrounding weeds that are restricting their growth. Plus, with a little guidance, you can get the kids to help weed. It’s a key part of learning to garden, after all.

A Sour Solution

Even if your kids have outgrown the need to put anything and everything in their mouths, it’s much harder to control outdoor pets and wildlife, which is one reason why it’s so important to eliminate chemical herbicides. At the same time, you still want an easy way to deal with weeds, and that’s where this sour solution — vinegar — comes in.

All you need to do to knock out weeds using vinegar is put it in a spray bottle and aim. Some heartier plants may require a few applications to die off, but the spray bottle offers the selective convenience of traditional herbicides with the safety of a natural product.

Heat Things Up

In general, plants don’t like too much heat — that’s why your greens wilt when put into a steaming pan. If there are plants that you’re trying to get rid of, then why not put the power of fire to work for you? Though we don’t recommend this method in areas that suffer from droughts, frequent forest and brush fires, or where burn bans are in effect, it’s an effective strategy when you take proper precautions.

Order a weed torch, or pick one up at your local gardening store and use it to apply heat to the leaves of any invasive plants. The only downside to this is that you’ll typically need to repeat the process as spouts spring back up; since you aren’t killing the roots, the weeds aren’t totally eliminated.

Make It Steamy

Finally, in the same vein as flame-weeding, you can kill weeds by pouring boiling water on them. This strategy is perfect if you’re having problems with weeds around the edges of your lawn or in the cracks of the sidewalk since you can just dump a pot of water right there. It’s also a good way to clear a plot of weeds before planting since it doesn’t leave any harmful remnants — just irrigated soil.

With so many natural herbicidal approaches at your fingertips, why turn to chemical herbicides that could endanger your family, household pets, and wildlife? Do your part as a citizen of this Earth and tend your garden with natural care.

Originally published on May 4, 2017, this article was updated in April 2021.

By Anna Johansson

Anna is a freelance writer, researcher and business consultant. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, HuffingtonPost.com and more, Anna loves enjoying the great outdoors with her family. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.