Print This Page

Organic Weed Control

It amuses me to see how carried away people get about weeds. A client told me he used to feel discriminated against because he was the only Jew in his primarily Christian neighborhood. Later he said that he felt greater discrimination because of the weeds in his front yard. Weeds affect people’s basic psyche - but they shouldn’t. To solve many weed issues, simple mow regularly, leave the clippings on the ground and apply organic fertilizer a couple of times a year.

Weed problems seem to bother people more than any other pest. Ironically, most weeds have great value. Nature doesn’t like bare soil and uses weeds to fill in. So, the primary control of weeds is to eliminate the conditions that create the need for weeds. Severely noxious weeds rarely invade a high-quality lawn. All the money in the world spent on weed-controlling products and techniques won’t help if the lawn is not maintained properly.

Weed controls are divided into two groups - those that stop the weed seed as it germinates (pre-emergent herbicides) and those that kill weeds after they’re growing (post-emergent herbicides).

Pre-Emergent Weed Control Products

Corn gluten meal is a natural weed and feed fertilizer. To function as a pre- emergent, it must be broadcast before grassburs, crabgrass, henbit, dandelions, rescue and other annual weeds germinate. Possibly its best use is on bare soil around root crops, bulb plants like onions and other transplants. It will feed the young plants while keeping the competing weeds at bay. This method can also be used after seed planting but only after the seeds have grown into small seedlings. This technique works year round.

Corn gluten meal meal form - most effective but dusty.

Corn gluten meal granular - cleaner but less effective.

Post-Emergent Products 

These contact killers are used to stop the growing weeds - both grasses and broadleaf weeds. Natural-organic choices include 10% pickling vinegar, Good Natured 20% herbicidal vinegar, essential oils, hydrogen peroxide, cinnamon and fatty acids. There are several of these fancy, strong soaps and plant oil products on the market including BurnOut, Monterrey Herbicidal, Scythe and Racer. They are non-selective (kill everything) herbicides that sometimes have to be sprayed more than once.

Selective Weed Control Products 

Agralawn Crabgrass Killer is a sodium bicarbonate and cinnamon product that works well when applied per label instructions. It is effective on crabgrass, basket grass, chickweed, clover and many other weeds. It even works on tough weeds like false strawberry and Virginia buttonweed.

Molasses - Dry or liquid molasses can be used to fight a specific weed - nutsedge. The dry product is used at 40 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft. or liquid molasses used at about a cup per gallon of water kills nutsedge. It usually takes 2 or 3 applications of the liquid method. In both cases the nutsedge slowly dies away.

Molasses for nutgrass control.

Vinegar Products - A good choice for herbicide use is 10% white vinegar made from grain alcohol, rather than the petroleum-based product. It should be used full strength. I've mentioned that 20% is stronger than needed and too expensive. There is one exception. Nature’s Guide, Good Natured and MaestroGro now have 20% vinegar that is legally registered for organic weed control. And it works well.

20% vinegar labeled for organic weed control.

Hand Tools

An excellent alterative if used a little at a time on a regular basis. Regular hoes, stirrup hoes, weed “poppers” and “twisters” are among the choices. Flame weeders such as Red Dragon work on many tough-to-control weeds. There are small lightweight models for the homeowner and large commercial selections as well. They usually run off propane gas.

Stirrup or "push pull" hoe.

The push pull tools

"Push pull" hoes are arguably the best hand tools for effective weeding. I still recommend the stirrup or hula hoe but there is a choice that is better. It’s a push- pull hoe but the Rogue Tool Company calls it a scuffle hoe. It can be ordered on line at It is easy to use and works beautifully to remove weeds from gravel areas or beds.

Stirrup and Scuffle hoes

Stirrup or hula hoe

Stirrup or hula hoe

Rogue Scuffle Hoe

Rogue Scuffle Hoe

Rogue Scuffle Hoe in use

Rogue Scuffle Hoe in use

Rogue Scuffle Hoe in use

Dirt Doctor Vinegar Herbicide Formula:
  • 1 gallon of 10% (100 grain) vinegar
  • Add 1 ounce orange oil or d-limonene
  • Add 1 tablespoon molasses (optional - some say it doesn't help)
  • 1 teaspoon liquid soap or other surfactant
  • Do not add water.

Weed Control Around Trees

Vines should simply not be allowed to grow in trees. In the tops of trees, the vines reach out beyond the tree leaves and block the sunlight. With sunlight cut down, photosynthesis is reduced and tree health suffers. Plus it just looks messy.

English ivy and other clinging vines and groundcovers are also a problem on trunks of trees. The foliage and stems collect organic material in the form of loose bark, dead leaves and dust. This mixture creates soil that collects in crotches, but worse, it builds up on the root flares of trees. Long term this creates a condition similar to trees being planted too deep in the ground. Girdling, rot and even death can result. At the very least, tree health and growth are reduced. Some people say it’s okay to leave these plants on the trunks of trees. Their advice is very bad.

A very important fall/winter maintenance procedure I write into specs now is this: Remove all vines and ground covers from trees completely. Also remove the plants from at least 12" around the base to expose the trunk/ root flare. If soil and/or mulch are covering the flare, they should be removed by hand.

Weeds - Master Reference List


  Search Library Topics      Search Newspaper Columns