Weed Control, The Organic Way

Tackle weeds with persistence and the right tools.


The bigger your weeds get, the more difficult they are to control. Get into the habit of a once-a-week weed patrol to cut your weed problem down to size. Using the right tools and techniques also will help to make weeding a manageable— maybe even enjoyable—task.

A thick layer of mulch keeps light from reaching weeds. "Without adequate light, the plants don't produce enough chlorophyll to enable further growth. Most of these plants sicken and die before you even notice them," writes Miranda Smith in Rodale's Chemical Free Yard & Garden. "The few plants that do manage to stick their leaves into the light will be shallowly rooted and very easy to pull."

Organic mulches—straw, grass clippings, leaves, shreddedbark—nourish the soil as they decompose. They are fairly effective weed barriers. For even better weed protection, use several sheets of newspaper, kraft paper (the paper used to make grocery bags) or cardboard under these mulches. In a 1992-93 study at the University of Vermont, a 6-inch layer of shredded newspaper applied at the beginning of one season allowed no more than 8 weeds per square yard to sprout for two summers. Without renewing the mulch layer, the newspaper controlled weeds for two seasons. Kraft paper and cardboard allow even less light to reach weeds and are even more impenetrable.

Annual weeds die when you sever the stems from the roots just below the soil surface. With a sharp hoe, you cut the weeds easily. Forget about the square-headed traditional garden hoe for this job—go for an oscillating or a swan neck hoe instead.

To hoe your garden without cultivating a backache, hold the hoe as you would a broom—that is, with your thumbs pointing up. Skim the sharp sides of the hoe blade through the top inch of the soil.

You can let the sun help you get rid of persistent weeds, if you're willing to leave the bed fallow for six weeks in the summer. Get started in late spring or early summer by pulling, hoeing or raking out as many weeds as you can from the garden bed. Then, moisten the soil and cover it with clear plastic, weighting or burying the edges. Leave the plastic in place for 6 weeks. When you remove the plastic, the sun will have cooked weeds that would otherwise have sprouted.

Read the Seven Samurai of Organic Weed Control.