how to stop weeds from growing naturally

Grab a dandelion weeder ($10, The Home Depot), which is a tool with a forked end, to dig deep into the soil to loosen and pry up a weed's roots. There are even long-handled versions that allow you to stand up while removing weeds. If roots remain in the soil, they may regrow. If you don't have the right tools, pulling the plant out as close to the roots as possible is the next best thing.

If you want to avoid using weed killers or harsh chemicals of any kind in your garden, try these natural ways to kill weeds first.

Boiling water kills plant tissues, but like flaming, the stream of water can be hard to control if you are trying to do spot weeding.

Hand Weeding

Acetic acid is the active ingredient that makes vinegar a weed killer. White vinegar contains about 5% acetic acid. This vinegar burns the tops of weeds but is less likely to kill a weed with well-established roots. For a vinegar weed killer to be most effective, you'll have apply it frequently. It can also kill nearby plants if you're not careful.

Anything that covers and smothers weeds is a type of mulch, including biodegradable products like cardboard and newspapers. Mulch also helps conserve moisture. An organic mulch works best in two ways: It offers weed control, and it breaks down to make your soil more fertile. Use a 2- to 4-inch layer of organic materials, like pine bark ($8, Ace Hardware) straw, grass clippings from a non-chemically treated lawn, or bark. Wood mulches, however, draw nitrogen from the soil in order to break down, so it pulls nitrogen (and nutrients) away from your plants. Avoid placing mulch right up next to the trunks of trees or stalks of plants, which can lead to disease or decay.

Mulching

Any herbicide you choose, whether it's an organic (sometimes called "natural") compound or a synthetic one, has its benefits and drawbacks. These organic weed-killer products work, but they also have a few limitations.

During the heat of summer, place thin clear plastic across any area where you want to kill weeds. Leave the plastic in place for four to six weeks. The sun heats the ground and kills weeds and weed seeds, but the intense heat also kills beneficial organisms.

How to stop weeds from growing naturally

The key to making sure your weeds don’t go to seed and spread is pulling off their heads. Even though you can do this by hand, you can also mow them down. But consider yourself warned: One mowing won’t kill weeds with perennial roots, and even some of the annuals will regrow and try to flower again, so it’s not a permanent solution.

Yes, the height of your mower really does matter. “The length of your grass can impact its health and make it more or less susceptible to weeds,” Henriksen says. “Err on the longer side, about two to three and a half inches.” Firing up the mower before weeds set seed also chokes out invaders, advises James.

For a big swath of unwanted vegetation, enlist the cutest herd of landscapers around. “Goats can reach areas that machinery and people simply cannot, and their hooves actually rototill the soil as they graze,” Ciarlo says.

With or without fabric, experts agree mulch is a must. “Mulch is such an easy fix and helps keep your soil cool, wet, and eliminates light that weeds need to grow,” says Kris Holland at Black River Landscape Management. “Keep it around two inches deep and off your lawn, since it will also kill your grass.”

Stock up on discounted rock salt at the end of winter and sprinkle it on garden paths to fight weeds in the spring (table salt works too). Salt also makes a good weed barrier along lawn edgings and other places a lawn mower can’t reach, but apply it carefully. It can erode concrete surfaces and can leave the ground barren for a long period of time.

Physical barriers, like lawn edgings and retaining walls are a long-lasting solution for keeping weeds at bay. Make simple — and cheap — edging out of scraps of pressure-treated decking boards. Cut them into eight-inch “pikes” and hammer the pieces into the ground next to each other to form a continuous edge.

Cover low-growing weeds like clover and crabgrass with newspaper and eventually the lack of sunlight will exterminate them. Putting down sections and covering them with mulch can also prevent new ones in the first place. “As the paper decomposes, it also feeds the soil, making this a tip no gardener should be without,” says Ciarlo.

Don’t discount rolling up your sleeves. “The best way will always be good old-fashioned elbow grease,” says Teryl Ciarlo of Teryl Designs. She advises trying to pull from beneath the soil, but waiting until after a rainstorm (when the ground is softer) can also help. Insert a narrow trowel or screwdriver in the soil to loosen any stubborn taproots.

Dig only where you need to because removing grass creates a new place for pesky plants to thrive, even if you don’t see any around. “Most lawns have hidden weed seeds,” Holland says. “When you’re digging the ground to plant, open only a patch that you need.”