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How Do I Naturally Control Weeds?

You want a yard that is the envy of the neighborhood but weeds are getting in the way. Sometimes, no matter how much time you spend taking care of your lawn, weed growth can be inevitable and hard to prevent.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to naturally control weeds in your lawn and garden. You don't need to use harmful herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides to have a great lawn. These are some of the top reasons weeds may appear in your yard and garden and ways to stop them.

Seed Transfer. The seeds from weeds transfer onto your lawn in various ways. The seeds can be transferred onto your lawn by your family, your pets, or other animals as they walk across your yard. Buds stuck to clothing, shoes, fur, or in the pads of an animal's feet can also be transferred onto your grass. Most commonly, weeds like dandelions are blown into your yard by the wind and can germinate once they reach the soil. While total weed transfer is unavoidable, you can help prevent a huge influx of weeds by minimizing lawn foot traffic.

Soil. A big factor in weed growth is the soil's condition.  Weeds thrive in poorly irrigated soil so using proper watering techniques to keep your soil from becoming soggy or waterlogged will help keep weeds out. Weeds will also germinate rapidly in undernourished or compacted soil. Using a fertilizer that has a high nitrogen count will not only benefit your growing plants and grass but will also help deter weeds such as crabgrass.

Mowing. Cutting your grass shorter than 2 ½ inches can encourage weeds to grow so it's best to set your lawnmower a little higher. Be sure you mow your grass often to maintain this taller height without allowing it to get too high. Frequent cutting can also help encourage the grass to outgrow any weeds that may try to germinate. The shade from taller grass keeps the soil cool and prevents weeds from receiving the sunlight necessary to grow.

Weeds in the Garden. Weeding is the bane of every avid gardener’s existence, especially when cultivating multiple beds of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. Many individuals find themselves unable to make time for daily weed removal, which makes keeping up with their rapid growth more challenging. But there are some tactics you can use to make weed control more manageable.

  • Smothering Established Weeds. This method kills established weeds and prevents future growth in areas where you intend to plant. After removing the top growth, apply overlapped layers of cardboard, several dozen newspaper sheets or black plastic, and anchor the material(s) to the ground. Leave this in place for up to a full year to rid the area of weeds.
  • Mulch. By completely blocking sunlight from reaching the soil around plants, both organic and inorganic mulches prevent weed seedlings from growing, help keep soil moist and regulate soil temperature. There are different materials that can serve as mulch, depending on preference and available resources, including:
    • Grass clippings: Apply clippings in thin layers, allowing each to dry, until the clippings are 3 or 4 inches thick. You can also dry the clippings in the sun before layering them.
    • Tree bark: A thick layer (2 to 4 inches) of shredded or ground-up bark or a mixture of wood and bark chips provides attractive, long-lasting weed control and are slowest to decompose.
    • Gravel, rocks and decorative stones: These materials make excellent permanent mulches for established flower beds. They're most effective at weed control when installed over landscape fabric or plastic sheeting.
    • Rubber mulch: This material, typically made from recycled tires, is effective in suppressing weed growth and can help to retain soil moisture. Some garden centers offer rubber mulch in a variety of colors.
    • Black plastic: This is typically used in vegetable gardens because it helps keep the soil warm in the spring, while efficiently preventing weed growth. It's available in rolls and easy to apply.
  • By hand. Finally, if you do prefer to remove weeds by hand, first water the area. Weeds (and their intact root systems) are easier to pull from the ground if the soil is moist.