Vegetable Garden

Weeding without Chemicals – What Are Your Options?

March 10, 2012


Weeding without Chemicals - What Are Your Options?

Photo credit: Catherine Drea, Foxglove Lane

A few people have asked me recently what jobs they should be doing in the vegetable garden right now.

It’s still too early to sow most vegetables outside but we’ve had a few mild days over the past week, making ideal conditions to get out and prepare the beds for the growing season to come. Part of soil preparation is weeding and knowing how to weed effectively is essential if you want to keep on top of them.

Weeding Without Chemicals

It seems obvious now I’m used to getting down and dirty in my garden, but it’s not that many years ago that I looked out at the wilderness and asked myself how on earth I was going to tackle all of those weeds.

When you’re gardening without using herbicides and pesticides, and in particular weeding without chemicals, there’s no getting away from the fact that it takes a bit more effort and hard work. Long term however it’s well worth the effort.  Sandro Cafolla of explains it very well here why Roundup isn’t the long-term solution to weeds.

How to Get Rid of Pernicious Weeds Without Chemicals

Rhubarb, strawberries (honestly), creeping buttercup & scutch grass

So without reaching for the chemicals what are the options to us smaller scale gardeners?

Some people like to use a homemade weedkiller by pouring distilled vinegar onto their weeds, or burning them off with a garden flame gun. If you have animals that graze they’re great for clearing weeds in orchards or relatively new to the market here is Irish Organic Weed killer, but in the vegetable patch where we’re growing food to eat, my preferred method is settling down with my favourite tool and hand weeding.

I find the hardest part of weeding is getting over the psychological block of actually starting the job – once I’m out there I find it very therapeutic. Listening to the birds, being outside in the fresh air, stopping for a cup of tea now and again, relaxing and admiring the handiwork – it’s a peaceful and immensely rewarding time.

Weeding the garden without chemicalsThis particular bed had been overrun with creeping buttercup as seen above, and as pretty as buttercups are when in flower, they’ve been competing with space and nutrients in my strawberry patch so their days were numbered.

A good hand tool is essential for this kind of weeding and having survived for a few years with my cheap double-headed hoe, I’ve managed to break two in the last couple of weeks so will shortly be investing in a new one like the Chillington Double Headed Hoe I spotted recently.

I’ve also been using old compost bags to keep the knees from getting cold but this year treated myself to a Burgon & Ball Kneelo Kneeling Pad that I adore – it’s warm, comfy and moulds to the knees (showing my age). So with those couple of items and a pair of leather gloves (nettles, blackthorn suckers and creeping thistle also hang out in this bed so gloves are essential), that’s all the equipment needed, well that and a bucket or a wheelbarrow to collect the weeds in.

Weeding without Chemicals - What Are Your Options?

Weeds for Sale in A Local Community Garden

Most of the weeds I’ve mentioned are known as *pernicious perennials – meaning plants that are destructive to other plants. They need to be removed completely where possible and the only way to do that without chemicals is to dig out all the roots, or cover the area with black plastic for a year or more, or if you have a large area (like the four hectares mentioned in Sandro’s clip) bring them up, harrow them off, dry them out and repeat if necessary. It’s essential to keep on top of the weeds though and not allow them to flower and produce seeds.

Don’t add pernicious weeds to the compost heap either as unless you have a very hot heap the weeds wont die off. They can however, be placed into a black plastic sack, tied up and left for a year to die, then added to the heap (yet to try this).

The double-headed hand hoe works for smaller weeds (pernicious or not), a garden fork might be needed for deeper rooted weeds such as dock or dandelion and a garden hoe is handy for tipping off the not nearly so bad annual weeds.

So best of luck. Try and think of your weeding as a pleasure and not a chore, and if you have any other tips for ridding gardens of weeds without using artificial chemicals please share them below.

*Some common pernicious weeds include dock, creeping thistle, nettles, creeping buttercup, horsetail, bindweed, ground elder, plantain, comfrey and daisies



  • Reply Margaret March 11, 2012 at 10:57 am

    Hope to get to do some 'pleasurable' weeding today! Place is over-run with creeping buttercup!

    • Reply greensideupveg November 16, 2012 at 12:33 pm

      Just saw your message Margaret! I imagine the weeds have been, gone and are now back again by now! Hopefully Santi will add a kneelo mat to your Christmas list!

  • Reply LA VIE EN ROSE March 18, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Haven't even started yet but hoping to get out today! I tried putting down cardboard, worked well just didn't do everywhere with it. I think you're right though, the only way really is to get down an dirty the old fashioned way!

    • Reply greensideupveg November 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm

      Cardboard, carpet or weed membrane will all help too Sharon and are a great way of keeping the weeds down if you don’t have much time.

  • Reply Callan Community Garden ~ Progress At Last - Greenside Up August 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    […] you can see from the picture below, our area is quite small and was very overgrown with perennial weeds when we began. However, as soon as the soil was dry enough and not frozen solid, we headed out and got stuck […]

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    […] the site has been cleared of pernicious weeds and there’s good drainage, which is essential for growing herbs as the majority of the ones […]

  • Reply Help - what do I do with my strawberry patch? May 18, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    […] Back to the question, where to start? Like everything, at the beginning… pick a corner and begin to pull out everything dead or diseased looking and all the old runner stems. If you have too many little plantlets in the patch that have rooted themselves from last year, take them out and pot them into multipurpose compost or even some soil from your garden and give to a friend. Then weed by hand. All the pernicious weeds mentioned above need to come out roots and all or they’ll be back in no time. See some tips here from a previous post about weeding. […]

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    […] barrow loads of pernicious scutch grass and buttercup wont be heading for the regular compost bins (don’t want them multiplying in there) but to […]

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