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Natural Weed Killers: 14 Ways to Control Weeds Without Chemicals 

There's nothing worse than working hard on your garden, only to have it ruined by weeds. These smart gardening moves naturally kill weeds without exposing your family and yard to harmful chemicals.

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Weed seeds need light to germinate

To shade the soil around your plants, keep it covered with organic mulch, black plastic or paper mulch, layers of wet newspaper, or a geotextile weed mat.

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Build a shield

Use edging materials like bricks or underground barriers of metal or plastic around garden beds. This will keep lawn grass and perennial weeds from creeping into flower beds and vegetable plots.

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Let the sun help you

Solarizing the soil means letting the sun do the weeding work for you. Till up the soil and water it. Lay a sheet of clear plastic over the area, anchor the edges with stones, and wait four to six weeks: The sun’s heat will “cook” weed seeds. If any weeds are found after you lift the cover, rake them up lightly without disturbing the soil.

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Till twice

Till the soil the first time to bring buried weed seeds up to the surface, where they can germinate. Wait two weeks. Till again, this time with the tiller at a shallower setting. The second tilling will chop up the weeds without exposing more seeds.

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istock/Antonio Gravante

Be careful with compost

Toss into the pile any weeds that have not yet bloomed; they have no seeds to spread. Add weeds that have set seed only if the pile heats up to 200 degrees F—the temperature needed to kill seeds. Or start a separate compost pile for weeds; use this compost only in deep planting holes, where seeds can’t germinate.

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Keep soil covered

Don’t let soil remain bare for any length of time—weeds will move right in. If you regrade or remove plantings, blanket the soil with a cover crop, ground cover, mulch, or grass.

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Don’t mow too short

Letting grass grow to the recommended height shades out weed seeds. It also spurs root growth, which crowds out any emerging weeds.

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Try elbow grease first

Don’t automatically reach for the sprayer to treat lawn and garden weeds. A combination of elbow grease, ingenuity, and tools will usually do the job.

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istock/Rich Legg

Buy a dandelion digger

It has a sharp, notched end that will pry up stubborn weeds with taproots. You can also buy weeding tools with hoelike blades and short handles; they’re good for slicing weeds off below the surface.

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istock/Ian Hubball

Water before weeding

Weeds are easier to pull with their root systems intact if the soil is moist. Also, neighboring plants are less likely to be disturbed or damaged.

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Try this trick

Use a hoe to shave the tops off weed seedlings by keeping the head parallel to the ground and pulling shallowly in the soil. Digging down can bring weed seeds to the surface and compact soil.

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Take it all

Be sure to remove any part of the weed that can regenerate. Wild garlic grass will regrow from little bulblets, plantains have persistent taproots, and quack grass can resprout from its deep, spreading root system.

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Salt them

Sprinkle salt on weeds that sprout in paved areas or wild patches. But don’t use it around your desirable plants.

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Drench them

Drench weeds growing up through the cracks in paving stones or bricks with boiling water. Some old-time gardeners insist that water from boiled potatoes is even more effective.

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Want more gardening tips?

This A-Z guide covers everything from acid soil to zucchini, with hints and tips culled from leading horticulturists and accomplished home gardeners from all over the country. Learn more about the Reader’s Digest Quintessential Guide to Gardening and buy the book here.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest Quintessential Guide to Gardening