Weeds are a human construction. Plants are plants, each with its own purpose, proclivities, and problems, but for some reason, at some point in time, some plants become recognized as weeds. Truth be known, dandelions were imported to the US as a salad green, but they’ve been so successful, popped up uninvited (and stayed) in so many lawns and gardens, that they’ve become weeds.
And, that’s the case with many weeds. Kudzu, the scourge of the Deep South, is actually a delicious, highly nutritious vegetable in Japan, and grazing animals love to it for a snack or meal. But, if given room to run, it will do so voraciously. That’s when some plants can become a problem. We might not want purslane or thistle outcompeting our tomato plants for vital nutrients. We might not want wood sorrel or blackberry brambles taking over the sidewalk.
Now, for those of us worried about the environment, we’d probably think twice about dousing this demonstrative shrubbery with chemicals. But, that isn’t to say there are some places we’d rather not see poison ivy or plantain popping up. In those instances, we’ve got to go natural with our solutions, but we’ve also got to see results. It’s totally doable.
The worst-case scenario is that it’s already too late to prevent a weed problem. They are popping up in the driveway. They are taking over the sidewalks. They are encroaching on places where weeds—plants!—were never meant to be. They just have to go, finito, dead. Here are some foolproof natural options:
- Vinegar is the most versatile of the options. Used neat, it will kill just about anything down to the roots. Or, it can be watered down if the weed issue isn’t all that severe. It will keep them at bay for a time, but it doesn’t permanently ruin the ground for all plants.
- Boiling water is a great option for immediate results, and it is even gentler than vinegar in terms of lingering effects. That said, whatever weed has been weeded by boiling water is likely to reemerge in the same spot later in the season.
- Salt should be used with extreme caution. Once a stretch of ground is salted, it isn’t friendly to botanical life for some time. However, in the case of a driveway or gravel walkway, it is an effective permanent solution to unwanted plant life.
Preferably, as with our own health, we can take preventative measures to curb weeds before than become an issue. While plastic sheeting and landscape fabric is often the go-to here, there are some natural, biodegradable options that might feel better for the applier and the applied upon:
- Old Sheets (100% Cotton, Linen, or Other Natural Material) are a fantastic long-term weed suppresser, something that might go under a patio or gravel walkway. It’ll be there for years without allowing weeds to grow.
- Cardboard is an ideal weed suppressor for garden beds, particularly vegetable beds. It will keep weeds at bay for the season, and at the same time, it attracts earthworms, which love to eat it. Next year, just add a new layer of cardboard and mulch over the top of it.
- Newspaper works much the same as cardboard, but for it to be of much use, several layers are required. Nevertheless, for those with easy access to newspapers, a stack about 10-12 layers thick can work wonders in the veggie patch.
- Mulch, be it straw or wood or leaves, both snuff out weeds before they get going and reinvigorates gardens with nutrients. Pair a good 3-4 inch layer of mulch with some cardboard or newspaper and it’ll be fairly maintenance free garden for the year.
- Other plants are actually fantastic for getting rid of weeds. If we stuff our gardens so full of the stuff we want that weeds don’t have space to grow, well, they’ll be less likely to grow. This works great for both ornamental and edible gardens.
For many of us, a weed is a weed, and that’s the way the world is. But, for those of us who can get past that mindset, weeds can actually become an ally. Imagine being happy to see weeds wriggling into the garden or along the fence line.
- Composting, as we all know, is a great asset to the garden. It provides fertility and inoculates valuable life into the soil. For those of us who can see weeds as a composting opportunity, the act of weeding the garden becomes gratifying rather than arduous.
- Eating weeds is another great option for getting rid of them. When purslane or lambsquarter becomes part of dinner, there is suddenly less drive to eradicate them. In fact, one may even find themselves cultivating and nurturing tasty, nutritious weeds.
In short, there is really never a right time to go for the round-up. Instead, we have to learn to look for the right options and make the most of what we’ve got and what the world provides. Weeds don’t have to problem. They never were until humans decided it was so.
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