How to Organically Kill Weeds Without Harming Your Plants

No matter how much careful planning you do, it's inevitable that annoying weeds will start popping up in your garden. When you spot them, don't reach for a chemical weed killer—there are natural ways to kill weeds in an environmentally-friendly way. In the event you spot just a few weeds sprouting in your flower bed, you can try simply pulling them out, digging out as much of the roots as possible. But if you're seeing more and more weeds taking over, a natural remedy can help you take back your yard.

Chemical-Free Ways to Kill Weeds

If you'd like to avoid using harsh chemicals of any kind in your garden, first try these natural ways to kill weeds.


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, straw, clippings from a non-chemically treated lawn, or bark. Wood mulches, however, draw nitrogen from the soil in order to break down, so they're robbing nitrogen and nutrients from your plants. Avoid placing mulch right up to the trunks of trees or stalks of plants, which can lead to disease or decay.


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 weed roots and seeds, but the intense heat also kills beneficial organisms.


You can also use a propane torch to scorch weeds. But use extreme caution. Wait until a wind-free day, as flaming will also kill nearby grass and other plants, so it's best for use in areas without planting you want to keep, such as between the cracks of a concrete sidewalk. Never use flaming in fire-prone regions.

Hand Weeding

Grab a dandelion weeder, which is a tool with a forked end, made 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 while removing weeds. If any roots remain in the soil, they may regrow, so without the right tools, the next best thing is pulling the plant out as close to the roots as possible. The 8 Best Weeding Tools on Amazon for a Flourishing Garden, Starting at $13

Boiling Water

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

Natural Weed Killers

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 certain limitations.


Acetic acid is the active ingredient that makes vinegar a weed killer. White vinegar contains about 5% acetic acid. This level of acetic acid burns the tops off weeds but is less likely to kill anything 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.

Corn Gluten Meal

Dr. Nick Christens at Iowa State University discovered that corn gluten meal, a byproduct of corn milling, works well to prevent seeds from growing. This pre-emergent organic herbicide is often sold as a lawn weed-control product. In order for it to be effective, you have to apply it at just the right time in spring before weeds begin to sprout. In addition, it usually takes a few years of consistent applications to reach its full potential. Just avoid applying corn gluten meal in any beds where you plan to sow other seeds, since it'll prevent them from growing

What Not to Use: Salt

While it's true that salt kills plants, including weeds, it also poisons the ground for many years and moves into groundwater sources after rain or watering. It's a bad idea to use it anywhere in your yard, so steer clear of homemade weed-killer recipes that call for salt or Epsom salt, vinegar, and dish soap. Both the salts and soap are toxic to the environment and should be avoided.

How long does it take to kill weeds using natural methods?

Using vinegar to kill weeds takes around 24 hours, as long as there's no rain. Mulch, newspaper, and cardboard will keep weeds from growing as soon as they're laid on top of the soil, as long as the area is thoroughly weeded beforehand.

What natural weed-killers kill weeds down to the roots?

Boiling water and flaming will kill the roots of weeds. Vinegar kills roots, but it may take a few days for the roots to die off after the vinegar solution is applied.