Getting rid of garden weeds

Garden weeds
By Holly Hayes, San Jose Mercury News

Getting a handle on weeds in your garden doesn't have to involve using toxic chemicals. Here are some low-impact strategies:

Dig 'em out. Using a sharp tool like a hori-hori knife, get to the root of weeds so you're not pulling the same weeds over and over again. The stainless steel hori-hori has a serrated edge on one side and a straight edge on the other and a pointed end that lets you get to the bottom of even the most entrenched weeds. The hori-hori also is called a Japanese Farmer's Knife and is available at many sites online. But shop around; I've seen them priced from under $25 to over $40.

Boiling water. Heat up your teakettle and take it out to the garden. Pour boiling water on weeds. The heat will explode plant cells and kill the weeds. You may need to repeat this on really stubborn plants.

Clove oil spray. I use Perfectly Natural Weed & Grass Killer, available online through several sources, including Charley's Greenhouse, . 100 percent organic; it uses clove oil as a natural herbicide. Smells good, too. It costs $7.95 per 24-ounce spray bottle. But be careful; this stuff is non-selective and also will kill plants you want to keep!

White vinegar. Pour regular household vinegar (acetic acid) into a spray bottle and add a few drops of liquid dish soap. Shake to mix and use as a contact herbicide. The soap makes the solution "stick" to the weed. Great for weeds in driveway cracks, between stepping stones, etc.

Weed-blocking fabric. Look for the professional-grade stuff that's made of tough spun polyester. It will let water and air pass through but won't let weeds grow through. Clear out the area of weeds first, then lay down the fabric. Cut planting holes in the fabric, install your plants and then lay down a layer of mulch on top.

Pre-emergent. Spreading around corn gluten is an organic way to keep weeds from sprouting in the first place. Best used in the early spring, before weeds have established a toehold in the garden. Preen is one brand name; I use PreMerge, available from Biocontrol Network,, $9.90 for a six-pound bag.

Holly Hayes is the garden writer for our media partner, The San Jose Mercury News.

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