For gardeners who are looking for an alternative to pesticides as a way to remove weeds from their gardens, local experts provide a variety of solutions, ranging from natural oils to mulching to gardening in raised beds.
Nikky Witkowski, an educator with Purdue University Extension, Lake County branch, said hand-pulling weeds or mulching is the best way to deal with them.
Mulching can be done using a variety of substances, including rock, old tires or hardwood, Witkowski said. In a large area where there are no plants, you can also put down cloth to prevent weeds.
“Clear weeds out first the best you can, and then put two to three inches of mulch down,” she said. “Leave space around plants in order to prevent insects like slugs from jumping onto your plants from the mulch.”
Witkowski said if you already have mulch down, you should fluff it up or remove old mulch, making sure there is only two to three inches of it.
“You don’t want layer after layer of mulch, as that can cause mold and anaerobic conditions in the mulch,” she said. “It will slow down the decomposing process of the mulch that would naturally occur and can be harmful to plants over a long period of time.”
Ryan Richardson, organizer of Grow NWI and the owner/manager of County Line Orchard in Hobart, said the best natural way to keep your garden weed-free is to have well aerated soil with plenty of top soil as well as peat moss, compost and a little sand.
Gardening in raised beds are also good because you can start with clean, weed-free soil from a nursery or home store, he said.
“That way, when weeds pop up, you can easily pull them up as the roots can’t establish a tight hold,” he said. “Weeding after a rain or watering makes it easier, too.”
If you’re interested in using natural-based products on your lawn, however, there are several alternatives you can try, said Julie Severa, assistant manager of the garden center at Allen Landscape in Highland.
Another option is sprinkling corn gluten on your grass as a fertilizer and weed preventer, she said.
“You can use it in the spring on your lawn as an alternative to a crab grass preventer,” she said.
Natural Guard spot weeder and Burn Out are two organic choices that provide reliable results, she said. Those products, which come in spray form, rely on essential oils to dry out and kill the weeds.
“Natural Guard has citric acid and soy bean oil in it, and they work together to kill the weeds,” she said. “Burn Out has citric acid and clove oil. Both of those are good options for someone wanting to maintain an organic landscape.”
Severa said natural products have a lower level of the active ingredient, so they might need to be applied several times before they truly kill the weeds.
Also, she said, natural-based products tend to be more expensive than traditional pesticides. For example, Natural Guard spot weeder is $11.49, whereas Allen’s best weed killer is $6.29 for a same sized bottle.
“It’s noticeably more expensive, but they’re going to be healthier options for families with kids or pets, or people who want organic landscapes,” she said.
However, more people are coming in looking for organic options than ever before.
“A majority of people still want the quick fix or the least expensive option, but more and more are asking for organics,” she said.
But whether you mulch or use organic sprays, Richardson said nothing beats using good, old-fashioned elbow grease.
“We look at it more from a prevention approach,” he said. “After that, good, old-fashioned weed pulling is best. However, we aim to make that as painless as possible.”