10 Things to Know When Pulling Weeds
Banish weeds the right way—and keep them from coming back—with these tips, tools, and techniques.
Ask any group of gardeners to cite their least favorite task, and you’re bound to hear a chorus of “Weeding!” Rampant weeds steal water and valuable nutrients from the soil that beneficial plants could be receiving, and their less-than-lovely heads detract from lawn and garden design.
Maintaining an entirely weed-free garden and landscape may not be possible, but by addressing problems promptly and taking steps to reduce future weed growth, gardeners can lessen the time spent weeding. Ahead, learn how to deal with weeds and find out which tools and products make the task simpler.
How to Remove and Prevent Weeds from Growing in Your Backyard
In the quest to keep the landscape weed-free, it’s easy to make some overzealous mistakes. Before trying your hand at getting rid of weeds, read on for the right way to vanquish the green invaders and reduce their future growth. A bountiful vegetable harvest, big beautiful flowers, and more time to relax will be the happy result.
1. Don’t wait to weed.
If you let weeds tower over your tomatoes, you’ll have a tough time getting them out. When weeds are small, their roots are weaker, making it easier to pull them out. Commit to doing a quick walk-through of your garden every other day; it will take only a few minutes to pull up any young weeds that show up.
2. Grab by the base and pull out the roots.
Gardeners who weed manually may be tempted to reach down and snatch a handful and give it a sharp tug. Unfortunately, that often causes the weed to snap in two, leaving the bottom half and the roots still in the ground. Instead, take your time and grab each weed individually at its base and then pull slowly and steadily to ease the roots from the soil.
The trick is to figure out how to pull weeds without pulling a back muscle. Bending over while standing can strain the back, making it feel as though lifting a heavy item. Try kneeling, sitting on the ground, or even bringing a small portable stool to the spot for more comfortable weed-pulling.
3. Ply the proper tools.
Many gardeners find that a few good weeding tools speed the task. Choose well-made implements with solid handles that are comfortable to grasp and ones that come with heads or blades made of tough forged steel. Also, select weeding tools that suit your weed control method, either kneeling or standing.
- Kneeling tools: These have relatively short handles, from about 6 to 12 inches long. Rake-type tools with finger-like prongs (such as the Gardener’s Claw Rake, available on Amazon) work well for scraping up surface weeds with minimal root systems, such as henbit. A hook neck tool (such as the CobraHead Weeder, available on Amazon) can be positioned behind the base of a weed and used to dig in and scoop out the intruder. To remove weeds between beneficial plants, try an angled hand hoe like the Nejiri Gama Hoe (also available on Amazon), which features a sharp point for getting into tight spots. Hand shovels can be used to dig out large weed roots.
- Standing tools: For removing multiple weeds at once, it’s hard to beat the tried-and-true long-handled hoe, but today’s manufacturers have done just that! A hoe with a sharpened blade, such as the Truper Tru Pro 60-Inch Hoe (available on Amazon), can sever roots beneath the soil surface with a single chop. Grip-and-pull weeders like the CobraHead Garden Hand Tool (available on Amazon) promise to save time and labor when removing weeds with deep root systems, such as dandelions. Sharp prongs are driven deep into the soil by pressing a foot pedal, and then the prongs grip the roots securely and pull them right out.
4. Understand herbicides.
Need a break from the strenuous work of pulling weeds? Controlling these unwanted crops with foliar herbicides (toxic substances absorbed through a plant’s leaves) is physically easier than either pulling or hoeing. Just be sure to consider the pros and cons of these weed killers before you go this route.
- Spraying a foliar herbicide such as Green Gobbler Vinegar Weed and Grass Killer (available on Amazon) effectively kills individual weeds or large areas that are awash with weeds.
- Foliar herbicides work fast, killing weeds sometimes within a day—and usually no longer than a week—of application.
- There’s no need to remove weeds individually and no strain on your back from bending over and pulling weeds for long periods. After the weeds turn brown and die, rake them into a pile and dispose of them.
- The wind could blow herbicidal spray onto beneficial plants, inadvertently harming or killing them.
- Exposure to chemical herbicides may result in skin irritation, while inhaling the spray can result in a sore throat and other respiratory woes. Care should always be taken not to come into contact with the spray.
- Weeds that are chemically killed should not be placed in the compost bin. Traces of herbicides can survive the composting process and result in stunting vegetation if later used in garden soil.
- Chemical herbicides may interfere with the environment, and studies indicate that the chemicals can affect earthworms and offset soil nutrients, leading to the leaching of chemicals into streams and underground aquifers. Consider a non-toxic herbicide, such as Natural Armor Weed And Grass Killer (available on Amazon), which will allow you to avoid the contamination problems associated with toxic herbicides.
5. Prevent seeds from germinating.
You don’t have to kill or pull weeds if they don’t grow in the first place, so consider a pre-emergent to keep weed seeds from germinating. Sprinkle a granular pre-emergent herbicide such as Preen’s Organic Vegetable Garden Weed Preventer (available on Amazon) on the soil and then water. The granules will dissolve and permeate the soil, creating a barrier around the weed seeds. A single application will last up to 12 weeks, after which the product can be reapplied.
Note that once a pre-emergent is in the soil, beneficial seeds won’t sprout either. For best results, wait until beneficial plants, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, are four to eight inches tall before using a pre-emergent product (as directed on the package)—it won’t kill plants that are already growing.
Another way to keep weed seeds from germinating is to not disturb them. Digging, turning the soil, and ripping up existing plants and weeds often trigger germination of weed seeds that were lying dormant. It’s a catch-22 because gardeners have to disturb the soil to remove weeds, but they may be causing more weed seeds to sprout when they do. The weeds have to go, but try to disturb the soil as little as possible when getting rid of them.
6. Cut it out.
Some stubborn weeds, such as Canadian thistle, send not only deep roots that are extremely hard to pull but also feature prickly stems and foliage that will pierce anything less than heavy leather gloves. When dealing with these tough customers, reach for a sharp pair of shears, such as the gonicc 8-Inch Premium Pruning Shears (available on Amazon). Hand shears are suitable for small to medium-sized size weeds, while long-handled loppers, such as Fiskars 28” Bypass Loppers (available on Amazon) are helpful for cutting down larger weeds, such as Canadian thistle. The roots will remain in the soil, but in most cases, if you remove the entire growing part of the plant, it can no longer receive the sunshine it needs to survive, and it will die.
7. Know when to turn up the heat!
To deal with a large swath of weeds that doesn’t respond to other methods, consider burning them out. A weed burner, such as the Flame King Propane Weed Burner (available on Amazon), connects to a standard propane tank to deliver a flame directly to the weeds, scorching and killing them. A weed burner works well on invaders growing beneath fences or encroaching near raised garden beds. Be sure weeds are green, not brown and dry. You want to scorch them, not start a fire. Check with local authorities before using a torch for weed control as some communities may restrict or ban their use.
Hot water can also kill weeds. Carefully pour a pitcher of just-boiled water directly on weeds or use a steam weeder, such as the DynaSteam Weeder (available at Amazon), to simplify the process—and reduce the risk of dripping scalding water on your feet.
RELATED: 7 Weirdly Effective Ways to Weed
Weed-killing heat can also be generated using plastic. After harvest in fall, cover a planting bed with dark landscape plastic (hold it in place rocks or bricks) and leave it on over the winter. Sun hitting the plastic will heat up the soil temperature beneath to destroy weed seeds.
8. Grow a no-till garden.
Every fall and again every spring, home gardeners can be found turning their garden soil to help break up heavy clay, distribute organic matter, and deliver oxygen to the soil. Tilling in this way, however, also brings dormant weed seeds to the surface, where they quickly sprout. An alternative to turning the ground several times annually is a no-till garden. No weeding tools are required.
Tilling is still necessary, but only once—when starting the garden in early spring to loosen the soil. After that, cover the garden with four to six inches of organic mulch (dried leaves, grass clippings, or hardwood chips). The mulch helps keep the soil beneath moist and prevents weed seeds from sprouting by keeping light from reaching the soil’s surface. When it’s time to plant seeds or transplant seedlings, just push the mulch aside in that spot—the ground beneath will be soft and ready to receive the new plants.
For a vegetable garden, this might mean creating long V-shaped rows in the mulch with bare soil only visible inside the “V.” Plant crops in the narrow rows, and after harvest, remove the spent plants and cover the area again with mulch. Once a no-till garden has been established, add an inch or two of mulch every year (the old mulch will biodegrade and settle) and push the soil aside as described each time you plant.
9. Try landscape fabric.
Gardeners can reduce the number of weeds in perennial flowerbeds and borders by using landscape fabric. Available in large rolls for spreading out around shrubs, roses, trees, and bushes, landscape fabric stops weeds from growing by creating a barrier that doesn’t let them reach sunlight. While various types of landscape fabric are available, most are made from woven materials, such as polypropylene, and contain perforations that allow water to seep through.
Landscape fabric is designed to be used with a surface mulch, such as wood chips, rubber bits, or pine needles that hold the mulch in place. While the fabric reduces weed growth without using chemical herbicides, the downside is that it discourages garden-friendly earthworms from aerating the soil because they can’t reach the surface.
10. Weed when the soil is wet and soft.
Pull weeds soon after watering your plants or a rain shower; when the soil is moist, the whole weed is more likely to come out by the roots. It’s perfectly fine to put pulled weeds in your compost bin, where the naturally hot temperatures will destroy any seeds.
It’s also easier to pull weeds if the soil is healthy, soft, and loamy. Well-drained soil is light in weight and doesn’t compact, making it physically easier to pull weeds out by their roots, whereas dense, compressed soils, such as those heavy in clay, lock roots in place, making it difficult to pull anything but the smallest weeds.
The addition of organic matter, such as compost and dried leaves, will help lighten and loosen garden soil over time. Try adding an inch or two to the surface of the planting bed every spring and working it in with a shovel. Adding organic matter not only makes weed-pulling easier it also offers a healthier growing environment for desirable plants.
FAQ About Removing Weeds
Reducing weeds in vegetable gardens, flowerbeds, or even in the lawn, is an ongoing concern for gardeners and landscapers, but fortunately, a wide range of products and weeding tools can help. For those new to the battle against weeds, a few questions are to be expected.
What to do after pulling weeds?
The eco-friendliest option is to add pulled weeds to a compost pile or bin, where the internal temperature will reach at least 145 degrees F to kill the weed seeds. The finished compost can then be cycled back to the garden to add nutrients to the soil.
How do I get rid of weeds forever?
Weeds will always be with us, but they can be reduced to a manageable number by following good gardening techniques. This includes pulling weeds when they’re small, using a barrier, such as landscape fabric, applying a pre-emergent herbicide to the soil around beneficial plants, or practicing no-till gardening.
What is the best way to get rid of weeds?
The best way to get rid of weeds is to pull them as soon as they sprout. This may require spending 5-10 minutes daily or every other day pulling tiny weeds, but it’s much simpler to remove them while they’re small.
What is the best tool to remove weeds?
A standard garden hoe, such as the ERGIESHOVEL (available from Amazon) is the best all-around weeding tool because it can be used to remove small weeds without the need to bend over or kneel on the ground.
How do I get rid of daisies from my lawn?
Perennial daisies spread by rhizomes (underground stems), and while they’re prized in the flowerbed, they can be a nuisance when they pop up in the lawn. The plants can be individually dug out, making sure to get all the rhizomes. Alternatively, a non-selective chemical herbicide can be applied directly to the daisy’s leaves to kill the plant.
Battling weeds is an ongoing issue for growers everywhere, and in many cases, a multi-pronged approach to getting rid of them is the best practice. By pulling weeds when they’re small, they’re not only simpler to remove, but they also don’t get a chance to bloom and go to seed, which significantly increases weed problems. Being conscientious in early weed removal also reduces the need to use chemical herbicides that are not healthy for the environment.