How to get rid of weeds – in borders, containers and lawns

Use these tips to get rid of weeds – permanently

Dandelion heads and other weeds
(Image credit: Keegan Houser/Unsplash)

Getting rid of weeds is a never-ending job and one that any keen gardener has to return to year after year. However, if you know how to get rid of weeds properly, stop them spreading and reappearing, you will be able to minimize the amount of work you will have to do moving forwards. 

Here, we look at the best ways to get rid of weeds – in flower beds, kitchen gardens and in lawns – so that your very best garden ideas can shine through as you intended.

What kills weeds permanently? 

What kills weeds permanently is removing their roots entirely from the soil and putting in measures to stop the roots of new weeds taking hold. Effective weed disposal is just as important. There are various ways of doing these jobs effectively – which we tackle here.

Vinegar is a natural alternative to weed killer for killing weeds permanently – but there's nothing quite like regular weeding by hand to do the job without adding substances to your garden that might harm wildlife.

Weed weekly to stop them spreading

In the growing season – from spring until early to mid-summer, weeds, just like other plants, grow particularly quickly – and spread alarmingly speedily. 

So, it is vital to weed really regularly – every weekend and – if possible – whenever you spot a weed taking hold during the week when you go out into the backyard. 

Doing so won't just keep your best flower bed ideas looking neat – it will stop weeds taking hold and smothering the plants you'd like to thrive healthily. 

Dig out weeds by hand

Be vigilant and – as we have said – pull out weeds as soon as you see them, digging out deep-rooted ones such as dandelions and pulling away the top growth of weeds such as bindweed frequently to weaken it, as well as digging them out at the roots. 

Armed with a garden fork or a trowel, dig down as far as possible so that when you lever weeds out, the roots come too. Remove as much of the root as possible, otherwise crafty weeds will reappear.

Our advice? Remove all of the weeds' roots if you can – some perennial weeds (think couchgrass and creeping Charlie) can reappear simply because they are able to grow back from the smallest bit of root left behind in the soil. 

What is the best way to remove weeds from a large area?

The best way to remove weeds from a large area doesn't differ that much from removing them from a small flower bed or container – but digging and pulling them out by hand can be tiring and time-consuming. 

If you are removing weeds from a large area, such as a lawn, weed-pulling tools will be useful, quicker and easier – you simply insert the claw around the weed, step on it and pull out the weed. The best ones allow you to do the job upright, which means, in theory, that you will work for longer because you will save yourself from back ache. 

How to get rid of weeds on a lawn

Digging weeds out is your first option, but you can also stop them returning with regular grass cutting. If the grass gets too long, the weeds are likely to set seed and before you know it, a whole new crop will have taken hold. By contrast, keeping the grass short will weaken the weeds.

Proper disposal of the cuttings is vital if there are weeds in your lawn – more on that below. 

Lay membrane and mulch to get rid of weeds

By cutting out the available light, weeds won’t stand a chance. Mulch is the ultimate time saver, doing much of the weeding work for you. When spread on top of the soil it will suppress weed growth and, as a bonus, biodegradable mulches will also help to retain moisture and improve the soil as they break down. 

Options include garden compost, wood-chippings and processed bark, plus leaf mould and manure. They will need topping up most years as they will, of course, biodegrade into the soil.

A layer of gravel, pebbles or stone chippings will also keep weed growth down and are more permanent although obviously don't feed the soil. 

If you’re setting out a new border, lining sheets/a landscape fabric/sheet mulch can be laid at the same time. Cut slits to allow for planting then cover the unattractive sheet with bark or gravel.

Make a natural weed killer

You can also make your own natural weed killer using ingredients from your kitchen cupboards. 

Water a weed to wet the leaves then sprinkle on baking soda. After a month or so, if the weed just won’t lie down and die, repeat with another dose. 

Sprinkling the powder along the gaps between paving is a preventative measure. 

Other ideas from the kitchen cabinet include vinegar, decanted into a spray bottle and spritzed onto the leaves of weeds to wither them, and table salt mixed with water. This can damage nearby plants so spray with care. 

You can experiment with your own recipes, such as one part baking soda with two parts vinegar.

Burn weeds with heat

It’s chemical free and great fun to use – what’s not to love about a gadget that blasts weeds out of existence? This will solve the problem of weeds that pop up uninvited in the joints and cracks of driveways, paths and patios. 

Electric thermal weeders have no flame, instead supplying a heat shock of up to around 1,112ºF/600ºC. Gas burners use canisters of butane gas and an adjustable flame to barbecue weeds. Take care and avoid burning poisonous weeds, as these can give off toxins.

A simpler – and cheaper – solution is to pour boiling water over the roots of weeds to kill them. Weeds will then naturally die down and can be more easily removed. 

Both solutions need to be applied with care. There are the obvious safety issues, but also bear in mind that the heat of both air and water can damage plants that you want to preserve – and for that reason are not an option for lawns. 

Use a chemical weed killer – as a last resort

Chemical weed killers are a no-no for organic gardeners – just like pellets are if you want to get rid of slugs – and should be approached with caution by everyone as they’re harmful to wildlife and the environment. 

The RHS advises their use ‘only in a minimal and highly targeted manner’. Wear rubber gloves, follow the instructions carefully, spraying at the correct times, don’t mix products and avoid breathing in sprays or any contact with the weed killer. Be especially cautious if children and pets are around.

A targeted formula, usually a gel, can be spread onto individual weeds and will work its way down, eventually killing the roots. Alternatively, weed killer can be watered or sprayed onto a larger area. 

To prevent damage to other plants, choose a selective weedkiller and apply it using a dedicated watering can or sprayer. Some weed killers are less harmful than others.

Dispose of weeds properly to stop them returning

Doing a thorough job of weeding your garden can be undone quickly if you don't dispose of weeds properly. Do this last stage of the job badly and you will simply provide a breeding ground for old weeds to take hold again around the garden.

The best approach when you remove weeds is to put them into a dedicated bucket, trug or bag and then put them into green or general trash cans. Do not put them on a compost heap where they will happily take root again. 

The same goes for grass cuttings that might have weeds in them – they shouldn't be added to a compost heap, used as a mulch or spread over the lawn; doing so will just spread the weeds' seeds and roots around and you will soon have more weeds than you started with.

Most weeds can be burnt – but not all. Poison ivy is dangerous to burn as it will release toxins. 

Japanese knotweed should not be disposed of into your own trash – it will need professional removal. 

Jennifer Ebert

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.