Weeds are the unwanted plants in any backyard. They compete for resources with the plants you do want to grow, and they spoil the look of beds, borders, lawns, and containers.
Knowing how to get rid of weeds effectively will prevent both spread and regrowth, and reduce the time you have to spend on this garden chore. Among the ways to remove them from your garden, you might have heard about using vinegar and wondered if it really can kill weeds.
To make weeding a more efficient process, we’ve asked garden pros for their know-how on whether using vinegar is a good way to kill weeds, and we’re sharing their expertise here.
Can vinegar kill weeds?
Vinegar can kill weeds, according to garden experts. ‘Vinegar contains acetic acid, which can be an effective natural herbicide,’ explains Ward Dilmore, founder and CEO at Petrus Landscaping.
To avoid weeding mistakes, bear in mind that there are caveats. These are the details you should be aware of.
Which weeds can vinegar kill?
Vinegar is better for getting rid of some types of weeds. ‘It’s especially effective against young weeds or those with annual life cycles,’ says landscaping pro Gene Caballero, co-founder of GreenPal. ‘Younger weeds and plants with softer stems are typically more susceptible to vinegar’s acidity, while older, well-established weeds with woody stems might be more resilient.’
Vinegar’s strength is important. ‘The effectiveness of vinegar as a weedkiller is related to its acetic acid concentration,’ explains Ward Dilmore. ‘Household vinegar typically contains around 5% acetic acid, which may work for small weeds but may not be as effective for larger or more established ones. For tougher weeds, you can use horticultural vinegar, which has a higher acetic acid concentration, typically around 20%.’
Timing its application can also make a difference. ‘Vinegar works best when the weeds are in full sun and it is applied on a hot day,’ says Ward.
Downsides to using vinegar as a weedkiller
Using vinegar can seem an appealing way to get rid of weeds, but how effective it is depends on which weeds are growing. ‘Vinegar might not be as effective against older, established weeds or perennial weeds, which can regrow from their roots even after the foliage is killed,’ Gene Caballero reminds us.
Equally, using it may not be a one-off task. ‘Depending on the resilience of the weed, vinegar might need to be reapplied multiple times to be effective,’ he says.
Of course, it’s vital to kill weeds but not grass and to kill weeds not plants when tending a yard, including when using vinegar. ‘Vinegar is a non-selective herbicide, meaning it can kill any plant it comes into contact with,’ explains Susan Brandt, co-founder of Blooming Secrets. ‘This includes desirable plants in your garden or lawn. If you decide to use vinegar as a weedkiller make sure you avoid damaging surrounding vegetation.’ Alternatively, consider it to remove weeds from gravel.
Be aware of the impact on soil as well. ‘Vinegar is considered an eco-friendly option compared to chemical herbicides, but it still has some environmental implications,’ says Susan. ‘The acetic acid in vinegar can alter the pH balance of soil over time if applied repeatedly and in large quantities. This can affect the overall health and fertility of the soil.’
Importantly, vinegar needs careful handling. ‘While vinegar is commonly found in households and deemed safe for culinary use, undiluted or concentrated forms can cause skin and eye irritation if handled improperly,’ says Susan. ‘If you decide to use vinegar in the garden, make sure to wear proper protective gear.’
Susan Brandt is an experienced gardener and co-founder of specialized gardening service Blooming Secrets in Virginia.
How to use vinegar as a weedkiller
If you like the idea of using vinegar as a weedkiller, you can make up your own recipe. ‘It's best to use vinegar with a higher concentration of acetic acid,’ says Gene Caballero. He suggests the following mixture:
- 1 gallon of vinegar
- 1 tbsp liquid dish soap (acts as a surfactant to help the solution stick to the weed leaves)
- 1 cup of salt (to increase the efficacy)
‘Mix the ingredients in a large container,’ he says. ‘Pour the mixture into a spray bottle. Spray directly onto the weeds, ensuring that you coat the leaves thoroughly. It's best to apply on a sunny day for enhanced effectiveness.’
Take care not to spray other plants, and don’t use this weedkiller in windy conditions.
Is vinegar alone an effective way to kill weeds?
Vinegar can kill weeds, but it shouldn’t be the only method you use. Managing weeds in the backyard effectively requires a combination of approaches.
‘Another option is to physically remove the weeds by hand pulling or using tools like a hoe or weed puller,’ says Susan Brandt.
‘Preventive measures also play a crucial role in weed management,’ she says. ‘Maintaining healthy garden beds can prevent weed growth by minimizing available space and resources for them to thrive. Mulching around plants can further suppress weed growth by blocking sunlight and hindering germination.
‘In cases where weeds persist despite other efforts, alternative herbicides approved for specific use on particular types of weeds might need to be considered,’ she adds. ‘Make sure you carefully follow the instructions and precautions provided by manufacturers when using any chemical-based herbicides.’
Does vinegar kill weeds to the root?
Vinegar might not kill weeds to the root. ‘Vinegar is most effective on small, young weeds with shallow roots,’ explains Ward Dilmore, founder and CEO at Petrus Landscaping. ‘It may not be as effective on deep-rooted or mature weeds. Multiple applications may be necessary for persistent weeds or ones with deep tap roots.’
Does vinegar kill weeds permanently or could they come back?
Vinegar will destroy most broadleaf weeds, however it may kill the part that is above the ground before reaching the root system. This means your weeds could grow back, so remain vigilant and pull out any new growth quickly.
‘Ultimately, achieving effective weed control requires a combination of approaches tailored to the specific situation and type of weeds present,’ says Susan Brandt. ‘Experimenting with different methods and finding what works best for your particular needs will help ensure successful weed management in your garden or landscape.’
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Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor. Previously executive editor of Ideal Home, she’s specialized in interiors, property and gardens for over 20 years, and covers interior design, house design, gardens, and cleaning and organizing a home for H&G. She’s written for websites, including Houzz, Channel 4’s flagship website, 4Homes, and Future’s T3; national newspapers, including The Guardian; and magazines including Future’s Country Homes & Interiors, Homebuilding & Renovating, Period Living, and Style at Home, as well as House Beautiful, Good Homes, Grand Designs, Homes & Antiques, LandLove and The English Home among others. It’s no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house renovator.
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