First let's start by thinking a bit about weeds....a weed is defined as 'a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.' So a plant is only a weed if you don't want it in your garden....
Make Weeds Work for You!
Weeds have a bad reputation, but some of them can be very useful for your organic garden! The principle behind organic gardening is setting the garden up so nature does the hard work for you.
For example nettles offer early food for baby ladybirds who feast on a particular aphid which likes nettles. So by allowing early nettles to stay in place, you might have a much easier time with greenfly later in the season!
Other weeds can be very nutritious or used medicinally for humans, for example dandelions and ribwort plantain. They can also help wildlife - bees can use dandelions for early pollination, and ribwort plantain is a useful winter food for small birds. This virtuous cycle means those same bees will pollinate your vegetables later in the season, and the birds might protect your flower plants from slugs!
Top 5 Ways to Eliminate Weeds Organically
If there are weeds you want to eliminate, these are our top 5 ways to get rid of weeds organically:
1) Don't allow the weed to go to seed: If you deadhead (remove the flower) of weeds that reproduce by seed, such as dandelions, you'll dramatically reduce the amount of weeds in your garden each year. You can let the bees use the pollen first if you like - just remove the flower head and bin it, before the seeds start to fly! Remember - ‘1 years seed is 7 years of weeds’!
2) Pull weeds by hand: You can pull weeds by hand for immediate removal from your garden. This is an easy way to remove shallow rooted weeds like willowherb.
3) Dig out weeds: Weeds which have deeper roots, or which grow by sending underground roots out, should be removed by hand (e.g. creeping buttercup, brambles). This can be made a lot easier by doing so on a day when the soil is wet and loose!
4) Suppress weeds in areas you wish to grow in: Starting a new raised veg bed or flower area? Simply lay down brown cardboard or organic coffee sacks to cover the entire are you want to grow in. Add compost on top and/or make holes through the cardboard to plant into. This will kill off grass and most weeds, while allowing your garden to thrive.
5) Use an organic weedkiller: This should be a last resort but is a cheaper more eco-friendly solution then commercial weedkillers:
Pour unsalted boiling water after cooking potatoes onto areas prone to weeds (note this may kill insects living in those areas) and/or
Douse weeds with strong vinegar (organic if possible). This will kill the weed foliage, but may not full kill off weeds that are deep rooted perennials. It will have more impact on a hot sunny day.
What NOT to Do!!
Don't use plastic weeding fabrics - they cost a lot, and they break down after a few years and will litter you garden with horrible micro plastics that will likely enter your plants, and you, if you eat them....you can usually pick up large cardboard boxes for free from local shops to use instead!
Never use a commercial weedkiller - it costs a lot and not only poisons weeds, but also your garden, wildlife and, in the long term, humans.*
Don't put down salt - it can render the area completely barren and can damage hard areas like concrete over time. it may also be carried to other parts of your garden by rain.
*Data from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine shows that sales of pesticides and herbicides has steadily increased in recent years, to 3,121 tonnes of active ingredient in 2015 (an increase of 7% on similar figures from 2013). The Environmental Protection Agency highlighted the issue of pesticide residues in water courses and drinking water supplies stating that it is an issue which “has emerged as a significant water quality issue in 2015”. Their data showed that 61 drinking water supplies failed the concentration limits in 2015, a startling jump from 28 only a year earlier.[i]