Easy-as Alternatives to Weed Spray

Weeds are, on the whole, not that tricky. Sure there’s a select few that are dynamite, but that’s to be expected given that we live in one of the weediest places on earth. Find my ideas for the really tricky weeds, at the bottom of the page.

Today I’m sharing my top 4 weed management techniques to sidestep you past herbicide. Clever design eliminates the bulk of it – my 5 simple ways kick start your easy garden life. Once those are set in motion, I’ve 3 tried and true’s: smothering with either mulch or fabric, outcompeting with well chosen plants, and for difficult spots, salt. That’s my simple, effective, big picture kit.

Spraying herbicide is an emergency call while establishing difficult tracts of land, not at all ideal on a regular basis. If a weed has you beat, at the very least use a roll on while you come up with a cunning plan. Spray drift is the crime of the century.

I hope you use these ideas at home, at school and in your community. Spread the word.

Smart Design

Rethink your edges!

Mulched paths in front of a hard edge mean no high maintenance edge weeding required

Edges are the highest maintenance bits for least reward – what a huge reduction in energy when we get rid of the dire combination that is grass, meeting a hard edge. The stones you so loving arranged, the places where fence meets grass, and as for brick edges… aggh, so fiddly!

Far better to create edges that fit easily with your form of grass management. If you are mowing, then lets redesign them so that the mower can get right up to them without the 2 step process of mower then weedeater. Or even worse a 3 step process if you then have to pull the grass from between the stones, or the blimmin bricks.

  • Removing the hard edge is revolutionary!

Sure its not a linear look, but super practical. Plant your garden densely and you don’t need to worry about birds scratching mulch onto your lawn.

  • Instead of hard edges, use evergreen plants.

The function of plants that inhabit the edge is to slow the grass coming into the garden. And they need to handle being mown right up to. It all depends on the vigour of your grass, as to what type of edge plant you choose for this job.

While a border of dense oregano can meet an urban lawn with gentle weeds, it will be gobbled alive by my grasses! Plus I dont have the time (or inclination) to do this kind of management. Perhaps you do and perhaps you love it – go for it! If you don’t, design saves the day!
In bigger gardens and spaces with more vigorous grass and weeds, use dense evergreens to block light and discourage the advancement of the grasses from lawn into garden. I like plants with arching foliage – like rengarenga, lomandra, sturdy grasses, astellia or emerald gem flax, The arch provides space for the mower to whip beneath.
Take your time with choosing varieties. Start by noticing the plants that hold up to your grass and the ones that don’t.

  • Plant the space in front of fences/ buildings
Hebes in front of a slat fence - a low shelter around the northern line of the vegie patch

Where fences or walls of buildings meet the grass, plant with low growing, dense, robust specimens that can handle the mower or weedeater or Niwashi.

The goal is to either tuck beneath the edge of the foliage to get to the grass, or trim a little of the foliage in order to take care of the grass right to the edge of the plants. No more 2 step process! Yuss!

  • Create grass free zones
mid jan garden

One big outside edge is heaps less work!

From our house to the outside edge of the vegetable garden there is no grass – all paths are mulched and where the garden meets the grass – there are well chosen sentinel plants that can be mown right up to.

More work to set up but heaps less work to maintain. Design wins the day!

  • Make a weed break
chook forest

If your neighbours wild jungle seeps into your place, you need a weed break, something to stop the weeds (most likely vines!) clambering in.

In the case of vines, planting these areas up is a mistake – its grist to their mill. For less troublesome weeds though, planting is awesome. The trick is to use trees/ shrubs that are more dominant than the weed you seek to beat.

Weed break ideas:
Set your chook run up along this edge, or run stock.
Or build a garden shed/ running track/ tennis court here.
Or leave a 2-metre weed break along this edge and whip along with the weed eater/ mower/ goat every now and then

For sure the weed invasion is extra work but give me weeds any day over someone who sprays herbicide. Bless your neighbour for promoting life ๐Ÿ™‚


Know that weeds change off the back of soil improvements, so long term this is your ultimate goal. Meantime, manage them easily by blocking light with either of these 3 strategies.

  • Plastic

Prepare weedy ground for your vegie beds in the best of ways – by melting the weeds back into the soil. Not with spray – egads! but plastic, which doesn’t sound very eco but its awesome and so blimmin easy. Carpet is another option, but hot plastic is the best.

Simply lay the black plastic in place with planks or stones – its no use if it blows away. The hotter the weather the quicker the weeds die off. As soon as they’ve dissolved, peel it off, lay compost and plant.

  • Mulch
Planting up the lawn at edible backyard

Mulch is the antithesis to herbicide. Smothering with mulch builds soil at the same time as blocking weeds. Weeds that pop through, (and they will pop through!) are easily removed. Or even easier – just keep piling mulch on top.

For extra staying power lay newspaper or card beneath the mulch. Do this on any weedy spots in the garden (way better than tearing the weeds out) and on any bare soil between plants, before the weeds get away.


Competition takes a bit of cunning. Know the weed you are dealing with first, in order to best choose a worthy competitor. Plant something that’s bigger and bolshier, evergreen is smart, as is perennial and fast. A coloniser plant that suits your area is usually the best bet.

Use one of the smother techniques above first, then as soon as the ground is clear, plant it up, without delay! because as quick as a flash, those weeds will be back

  • Plant densely
living mulch

Gardens that are jammed with plants leave no rooms for weeds – less work for you and pretty as a picture.

Plant for complete ground cover beneath trees and between shrubs, saving time + the planet because these areas need nothing doing, but admiring.


Ideally we outcompete the weeds with more dominant plants, but there are odd moments where that’s not possible. Driveways are one such. Salt is the answer.

My next drive, I reckon will be a rotten rock base and I’ll just let the grass have its way and avoid the circular job that is clearing weeds off the drive, back they come, clear them off, round we go. Its like outside housework.

Meantime, salt is fab. You don’t need alot especially if you apply it right before a rain. I put the sack of salt in a wheelbarrow and use an old plastic bottle with the bottom cut off as a scoop.

Buy fine Agsalt in 20kg bags from Farmlands.

The grass along the chook run edge salted yesterday. It rained last night and today the salted grass is dying yet the rest is green as green.

As well as the driveway, I also salt the edge where the chook gate meets the grass, to keep the gate in flow. Generally this is only a spring job, but it may segue into summer as well if it remains wet and cool.

The only turf killed by salt is the stuff under the salt. Miraculously the grass beside the salt remains, and though I know there’s collateral damage to the soil biology, if I dig alongside the salt, there’s still worms.

For sure, its not a sound idea to go nuts with salt – it’ll destroy our soils, but for little bits at key times of the year, salt’s a godsend. And fun! Trip up the normally rational people in your life. “Did it snow here?” (You know who you are)

Tricky weeds

runner grass

Here are my solutions for tricky weeds: our good mates (ha!) kikuyu, convulvulus and ivy, to name a few.


  1. Johanna van Stratum says

    Any suggestions of how to get rid of onion weed. Its taking over my lawns & orchard..

    • A few options for you Johanna. 1st check your soil ph – onion is an indicator of alkaline soil and as long as your soil continues in this state onion weed will always flourish. In grass environments – spread compost to boost grass and begin to change soil and leave grass to grow vigorously to outcompete onion weed. Slash down in autumn. Sow nitrogen fixing clover and keep repeating the cycle to slowly eliminate the onion weed. In garden environments – lay black plastic and leave it to cook out over the summer. In autumn spread a thin layer of compost and sow a legume to improve conditions. Or chop off the tops every time they appear this stops energy flow back to the bulb viz photosynthesis, improve soil at the same time and mulch thickly. Avoid digging as this just disperses the small bulbs. Takes time, but changing the conditions and taking it slowly is the only way to permanently shift from a weed monoculture. Good luck! Kath

  2. Hi Kath
    My son and daughter n law have a new build with kaikuia grass They want to plant some citrus and other goodies and itโ€™s in a wee bank so do you have any ideas on how to kill this other than the big dig:) thanks

    • Digging wont make a blind bit of difference …. so great to know that before the big endless dig ๐Ÿ™‚ What makes the difference in the long run is changing the soil conditions – follow exactly as the article says and mulch mulch mulch!!!

  3. Jillian Hetherington says

    Hi Kath,
    Thanks for your words of wisdom on tackling the weeds, I am wondering about the salt approach with Oxalis. Have you tried it? or do you have any other brilliant suggestions for the wee blighter.


    • Ah lovely oxalis!! What I’ve written, Jillian – thats all I got – especially the idea of not growing your vegies where there is an oxalis epidemic and out competing with evergreen dense plantings. No I haven’t tried salting and only use salt on edges and on driveways as it’ll nail the soil life. Happy days ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Ruth Elizabeth Harrison says

      Hi Jill – I had a terrible problem with oxalis in my vege bed, and tried all sorts of things. But last winter i planted out the bed with lupins – then in spring I found only a few bulbills which I picked out. I haven”t had any oxalis for the last six months. I reckon that improving the soil has made all the difference – for this weed anyway. Worth a go!

  4. Hello Kath, love your insights! Especially since we’re just down the road in Ohau!
    Any ideas for buttercups? They seem very determined to pop up EVERYWHERE. On just over 1 acre here.

    • Just changing the environment Sam – thats all there is. And patience! To really speed things along get a soil test, esp a soil biology test – its upping the anti with biology that makes rapid change.

  5. Vivienne Silby says

    Hello Kath,
    We just went to Sheep World in Dome Valley – Northland and they said you can spread wool from their shearing shed over the soil around plants as a mulch. They kindly gave us a bag, as the wool is not worth anything at the moment. It is supposed to act as a mulch; locking in the moisture, therefore conserving water. Have you ever tried this? – I would like to know if it really works or will I just be importing some new weed seeds ( hosted in the wool ) ? Thanks for your tips in regard to avoiding herbicide.

  6. Nan Sinclair says

    Hi Kath, wonderful reading thanks ๐Ÿ˜Š Iโ€™m about to try using salt to control the weeds on our driveway but am worried as there are trees right up to the edge- will the salt kill them too? We have some very special trees ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Just a little sprinkle of salt is fine… established trees are remarkably resilient! Some hoons set a local apple tree on fire, half of it went up in flames and turned black and still doesn’t grow leaves, looks dead as dead…. but the other half that didn’t burn flowers and fruits year after year! Incredible! I think its best for you to try salt beneath one tree for now and see for yourself ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Tracey Roberts says

    Hi Kath, what is the name of the plant with red flowers under the heading โ€˜plant denselyโ€™โ€™? Loving your advice!!

  8. Hi Kath, we have paths of rotten rock between our raised bed vege garden, would the salt treatment on the pathway weeds affect the soil in the vege beds?

    • Hi Keitha, if the weeds arent very vigorous ones you could instead try growing low growing plants like thyme and alyssum that enjoy those tights spaces. Otherwise try salt. As always, watch and see what happens ๐Ÿ™‚