Easy-as Alternatives to Weed Spray

butterfly on verbena

Here are simple, integrated alternatives to herbicide. I hope you use these ideas at home, at school and in your community this spring and forever more.


Salt is the answer to your driveway weeds. No plant survives beneath a dollop of salt! Salt is also useful along hard edges, under the letterbox, along the fenceline and under the outrigger. It’s best applied 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.

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.

There are a few edges I salt – around the chook house and under the outrigger. The only turf killed by salt is the stuff under the salt. Miraculously the grass beside the salt remains. The worms too.

Buy fine Agsalt in 20kg bags from Farmlands.

2 days after salting
2 days after salting the edge

And fun! Trip up the normally rational people in your life. “Did it snow here?” (You know who you are)

Smart design

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

Thoughtful design creates gardens that don’t need maintenance spraying. Start by rethinking the edge as edges are the highest maintenance bits. The stones you so loving arranged, the brick edges, where the fence meets the lawn … this is where you are most likely to spray.

If you can mow right up to every edge there is no need for extra maintenance.

Removing the hard edge is revolutionary! As are evergreen, drooping foliage plants along the edge of gardens. They do a great job of blocking out weeds and are easy to mow under. Flaxes, grasses, renga renga, daylillies, astellia are some of my favs for this job.

Hebes in front of a slat fence - a low shelter around the northern line of the vegie patch

Plant the space in front of fences up so the mower can go right to the edge.

mid jan garden

Create no mow, grass free zones. From our house to the outside edge of the vegetable garden there is no grass as all paths are mulched. More work to set up but heaps less work to maintain. Absolutely no need to spray. Or mow. Hurrah!

Carpet beneath the mulched pathways gives longer lasting power.

I’ve just harvested the grass on the citrus bank for mulch. I’ll let it grow long until I next need mulch.

Some of the places you spray are out of a habit to keep things ‘tidy’. How bout redefining your tidy and calling the wild corners gorgeous! Harvest your gorgeous wild edge every now and then for a herbicide free mulch.


Planting up the lawn at edible backyard

Mulch is the antithesis to herbicide. It builds soil and creates life 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.

lay paper and mulch the edge

For extra staying power lay newspaper or card beneath the mulch. Do this around garden edges and on any bare soil between plants in spring before the weeds get away.

Plant densely

living mulch

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

Plant for complete ground cover beneath trees and between shrubs and save time + the planet because these areas need no mulching or spraying.

Make a weed break

We’ve all got one, a neighbour who’s wild jungle seeps out into our place. For sure the weed invasion is extra work but give me Mowgli anyday over a neighbour that sprays. At least the jungle is jamming with living soil and beneficial insects abound.

chook forest

Set your chook run up along this edge and get them on the job, or your pigs or goats. Or build a garden shed/ sauna/ tennis court here. Or leave a 2-metre weed break along this edge and whip along with the weed eater every now and then. Bless your neighbour for promoting life 🙂

Tricky ongoing weeds

Click here for my solutions to tricky weeds.

A one off, taming spray

Sometimes the scale and tenacity of a weed problem requires a spray-off before Eden can be created. Geoff Lawton himself says at times you gotta crack a few eggs to make an omelette.

Though I’ve been to many many houses/ life sentence blocks/ farms over the years, I’ve only ever recommended a few times to spray. Other options abound – animals, diggers, smothering, but sometimes none of these work because of steep ground, lack of access, no fencing or sheer intensity of the weed issue.

Once land is tamed, there should be no further need of spray – thoughtful design, dense plantings, mulch, minerals, biological sprays and a commitment to being spray free will make it so.

Rose and the butterfly at Shannon school food garden
The butterfly house at Shannon school gardens

If I was boss of the world the only maintenance sprays I’d allow would be seaweed, fish or EM – biological, life giving spray. I’d ban pesticides … what are we thinking. And herbicides would have only one use – for clearing difficult land.

Shannon school peas from the garden
Fresh picked organic peas for Shannon school tamariki.

Above all, I’d stop spraying where our children play and on their fruit and vegetables. What are we thinking.


  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 it’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 🙂 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 🙂

    • 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 😊 I’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 😀

    • 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 🙂

  7. Tracey Roberts says

    Hi Kath, what is the name of the plant with red flowers under the heading ‘plant densely’’? 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 🙂