Spray Free Solutions for Weeds

A beautiful patch of yarrowMay is a great month to get stuck into your weed infestations. You may think of this is a spring job, but the thing is spring brings a list of jobs to the food gardener that’s as long as your arm and both legs, so anything that can be sorted before then is a real bonus. Besides which there is nothing more disheartening than working in spring’s boggy soils.

Weeding is an awful job. I’ve had plenty of brilliant ideas as to how to weed without weeding over the years and the best one is smothering, also called mulching. It’s an oldie, but a goodie. No straining or digging required, it’s as easy as an armload of whatever mulch I have lying around dumped a top the weeds. Plus its feeding those hungry microbes – two birds, one stone.

Sadly not all weeds can be smothered. These weeds I call pernicious (and other things not suitable for this post). They require observation and understanding, and are an ongoing management issue. For a peaceful life I recommend adjusting your mind to this fact.

My key strategies are:

  • Improve your soil. Weeds proliferate in certain conditions – change the conditions and you’ll loosen the weeds grip on it.
  • One years seeding is seven years weeding. If you don’t want it growing, then don’t let it seed.
  • Tick away with it. Make weeding a little and often event so you don’t end up with an infestation. Little weeds can be weeded from standing with a hoe, much more intelligent than on hands and knees working hard.
  • Dense planting is another smart control. Once the worst of the weed has been removed – beat it out with some good old fashioned competition – plant the area up intensively.
  • Animals come to the rescue – goats for thistle and blackberry, chickens for wandering willie and oxalis, pig for convuluvlulus. Create animal runs along fence lines where incoming weeds arrive from your lovely neighbours.
  • Can you live with this weed? Use it to provide biomass for compost heaps or notice that the bees love the flowers or use it in your salads or feed it to your chooks.

As for spraying with chemicals, this is not a solution I endorse at all. For soil, air and water health, which of course means human, insect and animal health – the impacts are too huge, too serious to ignore. Spraying (even spot spraying) is insidious. The particles and vapour spread further than the little bit you just sprayed, and hang round longer too.

“95% – 98% of applied pesticides miss their target, reaching nearby people and wildlife, waterways, soil and air” Source: Miller GT (2004), Sustaining the Earth, 6th edition. Thompson Learning, Inc.

Here’s some alternatives.

Buttercup, inkweed and dock

Cut seedheads off dock and inkweed during growing season. I whizz round the paddocks with the weed eater. A tractor mow would be more appropriate were we on a larger block.

On small sections grub or dig out the day after it’s rained – trust me its easier this way. Over time, the improvements in your soil will soften your soil and these guys will love it less.

Gypsum or woodash plus minerals in spring will slowly but surely turn this ship around.

Convulvulus and Lotus Major

Vines are tough customers. At my place, nourished in our claybase soil – convulvulus winds for miles and miles, smothering all in it’s path. We have tried every trick in the book.

On bare ground lay carpet in spring before the new growth gets going. Cut off any growth that peeks out the sides over the summer. Once the autumn rains start and the ground softens, roll the carpet up and marvel at the long strings of roots that come with it. Light an autumn bonfire in the orchard and throw the carpet on. Go over the area with a fine tooth comb getting up any last piece of root – throwing them on the bonfire as you go. Plant up straight away – nature abhors a vacuum.

This is how we cleared it from the area that is now the potager. All these years later we get the odd little bit resurfacing and I patiently follow the white root back to source and whip it out. It’s easy to do now that the soil is healthy and soft and I’m getting it while small.

Pigs love convulvulus root and we use Nellie to this end to root up those protein rich roots over winter along our south and east fencelines.

Where convulvulus winds through existing plants – well, we’ve got a problem Houston. The roots twist through existing roots and set up a home that cannot be destroyed organically, and this is what we have along our northern line. After years of battling this monster, I spread my search into chemical solutions. Knowing I would never spray, I wasn’t sure there’d be an answer here. But there was. I found cutnpaste. A roll on glyphosate developed by kiwi park ranger Andy Spence. Whaaaat! Yes you heard right, a glyphosate. Until there is another option, this is the only thing saving my orchard from being completely covered in this fast growing, insidious vine. My preference is to be poison free. Obviously. But practicality prevails here.

Every year in December we dab the ends of the new growth and every year less arrives. None of the flaxes or corokias or manukas that share the space have ever so much as turned up a leaf. The guys at cutnpaste are working on a glyphosate free alternative, which I will jump on as soon as it is available. Meantime, this one works brilliantly. And I’m happy to save the bush over the road and my orchard, all without spray drift.


Like all weed infestations, your management depends on how big your land and problem. On an acre, I’d happily hand grub the blackberry and employ a goat to gobble the new shoots until it was sorted. Once the bulk is handled, soil improvements and dense planting will stem the tide, but as with all established weeds – management will be ongoing. Get new shoots out while small.

On a few acres or more of blackberry filled land (who are we kidding – I wouldn’t buy it in the first place), I’d be using cutnpaste.

Tradescantia (wandering willie)

Chickens love this stuff. They’ll clean the area up for you in the best way possible.

If you are chicken-less rake it all up, hunting out every last scrap. Stuff it all into a black plastic bag and leave it down the back of the garden somewhere for a year or more. When it’s all turned to sludge, you’ve got a nutritious addition to your compost.

runner grass

Runner grasses

Respond really well to a combination of improved soil, smothering and weeding. Keep on keepin’ on with weeding them out of your vegie patch, at the same time adding loads of compost and mulch to loosen their grip on the soil. The roots that peg them down will get further and further apart, making it easier to manage in time.

Little and often is the key here along with a long term view.


I’ve never thought of yarrow as a weed, but a reader question prompted me to include it here. And yes it will get a good grip on your soil if left, but it’s so very useful as a compost activator and as a medicine that you should be using it if you’ve got it. Harvest it regularly to add to your compost and liquid manure and medicine chest. This will help hold it in check.

It’s shallow rooted so should you need to clear it out of an area slide your fork under it and lift it after a rainy day. If it’s living around your fruit trees then leave it be to do it’s helpful mineral accumulating thing.


High on your list as a pernicious weed, and I understand it is annoying! But it’s so small. And edible. Give me oxalis over convulvulus or lotus major any day. It’s so shallow rooted and self-contained that it barely competes for nutrients.

If your mental health relies on its removal then you are in for the long haul. Prepare yourself. Baking soda spray at the rate of 1tablespoon per 500ml water sprayed under the sun at regular intervals to eventually wear the bulbs out. Smothering works well too. I’d baking soda spray in a determined way until the foliage has completely died off, then lay carpet and build a new bed on top so I didn’t have to disturb the bulbs in the soil beneath. If you have chickens then rejoice – they love oxalis as much as you don’t.

Driveway weeds

Salt. Buy a 10kg bag of fine pool salt from Farmlands. Dollop a handful on top of weeds and have a good laugh when visitors wonder why it snowed at your place yesterday (you know who you are).

Edible weeds

The ultimate way to manage a weed is to eat it. Chickweed, dandelion, nettle, mallow, puha, fathen, and wild onions are all good for dinner. Try them out – you’ll wonder why you bother gardening! Do identify correctly. Check out Simply Living by Gwen Skinner or A Foragers Treasury by Johanna Knox.


  1. Great post on managing weeds. Also comforting to see some tactics I use here, so know I’m on right track.
    I wondered about weeds the chooks eat and was hoping they didn’t disperse the problem more widely by dropping seeds in a nice little plop of fertiliser

    • Yes to be sure that does happen where there are seed heads or bulblets concerned, but to me the majority of the weed has been managed and the new bits that pop up will provide the next lot of entertainment/ fodder for the chooks.