The Sustainable Way to Manage Self-seeding Plants in the Garden

Natural Weed Killer

I’m a freak! I love tidying my plant borders. I find it very calming and I love seeing those neat beds when I’m finished. That said I do appreciate that some people want an easier method of dealing with plants that crop up where you don’t want them. If you’d like to manage your garden sustainably without investing a huge amount of time or labour read on.

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Avoiding the ‘W’ Word

You’ll notice that I’ve avoiding the dreaded ‘w’ word. I don’t like it and in these days of biodiversity crisis I don’t think it’s useful to label a plant good or bad in that way.

Avoid Homemade Herbicides

You’ll often see recipes for ‘natural’ harmless herbicides made with everyday kitchen ingredients. In my ignorance I trialled a few of these recipes and here is what I found. Firstly, they don’t work and secondly, they are in no way harmless. Pouring or spraying acidic or soapy chemicals is detrimental to insects and amphibians, and all the creatures that predate on them, even if they came from your kitchen cupboard.

I will add that I never found shop-bought herbicides any good for anything but annual self-seeders, which are so easy to pull out by hand or hoe I don’t see the point in wasting any money on these toxic concoctions.

The easy sustainable way to tackle unwanted self-seeded plants

Preventing self-seeders in the garden

  • The best way to reduce the number of self-seeders is to control the amount of bare soil they can populate. I garden in such a way as to have hardly any bare soil from June until November.
  • You can apply this approach to paving as well. By using plants like creeping thyme, pratia, fleabane or campanula ‘Mrs Resholt’ in the gaps between paving slabs you can keep out plants you don’t want.
  • In veg beds you can fill gaps with lettuce or raddish or companion plants that bring in pollinators.

Removing self-seeders in the garden

In my experience there are 3 low-impact ways to manage un-wanted plants in the garden. Either remove them by hand, burn them repeatedly or smother them until they die off.

  • Removing un-wanted plants by hand
    • Aim to do this after a rain shower; the ground is softer and it makes the whole job easier. If it hasn’t rained in a while and you’re desperate to remove a plant you can water the ground an hour before you dig a hole to soften it up, although this really is a waste of water.
    • Alternatively on dry days use a hoe to cut the plants off at ground level and then leave on the ground to dry up. With perrennial plants you may need to do this a couple of times but eventually you’ll weaken the plant and it’ll give up the ghost.
  • Killing un-wanted plants with heat
    • You need a thermal weeder for this job. The most traditional type run on gas – a fossil-fuel, and so emit more carbon than the electric versions that arrived onto the market a few years ago. We used a gas powered thermal weeder once, and although it did burn off the leaves it was no better than using a hoe or hand pulling.
  • Killing unwanted plants by smothering them
    • This sound gruesome and if you use black plastic sheeting that is typically recommended, it kinda is. I prefer to cover an area with sheets of cardboard, which I cover with bark mulch, soil or gravel. Obviously you can’t dig the soil until the unwanted plants have died down completely and rotted, but for mulched or gravel paths it’s a great way to deal with self-seeders with deep roots. It’s worked really well for me on my paths of bark chipping.

Removing self-seeders in a Lawn

I’m afraid I’ve have no advice for keeping lawns 100% free of non-grass. I tried digging up invaders by hand but had to admit defeat after year 2. Now I embrace the buttercups, daisies, dandelions, ground elder and clover in our front lawn and cultivate meadow grass, ragworth, yellow rattle and mayflower in our back lawn.

My mum is horrified at my ‘messy’ lawn but it’s way better for biodiversity and less work for me!!!


PS – Click here to read Hacks for a Sustainable Garden

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

5 thoughts on “The Sustainable Way to Manage Self-seeding Plants in the Garden

  1. Fantastic post and just in time. I’m not winning the battle of the weeds here. The driveway and two patios out the back were power cleaned, hand weeded and new sand brushed in 3 weeks ago. The dreaded weeds have found a way to pop up again. Was so proud that i didn’t resort to commercial weedkillers (thanks to your encouragement). I’m going to blast the feckers this weekend with the vinegar mix. Will let you know! Thanks E – as always a great post and blog.


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