Non-toxic methods of weed control

WEEDING THE GARDEN: Backbreaking work.

I, like an increasing number of expatriate gardeners in Spain, prefer to not use potent chemical weedkillers but at the same time want to avoid the backbreaking task of continually hoeing, mattocking, hand pulling, hand trowelling and forking out weeds.

Fortunately there are several things one can do when planning a new garden or modifying an existing one as outlined below.

Ground cover plants

Plant flowering and evergreen plants that will soon grow sideways and create deep shade below the green growth which will make it difficult for most weeds to germinate and survive.

Minimise planted areas

Design the garden with smallish flower beds and shrubberies surrounded by wide paths, terraces and areas of stone chippings laid over solid plastic sheeting over which plant growth can be allowed to overlap.

Covering areas to block out light for a few weeks

One can use pieces of old carpet, old rugs or pieces of heavy grade black plastic sheeting to achieve this.

Permanent deep mulching

As described in Section 4.7 of the book How to use less water in your garden there are many ways of mulching plants once weeded to reduce the growing of new weeds.


I first saw this method being used extensively in the vegetable growing areas surrounding the city of Valencia, but it is also easily used in new gardens to kill off weeds and weed seeds before areas of soil are planted up with flowering plants or vegetables. For instance solarisation is ideal if you plan to develop a vegetable garden on an area of wild ground that is currently covered with a dense mass of annual and perennial weeds, and with many fallen but ungerminated seeds on and in the soil at the moment. As outlined below the method is inexpensive, not labour intensive and relatively fast during the hottest months of the year. Having selected a well located area of the garden mark it out with posts or rocks and then buy a sheet of clear heavy grade plastic, the shape of the area to be cleared of weeds but a little larger. Then dig a 15 centimetre deep trench around the intended veggie plot. When this is done water the area and then immediately cover the damp weed covered soil with the plastic, placing rocks on the plastic sheeting to prevent it being blown away. Then push the edges of the plastic into the trench and bury them. The area of soil will now be sealed and wind will not be able to get under the sheet of plastic. Now watch and wait as existing weeds wither, die and turn to dust and any seeds germinate and soon die. During the hottest months of June to September everything should be totally burnt and turned to dust in six to eight weeks. Naturally during the winter an extra month or two will be necessary. By starting to use solarisation in the next few weeks you will have with a weed-free area by the end of August.

© Dick Handscombe

June 2016

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