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I asked regenerative gardeners all around the world how they clear weeds, and collectively, we uncovered the best ways to remove weeds in large areas.
Everyone agrees the best way to remove weeds protects our backs, sanity, and environment.
Our whole goal for weeding large spaces is to not only cause the least damage to the area but to employ easy methods so you can enjoy your time doing it.
What you won’t find here, are environmentally harmful ways to remove weeds, because we only included the best methods.
This post entails the first-hand experience of hundreds of regenerative gardeners who know all about weeding big areas.
Here, you’ll find functional and non-back-breaking techniques to quickly get rid of tall weeds in large open areas, clear gardens full of weeds, or reset the space altogether, for a fresh start.
Work in sections
Kim found this to be the best universal method for weed removal: to eliminate your overwhelm by doing it in manageable sections.
This might sound like a tail-chasing situation, but it doesn’t have to be.
Avoid clearing a section of weeds, leaving it bare, moving on to the next section, and wondering why your first section is all overgrown again.
Instead, you’ll want to clear a section of weeds, seed and establish a new crop, then move on to the next section.
And bit by bit, you’ll see a change in even the most neglected lands.
Kim says, “The land here was very neglected and basically just sand. Slowly. . . things changed. . . Now we are producing amazing food for the family and even managing to sell the surplus.”
Pull the weeds
This is probably the last thing you wanted to hear.
But wait! It doesn’t have to be so bad.
Plus, some plant species require this action, or you could end up with a bigger headache.
Quackgrass is one of every gardener’s biggest nightmares because if you have it near you, you’ll need to install edging to prevent its return after digging it all out.
But you’ll want to remove this plant correctly because if you mow it and mulch over it, eventually as your mulch breaks down, quackgrass will be popping up EVERYWHERE. The next time, it’ll be harder to remove than before.
So if you have rhizomatous-spreading plants that can do so without light, or are growing somewhere nearby and spreading from that growth point, dig it up before using any other method below!
If you have hard and heavy clay soil, and no rhizomatous-spreading plants, move on to the next method.
Jamie and several other gardeners recommend just pulling all the weeds. Pulling weeds is only backbreaking if you’re in a rush and in the mindset that it’s a horrible job.
Taking it slow and enjoying your time outdoors could completely shift the perspective from dread to enjoyment.
It’s easy for sandy or silty soils, so if you have loose soil to work with, pulling may be an easy option for you.
Suzie recommends getting out there and pulling by hand. She weeded her whole lawn by hand and says “Cumbersome can be meditative. I love it.”
If you’re trying to weed a lawn, this is a good approach.
But if you’re clearing a large patch of nothing but weeds, bring a shovel and enjoy your time outdoors with the birds!
Margie adds that “It’s great exercise!”
What is the best tool to remove weeds from a large area?
Some weedy vegetation needs to be physically removed whether in a small or large area. Since we had a large area to cover, we wondered what the best weed removal tool was—to avoid using an expensive machine.
A long-handled round-point spade is the best tool choice for removing weeds in a large area. The round point is best for digging down to pry up plants, and the long handle allows you to stand upright, making the job easier. The best part, is they don’t require expensive equipment or fuel.
Fiskars long-handled round point spade is the best shovel option. We buy as many of our tools from Fiskars as we can because they are known for not only the longevity of their tools but their longevity guarantees on most items.
A pitchfork is another option if you have heavy clay soil. In general, we found the spade to be the best for plants of all sizes.
Erik and most gardeners specifically state they use a shovel to dig out a ton of weeds and small trees. While it’s a lot of work, it’s the best option available.
If the ground is loose and plants are shallow, a scuffle hoe can loosen the weeds by the roots and then be raked out.
Mow down and sheet mulch
A lot of gardeners don’t seem to pull weeds anymore. . .
Leslie says, “I mow them as close as possible, then put layers of cardboard over it.”
Joseph adds, “When you uncover it, immediately plant clover and nasturtiums. The clover will add nitrogen and crowd out some of the weeds. . . nasturtiums will deny them light. . .”
You could either plant and replant a living mulch permanently or, Deborah recommends cardboard for 12 months. “No pesticides required, just smother the roots.”
This, however, could cause problems if you do it with the wrong kind of weeds. Rhizomanous growers, such as quackgrass, are one of a few weeds that can still make a big mess of mulched areas.
If you have quack grass, I’ll repeat, you’ll need to ‘edge’ the area to prevent it from coming back in, and then remove all its roots from the site.
Denis agrees that it depends on the weeds present. “Perennial weeds I’d want to get the root out. Annual weeds I’d hoe.” Then he smothers with cardboard and woodchips.
As long as annual weeds haven’t gone to seed, hoeing them will do the trick. Perennials, however, might not die so easily or permanently. Some can thrive for longer periods and eventually grow through the cardboard.
If annuals have gone to seed and already dropped seeds, you may want to solarize the area to heat and kill most weed seeds, first. Or allow the seeds to germinate and grow, hoe before they seed, then go ahead and replant your space as desired.
To employ this method:
- Identify any quack grass, edge the area to prevent its return, and remove the whole root system
- Mow and or hoe down all plants as low as possible
- Remove large established perennial roots
- Sheet mulch, and mulch
- Maintain mulch as the first round breaks down to prevent new weeds
This is a very easy way to remove weeds for good if you don’t have quackgrass anywhere.
Solarize the area with tarps
Taylor suggested using a temporary tarp, which is what we personally do, too. A good alternative for those who fear a rodent problem from organic mulching.
Mow it down and sheet mulch it with a temporary tarp ahead of time. When the sun is out, it’ll heat up the plants and soil to the point they won’t like.
Once weeds are dead, after several hot weeks, lift the tarp and seed what you want instead!
This way, you can still work with bare soil without mulch in the way, if you’d consider it ‘ in the way.’
Misty has the same idea we do, she has 3 tarps in different areas “and will move them around.”
Tarps on rotation for growing annuals are exactly our plan.
For growing annual crops, tarping your beds in autumn is the best way to keep any seeds from germinating from the start. Keep them covered over winter until you are ready to transplant everything, and every spring you’ll be ready to plant without needing extra preparation.
Tarps can be purchased, or old ones found for free from lumber yards. Some have even scored old billboard tarps made of sturdy high-quality vinyl.
Rent some goats
Geoff Lawton, a renowned permaculturist, is always recommending clearing large weedy areas with a small temporary fence, in sections, with goats.
It’s a passive way to mow down all the tall or tough weeds and the added benefits of manure! Perfect for replanting and restoring the way you want it.
Helen and Allen, regenerative gardeners, recommend it saying “This is no joke. They really work.” from first-hand experience employing this method themselves.
Among a dozens others recommending goats, Jaymi broke down the steps to do it:
- enclose the area (or section of the area) with temporary fencing
- put in a water dish
- put in a goat or few
- they will eat the weeds to ground, pull some, and leave behind fertilizer
And after the goats, Anjeriah adds, “Use tarps to kill off the roots.”
Then, the area is ready for sheet mulching and replanting, whether you use the tarp after, or not.
Burn the weeds
Michelle says “Cover them with hay then light them if it’s safe in your area.”
Other gardeners, while it depends on the area, use a weed burner or flamethrower.
Don’t start fires in dry areas where they can easily spread and become out of control.
This study showed that burning was effective for plenty of weeds, but less so on larger plants, perennials, and grass.
So if burning is an option for you, you may be left with a small amount of digging, or chopping and smothering.
Our experience is in alignment with the American Society for Horticultural Science’s recommendation that it’s best to use a variety of methods to control or remove weeds.
|Pulling or digging
|Physical activity, time outside, effective against all plants when roots are fully extracted. Exposed soil for seeding.
|Actively time-consuming, roots left behind from some plants may sprout and become new plants.
|Organic sheet mulching
|Feeds the soil and doesn’t disturb the ground.
|Can be, but doesn’t have to be, costly, weeds will grow back if not topped up regularly
|Solarization with tarps
|Doesn’t disturb the soil, is easy and passive
|Takes several weeks and is best done in hot weather – or over winter as a prevention
|Passive and effective for tall weeds
|Costs money and effort to set up or move around fenced area
|Most effective on annuals, less on perennials and grass
|Dangerous in some areas
The species present will impact the best approach to removing weeds. Some weeds need complete root removal to be eradicated, and others don’t require this action.
- Identify the weeds so you know what you’re dealing with
- Cover, pull, dig, or burn weeds
- Mulch well, or establish a desired crop in the bare soil right away
- Stay on top of weeding after that with chop, drop, and smother, or digging and pulling
Don’t use chemical sprays or any substances that will harm and alter your ecology—Those are the furthest options from the best ways to handle weeds, especially for large areas.
Even “natural weedkillers” disrupt the vital ecology of what could be kept as a thriving property.
Best large garden layout for easy weeding
Weeds quickly taught me that square-foot gardening was best reserved for intensively planting small spaces.
A large garden should be grown in rows, or it won’t be easy.
With rows, we use a Hoss wheel hoe to keep pathways clear of weeds. Between using the wheel hoe, I’ll seed pathways with white clover.
When the clover grows a few inches, come in with the wheel hoe to ‘chop and drop’ the clover on the spot with minimal soil disruption.
This way, you’re not trucking in loads of mulch, but growing your own fertility over time.
You can also lay cardboard down pathways as well. But leaf bags and leaves are free to collect from neighbors in towns, every autumn!
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