Pulling Weeds by Hand: A Complete Guide

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Updated March 8, 2023
Woman weeding garden
Photo: E+ / Getty Images

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Despite whimsical names like dandelions or Creeping Charlie, weeds are anything but charming. Luckily, pulling weeds is one surefire way to keep your lawn and garden beds weed-free. Before you let the weeds take over or you start to spray heavy chemicals, try removing weeds the old-fashioned and most effective way: by hand.  

How to Get Rid of Weeds

Weeds are the bane of any gardener’s existence, but there are ways to fight back. Here are the best ways to control and kill weeds in your lawn and garden.

1. Weed Early and Often

Remove weeds before they get too big or start to bloom. Because there are so many invasive weeds with different life cycles, making weeding a regular habit is one of the best ways to control weeds. Taking an hour to weed weekly or bi-weekly throughout the spring, summer, and fall is much easier than weeding an entire garden overrun with weeds. 

2. Get to the Root

Cutting weeds off with a lawnmower won’t help keep weeds like wild onion grass from coming back; it will just mask the problem until they quickly re-grow. Looking at you, nut grass! In order to rid your garden of weeds, you have to remove the roots.

3. Lay Landscape Fabric

Landscape fabric works like a selective shield: It keeps weeds from growing in the soil but will still deliver nutrients to the plants in your garden. Pull weeds before placing it, choose a quality non-plastic fabric, and secure it with landscape fabric staples. After placing and planting the flowers, add a layer of mulch to the top.

4. Use the Right Tools

There are several specialized tools for removing weeds, all aimed at removing the weed from the root.

  • The most common weed puller tool is hand-held with a narrow, forked end to help dig down around the weed's roots and reach into small spaces such as sidewalk cracks and between landscape rocks.

  • Standing weeding tools, which also have the forked end, allow you to twist the tool into the ground to dig out weeds without having to kneel or crouch.

  • A small, hand-held Japanese sickle makes a great weed-pulling tool.

  • The gardener’s best friend—the Hori Hori— is a serrated-edged, knife-like tool and ultra-handy for weeding, transplanting, and removing root-bound plants from pots. 

5. Try a DIY Weed Killer

Another way to make removing weeds easier is to treat them first with a homemade weed killer. A few options include:

  • Using a vinegar solution to spot-treat weeds.

  • Use boiling water to eliminate weeds popping up in your driveway and sidewalk cracks.

  • Use salt or baking soda cautiously (too much, and you can ruin the soil for future healthy plants). 

6. Burn Them Out 

Pulling weeds with bare hands is no fun. Good gloves allow you to dig in deep without damaging your skin and nails, which goes a long way in ensuring you will be able to put the effort in to get your weeds out. 

7. Add Ground Cover Plants to Choke Out Weeds

Weeds seek out open, bare ground where they don't have to compete with other plants. If you plant ground-cover plants that you enjoy the look of, they’ll form a tough barrier to block those pesky weeds from popping up. Creeping thyme, ayuga, chokeberry, and mondo grass are some beautiful ground covers you can put to work in your garden.

8. Wear Quality Gloves

Gloved hands pulling weeds
Photo: DigitalVision / Getty Images

Pulling weeds with your bare hands is no fun. High-quality gloves allow you to dig in deep without damaging your skin and nails, which goes a long way in ensuring you can put the effort in to get your weeds out. 

9. Consider Chemicals Carefully

Some homeowners prefer to use a chemical weed control such as Round-Up to spot-treat and kill weeds before pulling. There are also chemical pre-emergents to prevent weeds. Pre-emergents are herbicides applied before weeds begin to grow, either in liquid or granular form. 

While chemicals are effective, it’s important to consider the potential damage to the environment, including:

  • Chemicals can linger in the water, making it toxic to wildlife. 

  • They can be harmful to pets and children. 

  • Weed-killing chemicals must be used exactly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. 

  • Always wear gloves and a mask when applying chemicals. 

  • Do not apply on a windy day. 

10. Keep Your Lawn Healthy

A lush and healthy lawn isn’t just weed-free; it helps prevent weeds. Dry, bare patches of grass are open invitations for weeds to flourish, so keep up a regular lawn care maintenance routine throughout the growing season, including overseeding brown or dead patches as soon as you notice problems.

11. Keep Beds Mulched 

Just as you want to keep your lawn healthy to ensure there is less chance for weed growth, mulching your perennial beds can help control weed growth, making it easier to stay on top of hand-weeding. Plus, weeds coming up through mulch can be easier to spot and target for removal. 

12. Get a Pro Involved 

Spraying weed killer
Photo: Dari Nipot / Adobe Stock

Whether you let your weeds get too out of control or you inherited a weed-filled garden from previous homeowners, if you need help with weeding, contact a lawn care service near you to help you dig in. These pros can advise you on the best way to tackle your weed problem and dig into it for you.

How to Get Rid of 10 Common Weeds

When dealing with a weed invasion, it’s helpful to know what you’re up against so you can adjust your plan of attack. Here are 10 of the most common garden weeds and what you can do to get rid of them. 

1. Dandelion

While they get a bad rap, dandelions aren’t inherently harmful to your lawn. Still, those ever-multiplying yellow flowers and puffballs can be a nuisance. To get rid of dandelion, you can pull them up by hand, spray them with vinegar, or use an herbicide.

2. Creeping Charlie

Creeping Charlie is aptly named, as it tends to creep up out of nowhere and multiply like crazy. It has a long, spreading vine system with dark green serrated leaves and funnel-shaped purple flowers. It spreads rapidly by seed, rooting at nodes and forming a carpet-like ground cover. To get rid of Creeping Charlie, you can hand-pull it, smother it with cardboard or newspaper, spray it with horticultural vinegar, or try an herbicide. 

3. Quack Grass

Quack grass has wide, rough leaves and grows in tall patches. Pulling it up by hand can be extremely difficult, and digging it up can cut up its rhizomes and leave them behind to regrow. If you’re wondering how to get rid of quack grass, the best method is to spot-treat it with a post-emergent herbicide.

4. Crabgrass

Getting rid of crabgrass is tough, so it’s best to catch it as early as possible. True to its name, this invasive weed grows low to the ground and has branches that radiate out like crab legs. Hand-pull the weeds if you can, but if it’s already out of control, spot-treat it with an herbicide made for crabgrass.

5. Nutsedge

Nutsedge, also called nut grass, is a fast-growing weed that’s usually lime green and grows in clumps. The best approach for removing nut grass is manual removal with a fork or garden spade. It’s resistant to a wide range of chemicals, so look for ingredients such sulfentrazone, Halosulfuron-methyl, metsulfuron, and mesotrione. 

6. Chickweed

Chickweed is a common grass weed with pointed leaves and small, white flowers. Its shallow roots make it easy to pull up by hand, which is one of the most effective ways to get rid of it. You can also eradicate it with broadleaf herbicides.

7. Canada Thistle

Canada thistle is an invasive plant with thorny stems and spiky, bulbous, magenta-topped flowers. Pulling the weeds by hand is a bad idea—they’ll break off, leaving the rhizomes behind to resprout. It’s better to cut them off at ground level: They’ll keep growing for a while, but will eventually be weakened due to lack of food. Alternatively, you can try an herbicide with triclopyr or carfentrazone.

8. Bindweed

Often mistaken for the morning glory, bindweed is a climbing vine with white, trumpet-shaped flowers. While not necessarily ugly, it can be tough to remove. You can pour boiling water over the plants, try a non-selective herbicide, or keep pruning back the vines until they stop growing.

9. Broadleaf Plantain

Broadleaf plantain has spiky flowers and wide, wavy-edged green leaves that grow in a rosette shape. You can pull these weeds with a weed-pulling tool or spot-treat them with an herbicide. They’re a telltale sign of compacted soil, so it’s a good idea to aerate your soil so they stop coming back.

10. Purslane

Purslane is a low-spreading broadleaf weed with yellow flowers and purple or red stems. It can easily re-establish itself if even a stem fragment gets left behind, so hand-pulling is tricky and often unsuccessful. Attack the plant before it matures by pulling it firmly up from the center of its leaf rosette. Purslane can also be managed with broadleaf weed killers, such as those used for dandelion. 

How to Prevent Weeds

Weeds can be a frustrating foe of the garden, but there are ways to be proactive against them. Here are some of the best ways to prevent weeds from popping up in the first place:

  • Address issues with your soil that could be causing weeds to grow.

  • Only water your garden plants to avoid hydrating unwanted growths.

  • Inspect new plants for weed seeds and sprouts before you plant.

  • Consistently pull up weeds by hand before they can become a problem.

  • Plant your garden plants closer together to limit the amount of soil for weeds.

  • Avoid unnecessary tilling, which can bring weed seeds up to the surface to grow.

Amy Guetebier contributed to this piece.

Frequently Asked Questions

No, definitely not. Pulling weeds by hand is the single most effective way to remove them because you're eliminating the entire plant—roots and all—so it won’t have a chance to grow or spread. Setting time aside a few times per week to pull weeds can keep them at bay. If the number of weeds gets overwhelming, then you can resort to other methods.

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