If you have a brick pathway, driveway, or patio, you know the curse. For as nice as they can look, all of those zillions of tiny spaces between the bricks are actually weed breeding centers. And only the most aggressive need apply!
Not only does it look terrible, but it can be a long and aggravating process to remove them. And it’s rarely a one-shot deal.
Let’s look at all of the options available and see if there are any easier shortcuts for removing weeds from brick walkways. Once that’s done, there is a preventative solution going forward.
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How to Remove Weeds from Brick Driveways, Paths, and Patios
Have you ever heard the (sarcastic) saying the gift that keeps on taking?
That’s what a brick pathway / driveway / walkway is.
The gift that keeps on taking.
Oh, they can look really nice. In fact, our last home was originally the model home for a new development, and, to show the upgrades possible, instead of installing a plain asphalt driveway, they splurged the big bucks to create an elaborate brick design to give the front of the home more curb appeal.
And it looked really nice.
And we liked it just fine.
Until we were initiated into the curse of the brick driveway.
And what are the odds are next home would also have the same design? Oy.
You know how this goes.
The weeds start appearing in the cracks between the bricks.
And, unlike most weeds in the garden, you can’t just stick a weeding fork under them and pry them out.
These guys have deep roots, firmly in place, well below the immovable bricks.
You can try pulling the tops, but, more often than not, just the tops pull off, leaving the roots to make a mockery of our efforts by doubling in size and taunting us soon after with even more growth.
So what can be done?
Organic Garden Practices and the Greater Good
Before you read any further, keep in mind that I am an organic gardener. By this I mean, I do not ever intentionally introduce anything into the soil or water on our property that negatively affects the soil, water, or environment.
For me personally, I do not think you can ever justify harmful actions for the sake of cosmetic problems in a garden.
I also do not sweat the small stuff. There is no such thing as the perfect growing year. Some years some plants thrive, other years, others thrive. Pests come and pests go. In most cases, I just leave things to sort themselves out or, at most, hand pick pests, and look at ways I can diversify the plants further to achieve a greater self-correcting balance between the things that live here.
So, when it comes to weeds in the driveway, my choices are always going to abide by the mandate to never create a new problem in the process of remedying an existing one. Especially when the new problem could be something I would have no ability to undo like removing toxic chemicals.
Yes, it’s a driveway and pathway made of bricks and the cracks are filled with weeds and it looks awful, but the ongoing effects of using toxic poisons, whether they are (misnamed) natural or not, is not an option.
And sometimes there are not easy solutions without paying a bigger price.
Problematic Popular Advice
First, let’s look at the most common suggestions found online. These get shared like candy and, as you’ll see, are mostly wives’ tales that can be harmful to the environment and waste money.
Keep in mind that a weed is not really gone unless the roots have been entirely removed.
These are NOT recommended:
1 Pour boiling water on the weeds.
- Result: Boiling water only kills the foliage (leaves), not the roots.
2 Pour vinegar on the weeds.
- There are various strengths of vinegar. Our common household vinegar is 5% acid, pickling vinegar is 7%, and industrial, sometimes also called Horticultural vinegar is 20%.
- The two lower concentrations may kill leaves, not roots.
- The industrial strength is a horrifically dangerous acid and completely inappropriate for any home applications.
- Sorry vinegar, you’re not for the garden.
3 Pour table salt (sodium chloride) on the weeds.
- Yes, salt can kill anything it comes into contact with in the garden, but it also negatively affects the soil and water and never dissipates. In other words, it’s a bad choice.
- Stop what you’re doing and go delete everything you have repinned on Pinterest that suggests using salt in the garden!
4 Pour Epsom salts (Magnesium chloride) onto the weeds.
- Different salt, same problem. It is irresponsible to use Epsom salts in your garden unless there is a specific, proven magnesium deficiency in the soil and you are amending it to repair the problem.
- Otherwise, the Epsom salts get in the soil and water and stay for eternity, creating a harmful imbalance.
- Skip the salts.
5 Pour neem oil on the weeds.
- I could not believe it when I saw this one. Perhaps conspiracy theories are the answer: those with something to gain by promoting a product make up these ridiculous ideas to get people buying them.
- No, neem oil is not going to kill weeds. Like any oily substance, it may suffocate or smother insects and microbes that come in contact with it, but other than that, the weeds will carry on and you don’t need oil in your soil or water.
- Oils of any kind are not appropriate for weeds.
6 Pour baking soda and/or vinegar on the weeds.
- We’ve already established that vinegar will not kill the roots of plants, unless it’s industrial strength, which is totally inappropriate for home applications, and baking soda is not going to change this.
- On its own, a diluted solution of baking soda in water does have a valuable use in the garden if used sparingly and cautiously for hastening the spread of powdery mildew on plants. But alas, it does not kill weeds so forgetaboutit.
7 Pour milk on the weeds.
- Sorry, no, not a weed killer!
- However, a mixture of milk (1-part) and water (2-parts) can be effective in combatting blackspot, and mildly effective for powdery mildew.
8 Spray dish soap on the weeds.
- Dish soap is a surfactant. It breaks down oils and waxes on surfaces and, because of these properties, will kill insects on contact but is not an appropriate weed killer.
- If you read the ingredients in many dish soaps, you can see that these are not substances that should be introduced to our soil or water.
- I use a few drops of dish soap diluted in water to kill bugs like Japanese beetles (by dropping them into it). Even in small amounts, you don’t want this stuff poured on soil.
This is more effective than anything else listed here because it actually kills plants at the roots, but, as you can probably guess, is still not appropriate for home garden use.
Here’s a few notes from what I have read. I wanted to look beyond the politics and see what the research says.
- The active ingredient in Roundup is the same ingredient in many weed killers available on the market today: glyphosate.
- This is a non-selective (broad spectrum) systemic herbicide which means, unlike the other substances mentioned here, does actually kill plant roots, not just the foliage. If you want to read more, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyphosate.
- If you read the label on any product containing glyphosate, you will see that is (like many other garden products) indeed a toxic substance.
- Given the risks and possible repercussions of using glyphosate, either due to improper handling or application, for situations like weeds in a brick driveway, it really has no place in the home garden.
- If there was a horrific invasion of something like poison ivy or other invasive that is going to take over and choke out natural habitat, that may be a suitable application.
- Again, we’re talking weeds on a driveway, not some other much greater problem with dire financial or health implications where the benefits would outweigh the risks.
- The goal is always to leave nature the same or better than we found it, so, beyond the politics, no roundup.
So, what the heck can we do to get these weeds out of the driveway?
The answer is hand picking.
Good, old-fashioned hard work.
Here are my best tips (with a bit of revenge thrown in for good measure)
- Weeds in damp soil pull out easier than those in dry soil. If it hasn’t recently rained, pour water onto your work area, and let it soak in before you get started.
- Wear tight-fitting gloves with good grip.
I know some people hate wearing garden gloves. Personally, I can’t stand the feeling of dirt pressing under my finger nails and I like the added strength a good glove provides for pinching weeds at the ground level and pulling them out, roots and all.
- Use the right tools.
Our driveway and walkway have narrow cracks and wider ones.
I use my Fiskars billhook for the wider ones. I use the billhook for all of my regular garden weeding as well.
Most weeds in the narrow cracks come out by hand. Otherwise a serrated kitchen knife does the trick.
If you want to invest in this for the future, there are also various tools sold as ‘crack weeders’ or Dutch / hand hoes, that can reach in the narrow gaps and pull the roots out (if you’re lucky).
- Keep entertained.
A job like this cannot be rushed. I load up my phone with favorite podcasts and wear earbuds while I work. You might prefer a playlist of favorite songs.
- Wear knee pads.
I have really sensitive knees and use knee pads all the time in the garden. It sure beats the feeling of kneeling on a stone. Yow! And, for a job that may take a few hours, you might as well be as comfortable as possible.
- Be patient.
Again, you can’t rush this job. Every weed that breaks off from the stem and does not get its roots uplifted will be another weed that greets you again next week. Work slowly and methodically. And bribe other meticulous workers to help you.
- Curse the guy who invented brick driveways.
When our driveway is at weed maximus, a thoroughly weeding takes 3-4 hours. At least one hour of this time is spent thinking up ways to permanently seal the cracks so that I never have to do this again.
If I’m smart, I then take 10 minutes per week to maintain the weedlessness. But, much like a clean house, it does seem to sneak away and stir up trouble when one is busy living life.
Preventing the Problem
The cracks either need to be sealed or filled with a polymeric jointing sand, which will slow the growth of new weeds.
- There are no shortcuts for weeding a driveway.
- To remove the weeds by hand, be sure the soil is damp, use the right tools, get comfortable knee pads and good tunes to listen to, be patient so you get the roots out, take breaks to place curses on the inventor of the brick driveway.
- Future problems could be slowed or prevented by sealing the cracks or filling them with polymeric jointing sand.
- And note to self, never buy another home with a brick driveway.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛