How I Eliminated Goutweed in My Front Garden

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After years of battling Goutweed in our front garden, I decided to take drastic measures to get rid of it once and for all. The organic tactic I decided to use?



I smothered it! Here's the method I used:

• Clear the area removing all the perennials and any small shrubs. Trees obviously have to remain as do large shrubs. 

Aggressive plants will sometimes shoot their roots right through those of other perennials. It's therefore necessary to lift each plant, wash the roots and inspect the root ball carefully. The root ball may need to be divided into smaller pieces to eliminate problems. 

Once the lifted perennials are completely cleared of invadersyou can replant them in another spot. Just be extremely careful with this step. The last thing you want to do is transfer an invasive plant to another area of the garden.
• Once the flowerbed is completely cleared and the perennials you want to keep have been set aside, go back and remove all the invasive plant roots you can find. Again, do this very carefully. Often any remaining root segments have the potential to produce new plants. It's best to dig back over an area two or three times to insure you have removed as many of the invasive roots as possible.

• To make it difficult for any missed root segments to regrow, you want to create a light barrier. 
• Once the flowerbed is completely cleared and the perennials you want to keep have been set aside, go back and remove all the invasive plant roots you can find. Again, do this very carefully. Often any remaining root segments have the potential to produce new plants. It's best to dig back over an area two or three times to insure you have removed as many of the invasive roots as possible.

• To make it difficult for any missed root segments to regrow, you want to create a light barrier. 
• To make a light barrier I decided to use brown paper compost bags and cut them up. Why compost bags? They are biodegradable and have less printer's ink than newsprint. A compost bag when cut open also creates a big, solid piece of paper. That large piece of paper covers so much more ground than a open spread of newsprint would.

You could use cardboard– it would work just fine, but you'll have to remove any tape or staples that hold the box together. These materials wouldn't break down and staples could pose a risk later on.
• With your scissors, cut along the outside corner of the brown paper bag all the way to the bottom. When you get to the bottom, turn the scissors and follow the bottom of the bag all the way around until you've cut off the whole bottom section of the bag.
With the bottom cut away, you should now be able to open the compost bag into one big rectangle of heavy brown paper. Don't throw away the bottom of the bag! As you will see in a minute, it has a use.

• Try to chose a windless day to avoid frustration with this next step. The goal is to cover the entire area with a solid barrier that will deprive light to any remaining roots.
• Lay the open piece of brown paper on the ground. Use a small stone or a small pile of mulch in each corner to hold the paper in place while you work. I used a single layer of paper, but a double layer of brown paper would be even better.
• Overlap the pieces of brown paper by at least six inches. If you leave gaps, light can reach through the gaps.
Here is how I dealt with a small tree in the middle of my flowerbed. I cut the bottom section of the bag in half. Then I cut a U-shaped hole in the centre of each of the two pieces of brown paper. In the final step, I overlapped the two pieces together around the base of the tree.

Once I had the tree surrounded with paper, I went back to using larger sections of paper.
Once the paper is laid out on the ground, cover the whole area with natural cedar mulch. Don't be stingy! Make that layer of mulch at least 2-4 inches deep.

The mulch will do a number of things. Along with the paper, it helps to block light. The weight of the mulch will deter fresh sprouts. It will also help keep the paper a bit dryer. And finally, the mulch will make the area look presentable while the paper does its work.
Gardening in this area is now on hold for a month or even more. If sprouts do make it through the paper and mulch, dig them out. Create a new patch of brown paper to cover the hole. Add a fresh layer of mulch on top of the patch.

The limitations of this method:
Creating a light barrier may not work for every invasive plant or in every garden situation. 
Large shrubs can be surrounded with paper much like trees, but extra vigilance is needed as invasive plants can hide out at the base of a shrub.
If you deprive a plant of light in one area, it can travel to another. Should you decide to use my tactics, I would recommend you find a way to block the invasive plant in question from running into a new area of the garden. The easiest way to do this might be to dig a deep and wide trench around the problem space.
This method has worked pretty well for me and it is organic. I did have a few shoots make it up through the paper, but I removed them and patched the holes. After about a month and a half, I didn't have any new signs of the dreaded Goutweed.

My struggles are far from over. There is another patch of Goutweed in the backyard. Like housework, a gardener's work is never done!
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Frequently asked questions

Have a question about this project?

3 of 15 questions
  • Antinia Shirley Antinia Shirley on Sep 01, 2019

    Does mulch create a nesting place for stink bugs? We live in the Michigan countryside and stink bugs are already a huge problem!

  • Dee green Dee green on Aug 26, 2020

    Is the month and a half long enough time for the bags to decompose and you can plant again?

  • Maxine Maxine on Aug 17, 2021

    I recently read that placing clear plastic over a weed area would kill

    all the roots?! I have never tried this but plan to. If you want to

    enlarge a garden space roofing shingle placed around the

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  • Lorraine Lorraine on Aug 17, 2021

    will try this thanks

  • Kathy Hord Kathy Hord on Aug 17, 2021

    I bought a roll of black plastic at HomeDepot to put on my beds. I dug out Hostas and other plants to save first. I put the hostas in pots so I didn’t transfer any Gout weed at all. Any tiny piece of the root will grow again. I left the plastic on over winter into the spring. I’m very happy with the results. I’ve had to clean out the potted hostas a few times to get rid of all the tiny goutweed roots..then I was able to replant them in the ground.. you just have to keep trying. Don’t let it get to you.

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