Ask a Question forum→How to get rid of weeds without killing the flowers in my flower boxes?

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New York, NY
tjv2102
May 7, 2018 12:06 PM CST
Every year I plant a ton of coleus, petunias and geraniums (a few hundred in total, that arrive already "grown" at about 6-8 inches tall) in plastic flower boxes on my terrace at my apartment in New York City, and every year I spend a ton of time pulling weeds!

This year I was hoping to avoid all that weeding by doing something like using weed killer spray on the soil in the boxes before planting my flowers (which arrive this Friday), but obviously I don't want to use anything that will harm my flowers. I know nothing about weed killers and how they work, but I just imagined if they were strong enough to kill weeds, then the chemicals might linger in the soil and end up killing my flowers when I plant those too.

What do people recommend that might work? In spite of my yearly collection of flowers, I'm quite a novice when it comes to knowing much about flowers at all! In fact, I even had to double check my list to remember the names of what I order each year! I usually just say "the red and the white flowers" (geraniums) and "the white and purple flowers" (petunias.) The coleus I've at least learned to reference by name!

Much appreciated for everyone's help!


[Last edited by tjv2102 - May 7, 2018 3:20 PM (+)]
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UK
Starfishmomma
May 7, 2018 2:13 PM CST
Hi - there's a type of weed suppressing fabric with round in for planting, unless you like to see the soil between the plants. Could you remove the surface soil and replace it with new compost then later in the year cover it to prevent seeds settling in your boxes for next year? More complicated would be to remove the surface soil and sterilise it in your oven. Of course, the simplest method would be to use weedkiller, check on the packet what sort of effect it will have on other plants. Or, put more plants in so that there won't be space for weeds!
[Last edited by Starfishmomma - May 7, 2018 2:19 PM (+)]
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Name: Sharon Rose
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Altheabyanothername
May 7, 2018 3:13 PM CST
tjv2102 Welcome!

If I understand correctly the boxes have weeds now and you want an easy fix to get rid of weeds before putting the flowers in. I would pour boiling water over the weeds.
If you have an outlet on your terrace and an electric teapot. Voila!
Bring out some pitchers of water for the teapot. Repeat if necessary. Once the flowers are in you can use Preen with or without fertilizer. I would cover the planters next winter with black plastic or lawn fabric to keep the weeds away.

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New York, NY
tjv2102
May 7, 2018 3:17 PM CST
EDIT: I just saw the second response from Altheabyanothername about using boiling water - I didn't know how to respond to that mention as well, so I decided I'd edit my original follow up message about that.

The boiling water idea sounds fantastic! I will definitely do that! I have a quick kettle boiler (I drink a lot of tea!) so that will work out perfect! Thank you so much, and I'll be sure to let everyone know how it turns out!

Thanks again!


- Tom




(original follow up comment)


Thanks for your response and your advice!

The first couple options of cooking soil in the oven and whatnot, admittedly, sound like a lot of work and kind of complicated (and beyond my abilities!)

I'm not against using weed killer whatsoever, in fact, I'd prefer to use some kind of spray on the soil, before planting the flowers later this week. (I should also add that the flowers I buy are...already grown, for lack of better terms? I get them when they are about 6 to 8 inches tall, so I'm not planting seeds or anything of that sort.)

My concern was, would using a weed killer on the soil ahead of time before planting the flowers, end up killing the flowers too? I know nothing about how that works. From my total novice standpoint, I just imagined that those power weed killers would kill everything and anything it comes in contact with, and would affect the soil which would in turn end up killing the flowers.

Thanks again!

[Last edited by tjv2102 - May 7, 2018 3:24 PM (+)]
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Missouri (Zone 6a)
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Frillylily
May 7, 2018 3:27 PM CST
Round up only kills the weeds you spray it directly on ( or accidentally overspray) it must have contact with foliage to work. It does not stay in the soil to kill things you plant later. If you spray now with the weed killer and then plant in a few days that should work fine. There is some round up products-brand or generic that DO keep on killing weeds/plants for months after spraying, use this for driveways, cracks in sidewalks ect. Just read the label carefully before you buy to make sure you get the right thing. I agree that next year, you can cover w black plastic, just put the planters in trash bags, so the weeds don't grow. Then plant your flowers and maybe sprinkle a little preen over them to prevent weeds at that point. Preen prevents weed seeds from germinating. It does not kill existing weeds and it will not harm your plants. You can buy both of these products at big box stores, hardware stores or do it yourself home stores like Lowes or Home Depot. If you have kids or pets be sure to have a plan in place for storage of any of these kind of items.
New York, NY
tjv2102
May 7, 2018 3:39 PM CST
That's great to know that Roundup works that way - I had no idea, and I'll be sure to check and make sure the kind I get isn't a type that continues to kill for months following.

That's also great to hear about Preen - I'll be sure to pick up some of that too.

I'm excited at the prospect of not having to pull weeds (or at the very least, considerably fewer) this year. I have about 120 flower boxes in total so it definitely adds up all the time it takes to de-weed, and of course it takes away from the overall look of the flowers!

Thank you Frillylily!

Name: Carol
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ctcarol
May 7, 2018 8:56 PM CST
Make sure you read and follow directions carefully. Don't ask employees at the store, as most don't have a clue what they are selling.
Name: Big Bill
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BigBill
May 8, 2018 4:37 AM CST
All of these weed controlling methods are just temporary cures. Weeds will come back. It is just a fact of life when it comes to gardening. It doesn't matter if you have a half acre garden or window boxes in the big 🍎.
If you keep the soil cultivated it is easier to pull the weeds by hand. Getting all the roots will help, if you leave a little behind, it will resprout. Pulling weeds is just a necessary chore. It's easy, cheap and safe!!!
So many seeds from weeds are airborne and move great distances.
AND pulling the weeds is therapeutic too. You get to till the soil and bit, inspect the health of your flowers while relaxing. How can you beat it?!?!?!
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[Last edited by BigBill - May 8, 2018 4:38 AM (+)]
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Name: Carol
Santa Ana, ca
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ctcarol
May 8, 2018 7:44 PM CST
I agree with Bill! Wind and birds will bring new seeds, and some seeds can remain in the soil for many years. Chemical control is hazardous in the hands of the untrained, and sales people are sales people, not qualified in the use of all they sell. I would go with the boiling water to start. After that, just hand pull whenever you water.
Name: Kyle
Middle TN (Zone 7a)
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quercusnut
May 8, 2018 8:18 PM CST
Wouldn't Preen keep any new seeds from sprouting if used at suggested intervals according to manufacturer's directions? Would there be damage to the soil if used over a long period of time?
Name: Carol
Santa Ana, ca
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ctcarol
May 8, 2018 8:23 PM CST
Preen is a safe solution, but it makes a barrier and can't be disturbed after applied to work.
Missouri (Zone 6a)
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Frillylily
May 8, 2018 8:32 PM CST
Preen does not damage the soil, I have used it in the same spot for years.
Name: Deb
Planet Earth (Zone 8b)
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Bonehead
May 8, 2018 8:36 PM CST
Here's a non-toxic idea: Since you garden in containers, plant up your flowers, then lay down a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard, then cover that with a fine mulch. The paper/cardboard will suppress weeds, and the mulch will look nice until it is hidden by your flowers.
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GA (Zone 7b)
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Danita
May 9, 2018 2:44 PM CST
Someone suggested boiling water but I would be afraid that pouring boiling water on them might melt and warp your plastic flower boxes. Just something to consider. Smiling
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[Last edited by Danita - May 9, 2018 5:22 PM (+)]
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Name: Deb
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Bonehead
May 9, 2018 5:04 PM CST
I've used boiling water for the plants that grow in the sidewalk cracks with moderate success. Sometimes I have to repeat a couple times to really get them, and it is not an 'instant' solution (they wilt, then eventually die). I would worry a pouring boiling water so close to your neighboring flowers, although I suppose you could be cautious to only hit the weeds.
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purpleinopp
May 10, 2018 7:46 AM CST
Hi & welcome! I hope my question does not sound snarky because I do not intend that at all, just genuinely so curious. How much time are or were you spending pulling weeds? If you able to add a pic of them, having a name could lead to more info about how to prevent them. And wondering if some of the plants might be seedlings from your flowering plants.

Regardless of weeds, your flower boxes sound so pretty. It would also be fun to see a picture of them when you have arranged them like-you-like-it.
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armyvet2013
May 10, 2018 10:07 AM CST
Do not use Roundup. That's literally the worst thing you could do. Just pull the weeds by hand or pay someone else to do it, like a couple of neighborhood kids.

The chemicals in Roundup have been linked to depression, cancer, infertility, and other health issues. (and that's just in humans)

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Lauram847
May 12, 2018 6:44 PM CST
When determining the type of chemical herbicide to use, you need to consider a couple of things. First, herbicides are generally selective or non-selective. A selective herbicide will kill only the specific weed it is intended to prevent/eradicate. A non-selective herbicide such as glyphosate known by the brand name of Round Up will kill anything that it comes into contact with. You also need to be mindful of herbicide drift. Drift results when you spray an herbicide and the residual mist is picked up by the wind subsequently depositing it on another plant. As I understand, Round Up now has a product that may be used in areas such as turf to kill weeds but not the grass. A chemical herbicide also has an undesirable effect on beneficial insects and pollinators since some products that work systemically (the plant takes the chemical up internally) are poisonous to the 'good' insects.

What I would do, if you choose to go chemical, is to identify the weeds that you have and buy a product specifically designed to eradicate them. That way you won't spend money for something you don't need and you lessen the chance of harming beneficial insects and pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Of course going the non-chemical way is a choice. A lot depends on your tolerance for weeds. Weeding can be a lot of labor, sometimes I find it therapeutic but I'm a little strange that way. Some weeds however are so aggressive that you have to fight back. Weed blocking fabric may work as well as covering your boxes for the months they are not in use. Have you considered mulching you boxes? Mulch will help to keep weed seeds from germinating as well as helping to insulate the soil from heat and moisture lose. There are many options to consider. Maybe try a few methods in a couple different boxes and choose the one that works best.
Name: Kyle
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quercusnut
May 12, 2018 7:12 PM CST
I've been using glyphosate for over 30 yrs. My garden, beneficial critters and I are just fine. If you give enough of anything to a lab rat it will probably give them cancer and infertility. And I suffered worse depression in my younger days before I ever heard of Roundup. YMMV.
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KateRussell
May 13, 2018 8:17 AM CST
While weeding is certainly an ongoing garden task, you can add a layer of redwood chips over all of the unplanted area to reduce weed growth. The redwood chips also stabilize soil temperatures and help retain moisture.

The weeds that grow through the chips will tend to be be less well attached to the soil and spindlier, making them easier to remove. Large pieces of bark, stones, and broken pottery can be used in the same way.

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