Pulling Weeds vs Spraying

Two of the most popular weeding methods are pulling weeds, and spraying weeds with herbicides.

Pulling weeds is easy to get started with. But it’s not effective for all types of weeds, and it can sometimes make things worse if you’re not careful. Whereas spraying with the right type of herbicide kills most weeds. But the herbicide can also damage desirable plants.

So in this article, we take a look at pulling weeds vs spraying. I’ll show you how and when to use each method. And I’ll give you tips to use them both successfully.

Let’s dive in.

Pulling Weeds

When done correctly, pulling weeds can be very effective. One of the benefits of weed pulling is that you remove the roots at the same time as the rest of the plant. This is important for getting rid of perennial weeds.

Perennial weeds grow back from the same root system each year. The roots can be deep and extensive and sometimes include rhizomes, stolons, and tubers. If you leave pieces of the root system in the soil, perennial weeds can grow back (1).

Pulling perennial weeds enables you to remove all of the roots and prevent the weed from regrowing. But it doesn’t work for all perennial weeds. Some well-established plants can be impossible to completely remove by pulling, even if you use a tool to help. And this leads to frustration and wasted time.

Pulling small annual weeds out of the ground is often easy. Annual weeds grow from seed each year. So young annual weeds have shallow root systems. But for larger annual weeds it can be more challenging. And you may need a tool to help you.

One of the drawbacks of pulling weeds by hand is that it takes a lot of effort. And manual weeding might not be practical if you’re trying to remove weeds from a large area because of the time it takes.

Pulling weeds can also bring weed seeds to the surface, where they can germinate and grow into mature plants. Giving you more weeding to do in the future.

To pull weeds out of the ground successfully, use the following tips:

  • Wait until the soil is wet. This can be the day after rainfall, or you can water the ground yourself.
  • Grab the weed at the base of the plant and then pull up in a slow and steady motion.
  • Don’t grab the weed halfway up or pull at an angle because the stem will break, leaving the roots in the ground.
  • Use a pair of gardening gloves with reinforced fingers and palms to protect your hands.

pulling weed by the base

Tools To Help You Pull Weeds

Pulling weeds is easier if you use a tool to help you:

Using a garden shovel, you can dig around and under the roots, loosening them from the ground. A shovel can also help you dig out any leftover root pieces after weed removal.

Use a corkscrew weeder to remove weeds with taproots. This is ideal for pulling dandelions from your lawn while standing up. Screw the corkscrew weeder into the ground around the weed, and then it’s easy to lift the plant out of the ground in one go.

To help you remove weeds with shallow roots, you can use a claw rake to loosen the soil around the weed and scrape out any leftovers.

An angled hoe can help you remove weeds from small spaces between plants. You can use this kneeling weeding tool to dig around shallow roots, making it easier to lift the weed out of the ground.

Pulling weed using a tool

Spraying Weeds

Spraying weeds with herbicide is a quick and easy way to kill weeds. The process is simple:

  • You mix the herbicide with water in a suitable sprayer for weed killer.
  • Or attach the bottle to a hose-end sprayer.
  • And then spray the weed-infested area evenly or spot treat individual plants.

To kill weeds already growing, use a post-emergent herbicide. And to prevent weed seeds from developing into mature plants, use a pre-emergent herbicide.

Post-emergent herbicides come in 2 types, systemic herbicides, and contact herbicides.

Systemic Herbicides

Systemic herbicides enter the weed through the leaves. Once inside the plant, they are translocated to the roots. As they travel through the circulatory system, they kill all parts of the weed.

Spraying weeds with a systemic herbicide is a great way to kill stubborn perennial weeds with deep and extensive root systems that are otherwise difficult to remove completely. Killing the roots prevents the weeds from regrowing. Once the weed is dead, you can pull or dig it out of the ground. Or allow the dead weed to decompose.

But spraying weeds with a systemic herbicide won’t give you fast results. You often have to wait two weeks or more for the plant to die. And occasionally, some weeds require a second application.

Contact Herbicides

Contact herbicides start working as soon as you spray them and affect the parts of the weed they contact. This is good for killing small annual weeds.

But because contact herbicides don’t kill the roots, perennial weeds will usually grow back, and repeated treatments may be necessary to kill the plant. For large, well-established perennial weeds, systemic herbicide is a better choice.


Chemical herbicides are good for treating weeds growing in large areas. But not everyone likes using chemicals in their yard. A natural alternative is using an organic weed killer such as vinegar.

High-strength horticultural vinegar of between 15-30% burns weeds on contact, killing the plant above ground. But vinegar is most useful for killing small, young weeds, and you’ll often need more than one application as the plants mature.

Take Care When Using Herbicide

You have to be careful when spraying herbicides near your lawn or desirable plants. Non-selective herbicides such as Roundup will kill anything you spray them on. Selective herbicides kill broadleaf weeds and specific types of grasses and leave many common turfgrasses unharmed.

But selective herbicides might still kill your flowers. So when spraying in garden beds, it’s a good idea to use a piece of cardboard to shield the plants as you work.

Spraying weeds in mulch with weed killer

Pulling Weeds vs Spraying

Pulling weeds is one of the simplest and most effective ways to get rid of small annual weeds. But it’s harder to pull mature weeds with deep and extensive root systems. Spraying a systemic herbicide is sometimes the most effective way of killing well-established weeds as it kills the roots and prevents them from growing back.


Does pulling weeds cause more weeds?

As long as you remove the roots, pulling weeds is an effective way of clearing weeds. But sometimes, pulling helps bring weed seeds to the soil surface where they germinate and develop into plants.

Do you still have to pull weeds after spraying?

You don’t have to pull weeds after spraying. You can leave the dead weeds to decompose if you want, adding nutrients and organic matter back into the soil.

Where do you put weeds after pulling?

With noxious weeds, it’s safer to place them carefully in a garbage bag (2) and then dispose of them in the trash. You can often add young annual weeds that have yet to produce seed to your compost pile.


  1. Getting Rid Of Weeds Without Herbicides – https://stonepierpress.org/gardeningnews/gettingridofweeds
  2. What Do I Do With All Those Weeds I Pulled? – https://kingcountyweeds.com/2016/10/17/what-do-i-do-with-all-those-weeds-i-pulled/

1 thought on “Pulling Weeds vs Spraying”

  1. Thank you so much for this information, it has been incredibly helpful as I’ve always been too scared of herbicides to use them so this page has been very informative.
    However, I still have one last question. We have extensive grass and other weeds growing in cobbles. We know that if we spray we will still need to pull out the decaying weeds as they will look terrible, but will it be easier or harder to pull them out once we’ve sprayed? My husband thinks we should weed the large clumps first and then spray. I believe we should spray everything now and that pulling out will then be easier. What are everyone’s thoughts?! Thank you so much!


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