How to Get Rid of Overgrown Weeds in Rock Beds

Debra L Turner
Bully weeds in rock beds with vinegar.

You probably added a rock bed to your yard to enhance the beauty of the landscape while also looking forward to watering less if at all and spending fewer hours maintaining it compared to a traditional garden. Suddenly, however, you’re confronted with the formerly pristine area teeming with overgrown weeds -- surely they weren’t there yesterday. The rock bed no longer appears to be as maintenance-free as you had hoped. Getting rid of weeds requires effort, but you have more help than you may realize in your kitchen. Make a quick and easy, environmentally friendly weed killer that won’t harm your kids or pets.

Step 1

Hand-pull weeds as soon as you see them to keep them from maturing and producing more weed seeds. The younger they are, the easier they are to get rid of. The best time to hand-pull weeds is right after rain softens the soil. Rake the rocks away from the weed with your fingers. This will make it easier to remove them. Use a hand trowel to dig out as much of the underground rhizomes of stubborn weeds such as dandelions and wild violets. Dispose of pulled weeds in the trash right away -- if you just toss them onto the compost heap they’re likely to take root.

Step 2

Pour 2 tablespoons of Castile liquid soap into a 1-quart bottle of white vinegar. Cap the bottle tightly, and upend it several times to mix the solution well. The soap acts as a surfactant, which makes the weed killer adhere to weeds instead of running off. Castile soaps are all natural, plant-based, environmentally safe soap -- not detergent, which doesn’t have surfactant properties. Since it can be tough for the average person to understand the complex differences between soap and detergent, using Castile takes the guesswork out of the equation.

Step 3

Funnel the weed killer into a plastic spray bottle. Set the sprayer aside. Label the bottle of leftover solution clearly with a permanent marker. Store it in a cool, dry spot out of direct sun indefinitely. Cut the bottom 2 or 3 inches off a plastic 2-liter bottle with sturdy scissors. Discard the bottom and the cap. The top portion of the plastic bottle makes a handy spray guard to protect desirable plants from the weed killer.

Step 4

Spread plastic garbage bags over your ornamentals in the rock bed and nearby areas to safeguard them from spray drift. Cover the weed with the spray guard with the spout pointing upward. Slip the sprayer tip into the opening and douse the weed generously. Soak all the weed’s surfaces to the point of runoff. Take the sprayer out of the spray bottle. Pour about 1/4 cup of the weed killer into the rocks at the base of the weed. The solution will seep between the rocks and work on the weed’s roots.

Step 5

Dab the vinegar solution onto the weed with a sponge or paintbrush if it is close to your ornamentals. Paint all the stems and foliage, and don’t forget the leaf undersides.

Step 6

Add the vinegar to a watering can to treat rock bed areas that are peppered with lots of weeds.

Step 7

Take the plastic bags off your ornamentals after the weed killer is completely dry.

Step 8

Check the treated area in 24 hours. If a weed still looks happy, douse it again. Bigger, more hearty weeds are tough customers that may need additional treatments. Repeat daily for several more days, or until the weed looks like it’s dying. Pull up dead weeds to keep the rock bed looking tidy.


The best time to treat weeds with vinegar solution is early in the morning. Pick a nice day with no breeze when temperatures aren’t expected to exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot weather vaporizes liquids, causing them to drift to other plants.


The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and wild violet (Viola sororia) are both hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture planting zones 3 through 9.


Even expensive commercial herbicides aren’t permanent rock bed weed solutions. Your family will be safer and your weeds will be just as dead if you go with the vinegar for weed control.


If you accidentally splash your plants with vinegar, flood them with plenty of water right away to wash the weed killer off.