Chemicals: using spot and broad-scale weedkillers

Many weeds are easy enough to dig out, but you can choose to use weedkillers if you think you really need to. Here we explain the choices for treating a few weeds and larger weedy areas, so you can buy and use the minimum of product needed. 

Using a spot treatment for weeds. Credit:RHSAdvice.
Using a spot treatment for weeds. Credit:RHSAdvice.

Quick facts

Suitable for All garden weeds
Timing When weeds are present
Difficulty Easy

Suitable for...

Weeds are often classed as plants in the wrong place. They can be garden plants and native plants. However, do be aware that native plants often provide the best food and habitats for wildlife, so you might want to retain some to support biodiversity.

The RHS believes that avoiding pests, diseases and weeds by good practice in cultivation methods,

cultivar selection, garden hygiene and encouraging or introducing natural enemies, should be the first line of control. If chemical controls are used, they should be used in a minimal and highly targeted manner.

Spot treatments

For treating a few, individual weeds.
  • ​You can often effectively remove these without chemicals
  • Patio weeds are quick and easy to control with a ready-to-use spray gun
  • Weeds in borders can often be treated individually (with caution and accuracy) using a ready-to-use spray gun or liquid concentrate 

Broad-scale weed treatment

For areas that have become covered with weeds.
  • Although more time consuming, you can effectively remove these without chemicals
  • In an unplanted area, or where all plants are to be killed off, the most efficient and cost-effective method for treating larger areas of weeds is usually with a concentrate made up in a sprayer

When to apply weedkillers

Follow the advice given on the packet. Many weeds respond best to treatment when they are in full growth, and always apply on a calm day to prevent the spray drifting on to plants you want to keep.


How to apply weedkillers

The method of application depends very much on the individual product formulation. Here are some general guidelines:

Spot treatment

  • Ready-to-use spray guns: Spray guns are an easy and quick way to spot-treat patio weeds. It is possible to use the narrow, jet setting on the spray gun to spot-treat weeds in garden borders. However, by twisting the nozzle, it usually allows you to adjust the spray type or the spray width to your requirements. Some designs now come with an in-built pump action 
  • Liquid concentrates and soluble sachets: These can be diluted and applied with a hand-held spray gun, available from most garden centres and DIY stores. Mark the spray gun for ‘weedkillers only’ and only make up as much as is needed. Rinse out the gun thoroughly at the end of the day. Do not store diluted product

Broad-scale weed treatment

  • Where garden plants do not require protection (e.g. on an unplanted area), the most efficient and cost-effective method for treating larger areas of weeds is usually with a concentrate
  • Dilute to the rate recommend on the label and apply either in a watering can or a sprayer. These should be kept specifically for the purpose of applying weedkillers and marked clearly to prevent accidental damage to plants or the environment

The RHS does not encourage the use of weedkillers and recommends that wherever possible alternative control methods are used. However, when invasive plants are a threat to biodiversity and gardeners struggle to control them with cultural methods, targeted use of herbicides may be an option. Garden centres and large retailers selling weedkillers have trained staff who can advise on suitable products for your needs.

Health and Safety Executive: home garden chemicals

Safety precautions

Always follow the dosing, application and health-and-safety instructions given on the label of the product concerned.

Although it is not a legal requirement to wear protective clothing when handling and using amateur/home pesticides, the RHS recommends wearing gloves, Wellington boots and old clothes/overalls as a sensible precaution.


Problems may arise when the instructions on the product are not followed and you may get weedkiller damage on desirable plants. Always read the label first for the best advice to help you get the most effective control.

For further information, please read Chemicals: using safely and effectively.


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