If you walk down the weed killer aisle at your local hardware store, you’re bound to find a king’s ransom in chemical herbicides. Many of these highly-toxic chemical brews are advertised as being “non-toxic to humans,” but that doesn’t stop their disclaimers from reading “keep out of reach of children.” And sure, this roundtable of Roundups will work perfectly at getting rid of your weeds, but are any of those toxins something you want to spray all over your backyard?
Luckily, there is a better way to get rid of weeds, naturally. There are many better ways, actually. These organic weed prevention methods take a bit more persistence and preparation, but they are far more environmentally-friendly. You’ll also feel safer knowing that you are no longer risking the negative health effects of chemical pesticides.
Why are some commercial weed killers bad?
Well, it’s probably best to start by talking about the toxic elephant in the room. Most readers have heard of Roundup, the broad-spectrum systemic herbicide, that is designed to kill just about any plant it comes in contact with. It is the most widely used weed killer in the world and the most recognizable name in that industry.
Glyphosate is the active herbicidal ingredient in Roundup and many genetically modified food crops have been scientifically designed to be resistant to the stuff. This means that farmers can spray this chemical heedlessly on their crops without fear of killing off any of their prized corn. This also means that the food these crops eventually become is covered in the weed killer.
Several studies and a recent lawsuit against Monsanto, the company that makes Roundup, held that glyphosate and other chemicals found in the stuff have been linked to the development of diseases such as Parkinson’s, infertility, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Needless to say, it isn’t exactly the kind of thing you want to be sprayed in your back garden. Luckily, there are other, less-toxic options out there.
Can mulching get rid of weeds?
Many homeowners cover their flower beds in a layer of mulch in order to make them look more aesthetically pleasing. But did you know that mulch can help to inhibit weed growth? Many different organic materials can be used as mulch, too. You can use compost or bark, wood chips or straw, you can even use newspaper or cardboard. Just about anything that can break down organically will work, but not hay, which can have a lot of unwanted seeds.
Couldn’t I just dig the weeds out by hand?
You could manually remove your weeds from your garden with a shovel, hoe, or even your own hands, but why would you? Anyone who has ever been forced to weed by hand as a child will tell you what a Sisyphean task it truly is. It’s time-consuming, messy, and hard on your back and knees. There’s no arguing about its effectiveness, though, as pulling weeds up by the roots will keep them at bay for a longer time than simply weed whacking them off at the head.
Can I plant other things to squeeze the roots out?
Weeds will not and cannot take hold if there’s no space for them to do so. A good way to keep weeds out is to overstuff beds with dense ground covers and perennial plants in ornamental beds. Heavy root systems will inhibit weeds from being able to worm their way in and the shade will prevent them from getting sun.
Can I use the sun to get rid of weeds?
One of the most interesting methods for getting rid of weeds involves something called solarizing. Solarizing is basically covering an area of weeds with a heavy plastic sheet in full sun, and basically baking the weeds out over the course of 4 to 6 weeks. Once the weeds beneath are brown and desiccated, the job is done. Unfortunately, this method does not work for weeds popping up in grass or flower beds, just in unused corners of the yard.
Are there any household products that get rid of weeds?
There are several household products that are effective at getting rid of weeds. Soap, vinegar, vodka, and even boiling water can all be used to great effect. Mix one ounce of vodka, 2 cups of water, and a couple of drops of dish soap to create a potion that will dry out and kill weeds in sunlit areas of your yard. The vodka will dry out other plants too, though, so spray carefully.
Mixing regular 5 percent household vinegar with salt and dish soap is also an effective way to make weed killer at home. Simply mix 1 gallon of white vinegar with 1 cup of table salt and 1 tablespoon of liquid dish detergent, then pour the mixture into a plastic spray bottle and get to work. The vinegar on its own will work too, but the mix is more potent.
As you’ve seen, dish soap can be a good non-toxic additive to help rid your yard of weeds. The oil in soap naturally breaks down the waxy surface on the leaves of weeds, leaving the balding plants no protection from the sun or heat. And heat from boiling water poured on the leaves will finish them off to the roots as well.