By Denise Magnell
Like many renters with access to a yard, I’m attempting to limit the use of pesticides and chemicals I spray around my apartment while gardening or doing yard work. Using a homemade weed killer helps me keep to that plan. I’ve tried a number of non-toxic solutions, and some are more effective than others.
Know the Grow Season
Do-it-yourselfers need to get in tune with the growing season–know the growth stages of weeds and crabgrass and acquaint themselves with the bugs that populate their yards. For instance, if you’re intent on getting rid of every last dandelion that invades your green space, do it when they’re in full bloom. Waiting until those sunny yellow petals turn into a puff ball means the seeds are going to blow right off into your grass where they will happily populate your yard next year, and very likely in greater numbers.
Will Boiling Water Do the Trick?
Pouring boiling water on weeds will kill them, but as with the introduction of any traumatic substance on plant life, it can also harm grass. While it has some momentary effect and will kill the weeds at hand, the roots will sprout once again, sometimes in the same season. But the real problem is trying to get a container of boiling water to the plants before it cools–or risk scalding yourself.
What About Vinegar as a Weed Killer?
By far, the most popular organic herbicide is plain old vinegar, also known as acetic acid. Buy the cheapest gallon you can find at the local supermarket and spray away. Again, be careful only to use it along walls, curbs or any place where it won’t be in contact with other greenery, which it will kill. Using vinegar as weed killer should never be done on lawns or flower beds.
I’ve used vinegar liberally and found it’s quite effective, although weeds may sprout again next season. It doesn’t kill the roots or work on larger, hardier weeds–but it also doesn’t create toxic runoff like manufactured chemicals. Avoid eye contact and wear protective eye gear if you think there’s a chance of the vinegar spraying back at you as you work.
Other Homemade Weed Killers
Other non-toxic herbicides include organic soaps and plant oil blends that you may find at local nurseries and garden centers. Read labels carefully to make sure the contents are truly non-toxic and use them as directed. Even non-toxic cures can be quite potent and may do more damage than good if used incorrectly.
Denise Magnell, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, is a career journalist who has written about business, legal news, health issues and lifestyle topics that include food trends and home design.