Back on Weed Patrol in the Garden

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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It’s midsummer and, like always, weeds are in full force again… or not. As most of you know, for the last two years I have been going organic with insecticides, fungicides and especially with herbicides. Just recently, research has confirmed that the glyphosate in the popular weed killer Roundup is a carcinogen. I have done enough research and tried the various natural approaches to know what works and what doesn’t. More often than not, it is not cut and dry.

Last summer I tried using pure salt and the salt, vinegar and Dawn dish soap mixture. Salt literally sterilizes the soil so nothing will grow after a period of time. So, I bought the large bags of mixing salt at the local elevator and put it down beside the barn and other buildings where I knew I never wanted anything to grow again.

I put it down a couple of times during the season and by the end of the season the weeds that did come back were fewer in number and less hardy. The downside to using salt was that when rain caused it to liquefy, it leached into the lawn and I had a few brown streaks where the grass was killed. Being around the barn and other buildings, this did not bother me, as I wanted a wider berm where I could run my mower along the building and have a neat edge.

As far as the vinegar mixture, I needed to spray it on a weekly basis, so it was time consuming. However, even though it did not kill the roots, the multiple applications did weaken the plants so that by the end of the season they were not as hardy nor as vigilant. Had I continued that approach this year, I am sure that I would have seen a lot less growth. I was also using regular household vinegar with 5 percent acidity rather than the horticultural vinegar with 20 percent or higher acidity.

Another problem with the vinegar solution is getting the salt to fully dissolve. I even tried using hot water but, out of the two cups of salt, some crystals always remained and tended to clog my spray nozzle.

So, for this season I bought a flamer. I have done three applications with the flamer so far and am happy to report that the weed regrowth is sufficiently diminished. However, it does have its drawbacks too. If weeds get too large, mostly over six inches tall, it takes too much propane to burn them down because of the high water content. Also, I would not recommend its use around buildings or any dry material as the intense flame can cause things to catch fire. One of my shrubs had some dry underbrush and caught very quickly. Thus, it works great on smaller weeds and grasses that are around flower beds and rock piles.

Just because a product is natural, does not mean that it does not have safety issues. Vinegar can be a caustic agent with prolonged exposure. Last year I accidentally spilled some on my jeans while I was mixing the solution and did not go to change immediately. I ended up with a two-inch diameter blister on my leg. For this very reason, it is recommended to wear protective clothing and eyewear, especially if using the 20 percent vinegar.

Flamers can also be very dangerous. If you don’t pay close attention to where the nozzle is directed, it can cause severe burns. With mine, every time the trigger is released, the flame goes out as a safety measure so I move around with it undistinguished, which is probably not a good idea.

Photo by Getty Images/gabort71.

So, after trying these methods, I can say that there is no one best solution for weed control, but rather, the solution lies in a combination. In some places in the garden and around some flowers, the old fashioned method of pulling them out by hand is the best shot. Using some form of mulch to prevent sunlight from reaching the weed seeds so they cannot sprout is excellent. I especially like pea stone in my rock gardens because it outlasts mulch. In my flower beds, putting plants in close proximity will prevent weeds from crowding in.

As far as around my rock borders and walks, etc., the best method of control is a combination of what I have tried. Early next spring before crabgrass begins to emerge I will apply corn gluten meal which is a by-product of corn processing. It is a good pre-emergent which means that it prevents weed seeds from sprouting. It is nature’s answer to Preen. When some weeds do emerge it is time to use a post-emergent like EcoLogic to kill them off. Spraying once or twice per year and using a flamer to tidy up in between applications is the best method I have found to control weeds naturally.

It takes some ingenuity and some extra time to go the organic route when it comes to herbicides but the favorable payoff more than makes up for the disadvantages. Remember a couple generations ago when you could eat fruit and vegetables straight from the supermarket or right out of the garden. Those days are gone because far too many chemicals have contaminated our soil, food supply and our bodies. We need to clean things up so that our grandkids will not only not have to worry about washing their food, they also won’t have to worry about if there will be food to eat.

God did not give us any disease, pest or weed for which He did not give us a natural solution for which to control it. We just have to find the right combination and back-to-basic organic weed control is part of that scheme.

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