Monday, June 30, 2014

DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer

DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer
Every spring, the weather warms up, the flowers start to bloom, and the world begins to green... and every homeowner with a lawn feels the call to conquer their plot of land and work it into beautiful submission. We rake, we mow, we trim, we plant, we water, we curse, we sweat. We look at our neighbors' lawns and feel guilty for not mowing often enough, or we envy their beautiful hedges and weedless lawns. We peruse the aisles in the garden department, looking for the next tool or gadget to add to our weekend repertoire of lawn domination.

Or maybe that's just us? I know we aren't alone in this, because we see people all over town raking, mowing, trimming, planting, watering, sweating...

... and sometimes, spraying. After hours of hard work, it's frustrating to see weeds cropping up through every sidewalk crack or taking over a bit of lawn. Watch the commercials for lawn sprays, and it's tempting to go get a bottle of weed killer and carpet bomb the lawn until the only green things left are intentionally planted fescue and bluegrass.

Now, I think there is a time and place for the responsible use of herbicide and pesticide. I just don't think trying to keep our landscaping on par with the neighbors is that time or place. We all have heard the dangers of chemicals in herbicides leaking into our ground water and soil. Just read the label on any commercial weed killer, and it will warn you not to use it around children, pets, or water sources. It instructs you to wear goggles and gloves when mixing it and cautions you to call poison control if ingested. In other words, it is pretty toxic stuff. There's no denying that it kills the weeds quickly, but one has to ask--at what cost?

We have children and pets, we live near a school, and our water runs off into the city drainage system. As much as we want a beautiful, weedless landscape around our house, it's not worth the risk to our health, our children's health, and the health of our community.

But still... those dang weeds! While part of me just wants to leave them, left unattended on sidewalk cracks, those weeds become a hazard to children on bicycles, parents pushing strollers, and people in wheelchairs, because the sidewalk is no longer a flat surface. Plus, there's nothing wrong with wanting a nice looking landscape; you just have to put in a little more time and effort to accomplish it in a safe and healthy way.

Cue the DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer! I found lots of homemade recipes online, but in the interest of keeping it simple and cheap, I decided to try the following concoction:

DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer
  • 1 Tb Dawn dishsoap (I used non-concentrated, because that's what I have on hand)
  • 1 Tb lemon juice (out of a bottle, but you could use fresh squeezed and make yourself some lemonade while you're at it!)
  • 3 cups apple cider vinegar 
I mixed the ingredients in a large spray bottle (one that can hold 24 oz).  I sprayed the weeds on a hot, dry, sunny day, thoroughly coating the leaves. Of course the wind picked up (I live in Nebraska, after all), so while I was spraying, the mixture blew onto my bare legs. It also drifted into a puddle of water in the street. It was easy to see how a toxic solution could easily get on surfaces where it would be a hazard, but I felt okay going to town with this homemade spray.

The weeds turned brown and died over the course of 2-3 days. The proof is in the pudding:
DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer Day 1
Day 1- The day of the spraying--notice I'm in flip-flops! No worries about getting this stuff on my skin.
DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer Day 2
Day 2- Starting to turn brown.
Day 3- pretty much dead! I only sprayed it on the first day; it continued work as time went on.
DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer

As I mentioned, this spray works the best on a sunny, dry day. I tried spraying weeds under a tree that never really get direct sunlight, and while it sort of worked, it only killed a few of the weeds:
DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer in the shade
Weeds in the shade under our tree. Notice the water from a recent rain; the wind blew the spray into it. Can you imagine if it were toxic?
DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer in the shade
Day 2- It's killed a few of the smaller weeds, but the big ones are only slightly scathed.
DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer in the shade
Close up of the weeds in the shade. We ended up pulling the rest by hand.
I also sprayed another section--this time using white vinegar-- and it rained shortly thereafter. It still managed to start to kill the weeds, but they required another application before total annihilation.

DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer
Before spraying and before the rain.
DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer
It rained and so I had to reapply. The wet sidewalk in this pic is actually from my garden sprinkler gone haywire, not from the spray!
And finally, I tried the spray over a large weedy area in our alleyway. Although it did turn some weeds brown, it was difficult to get the necessary coverage from a small spray bottle, and it ultimately didn't do much at all. Perhaps there is a way to use a hose sprayer to apply the vinegar solution, but I haven't tried it yet.

In short, this DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer works best with:
  • Small weeds
  • Direct sunlight
  • Dry conditions
  • Weeds in isolated areas, such as sidewalk or driveway cracks
It doesn't work as well with:
  • Large weeds or large areas of weeds
  • Shady areas
  • Rainy conditions
  • Weeds near or within plants you want to keep (such as your lawn)
So how do we get rid of those weeds the spray can't kill? Well, we mow them, trim them with a weed eater, or we do the good old fashion method of pulling them out by hand! We let the kids get in on the fun, too! We plan to put down some weed mat under our landscaping rocks to prevent the weeds from growing in the first place.

If you have another good DIY nontoxic weed killing solution, I'd love to hear about it!

~Mulligan Mama

PS- Did I mention this nontoxic weed killer is also much, much cheaper than commercial weed killers? If saving the environment isn't enough motivation, how about saving your wallet? ;-)

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