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April 18, 2022 — 11:22 AM
They say beauty is pain, and when it comes to gardening, this popular phrase resonates with many hobbyists and horticulturists. Beautiful blooms and picturesque landscapes don’t come without hard work. And for the most part, those who garden all have one major obstacle to overcome: weeds.
Most garden weeds start by seed, according to Tasha Greer, an Epicurean homesteader and author of Weed-Free Gardening: A Comprehensive and Organic Approach to Weed Management. “However, some also spread from one area to another by runners on top of soil or rhizomes under soil,” Greer tells mbg. While some weeds may be dormant or die back in the winter, they can regrow in spring or summer.
“The main culprits that cause weeds to suddenly break dormancy and grow like crazy are soil disturbance, bare or underplanted soil, insufficient water, poor drainage, sudden changes in soil temperature, and over-fertilization,” Greer adds.
In other words, weeds are everywhere, waiting to happen! And beyond being an eyesore, weeds can impact the overall health of your garden over time. “If allowed to become established, they can rob cultivated plants of resources like soil nutrients, water, and light,” says Greer. “Some weeds can even influence long-term soil health by encouraging populations of certain bacteria or fungi to increase. Those fungi and bacteria can then alter the soil pH and nutrient availability, endangering even well-established perennials like shrubs and trees.”
Fret not, though. There are ways to combat weeds at home. And while the first instinct for those who don’t want to buy harsh conventional treatments may be to turn to apple cider vinegar, that’s far from your only option.
DIY recipes to try at home.
Here, gardening experts share their top homemade recipes for DIY weed killers that are easy to make and safe for the environment.
1. White Vinegar DIY Weed Killer Recipe
- Using a large spray bottle, combine all the ingredients and shake well.
- Let the bottle sit for a couple of minutes to let the ingredients settle together.
- Spray the weeds generously, covering the entire plant and the soil to attack the roots.
- Leave the weed killer undisturbed until the next day. Then, pull the dead weed out!
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This recipe is effective for a few reasons, gardening expert Erinn Witz tells mbg. “The vinegar contains acetic acid, which is caustic to plant cells. The Epsom salt dehydrates the plant by blocking it from absorbing moisture. And the dish soap acts as a surfactant that allows the vinegar and salt to better penetrate the plant tissue.”
2. Boiling Water DIY Weed Killer Recipe
- Large pot
- Protective hand coverings
- Heat a pot of water to boiling.
- Being very careful and wearing oven mitts, immediately carry it outside and pour it directly on the weed, soaking as much of the soil as possible.
- Leave the plant undisturbed until the following day. Then, remove the weeds.
“Boiling water works through simple heat damage,” explains Witz. “The hot water essentially ‘cooks’ the plant cells, resulting in death. This is another indeterminate plant killer, so be careful around plants you want to keep.”
3. Diluted Rubbing (Isopropyl) Alcohol DIY Weed Killer Recipe
- 4 cups of water
- 2 tablespoons of rubbing alcohol
- In a spray bottle, combine the water and the rubbing alcohol. Shake to combine.
- Spray generously, aiming directly for the plant leaves and soil.
- Leave the plant undisturbed until the next day. Then, remove the weeds.
“The alcohol dries out the plant tissues, leading to fatal dehydration,” says Witz. “The effects of rubbing alcohol are best on a warm, sunny day, when the sunlight can add its own drying effect.”
4. Vodka DIY Weed Killer Recipe
- 3 cups of vodka
- 2 teaspoons of dishwashing liquid
- Mix the vodka and dishwashing liquid together in a spray bottle and shake well.
- Spray directly onto the weed leaves, and leave the weed alone for the rest of the day. Then, remove the dead weeds.
Witz tells mbg, “The vodka acts as a drying agent, depriving the plant of the moisture it needs to live. When the plant cells get too dehydrated, they die. This is especially effective for broadleaf weeds, and it won’t harm grass as much as some other weed killers will.”
5. Dry Baking Soda DIY Weed Killer Recipe
- Make sure the weeds you want to target are moist. Spray them down a bit with a hose if needed.
- Sprinkle the baking soda directly onto the weeds. Use a broom to really work the baking soda over the weed and into the soil if needed.
- You may need to repeat the application in a couple of weeks if the weeds persist in hanging around.
“The baking soda works by sucking moisture from the plant tissues, drying the plant up to the point where it can no longer photosynthesize its food,” says Witz. “This treatment works best on driveways and sidewalks or other hard surfaces where weeds like to pop through the smallest of cracks.”
6. Cornmeal Gluten Meal DIY Weed Killer Recipe
- 1 pack of cornmeal gluten meal (specifically made for gardens)
- Sprinkle some cornmeal on your lawn or garden weeds, being careful not to oversaturate the area.
- Water the area well after applying. Reapply every few weeks or as needed.
Rodger St. Hilaire, founder and editor of Gardening Boost, suggests this recipe because “the cornmeal gluten meal will prevent weed seeds from germinating.” He notes that it’s important to “make sure to purchase cornmeal gluten meal that is specifically labeled for use on lawns and gardens. Some products are not meant for this purpose and can actually harm your plants.”
7. Borax DIY Weed Killer Recipe
- ½ cup Borax
- Pruning shears
- Combine Borax powder with a small amount of water—just enough to make a sticky paste. About ½ a cup of Borax should be enough, but you can double or triple the recipe if applying it to a large number of weeds. While Borax is a naturally occurring mineral, you’ll want to be cautious not to get it on your skin or eyes. Wear gloves when mixing.
- Once you’ve found the right consistency, take a pair of pruning shears and cut the weeds you wish to target down to the ground. Only leaving a small stump.
- Now, take your borax paste and apply a generous amount of it to the freshly cut stem.
“This is called a cut-and-paste method and is best applied to large semi-woody weeds like thistles,” Brody Hall, a Certified Horticulturist, Certified Conservationist and Land Manager, and Co-Founder at The Indoor Nursery, tells mbg. Borax has a high pH value and it is alkaline enough to kill weeds (as well as other plants, so be careful where you put it).
Preventing weeds in the future.
Once you’ve weeded out the nuisance, you’ll want to take precautions to prevent more weeds from forming. Retired landscaper and lawn care expert Larry Yeates shares his tips with mbg below:
- Don’t mow your lawn too low. Keep it at roughly two inches tall. If you mow your lawn too low, this will create space for weed seeds to get into the soil and germinate. A thick lush, healthy lawn that’s kept at a nice height will minimize the chances weeds have to get into your grass.
- Regularly seed any patchy areas of your lawn. Patchy areas are basically open invitations for weeds to drop in, and once they arrive, they will spread quickly. Keep an eye on your lawn and quickly remedy any thinned out or dead areas with new grass seed.
- Use a fertilizer designed to thicken up your lawn. Specifically, phosphorus-rich fertilizers will help your lawn roots to spread, promoting new growth at the surface. The thicker your lawn is, the fewer chances weeds will have to find somewhere to take root.
- Install a weed mat beneath the mulch or topsoil in garden beds. These can be super effective at stopping weed growth without ruining your aesthetic. Weed mats come in several different forms but most will require you to install them as a layer beneath any topsoil or mulch. You can cut small holes around your existing plants to allow them to continue to reach the deeper parts of the soil.
- Mulch your garden beds to stop light from getting to the soil. This is probably the number one solution to weeds applied to garden beds by landscape gardeners. Mulch is designed to prevent light from getting to the soil so that weeds can’t germinate. Pick the right mulch and it can also give your garden a makeover.
- Remove any weeds as soon as you see them. If you notice any weeds and leave them there, it’s almost guaranteed that within a few days you’ll have more. If you see them, pull them out straight away or treat them with any of the above options.
- Don’t unnecessarily disturb your soil. Any soil disturbances have the potential to trigger weed growth or create an opportunity for weeds to take root. Minimizing foot traffic, pet activity, vehicles driving over the area, or unnecessary gardening activities when possible will help prevent weeds from growing in your garden.
By knowing what causes weeds and how to combat and prevent them, you’ll be on your way to the garden of your dreams, even if you’re new to gardening. Maybe your newfound expertise will inspire you to start a permaculture garden or dig deeper into plant care. Whichever stepping stones you take, the path looks lush.
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