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Protect Children and Pets with Natural Weed Killers and Save Money this Summer

Tim Boyer's picture

Early summer is the time of year when weeds begin to take over your patio and creep into those hard to reach crevises where you cannot dig the weed out by the roots. Turning to commercial weed killers with toxic chemicals is not safe when curious children and nosing pets are about and outdoors. What few people realize is that there are alternative solutions that are safe, easy to use and practically free that are backed by science.

University weed killing study

In a recent Ph.D. thesis research project, University of Copenhagen student Anne Merete Rask found that the least expensive way to kill stubborn weeds between hard surfaces (like paving stones) is with boiling water.

While a boiling water method of killing weeds may seem like a no-brainer for most people, what is useful is knowing just to what extent and how often to add boiling water to prevent weeds from reappearing—which is the value of Ms. Rask’s research in combatting weeds naturally.

According to Ms. Rask, adding boiling water to weeds—such as with a tea kettle—has to be done to the point where the thermal damage is just enough to blanch the leaves of the weeds. Blanching the leaves causes the leaves to wilt and prevents the roots from storing carbohydrates that are necessary for regrowth and recovery.

Furthermore, the boiling water treatment needs to be repeated up to six times throughout the summer to ensure that the weeds do not come back.

“We have conducted several kinds of experiments since 2004. Controlled field experiments, experiments where we have planted weeds in hard surfaces and then burned them, as well as experiments with ‘real’ weeds on stones. We have observed that the treatments work. It does not really matter whether you use flaming, steam or boiling water. However, if we only give a few treatments or if we use low doses, the weeds quickly reappear. Very low doses can even stimulate grass growth. This is also the case with many herbicides,” says Ms. Rask.

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Additional weed killing solutions

If killing weeds with boiling water is too laborious, the following additional weed killing solutions are effective as well:

Pickle them to death— applying household vinegar with a spray bottle is one U.S. Department of Agriculture recommended way to kill weeds naturally. Common white cooking vinegar consists of a low percentage of acetic acid that not only gives vinegar its pungent aroma, but can also effectively burn plants. Be sure to coat the plant evenly and if a stronger acidic solution is needed, try commercial picking vinegar that is approximately twice as acidic as regular cooking vinegar.

Smother them to death—a light-blocking layer of mulch three inches deep can smother weeds and keep them at bay. One sure fire weed-killing mulch is one made of shredded bark or sawdust from Black walnut (Juglans nigra) or butternut (Juglans cinerea) trees that produce a toxic substance called juglone that is harmful to plants. Be sure not to use this type of mulch near non-weed plants as it will kill them as well.

Wash them to death—dousing weeds with soapy water made from 5 tablespoons of liquid kitchen soap in 4 cups of water will kill weeds naturally and safely. Recommendations are that this treatment works best if done on hot, sunny days.

Commercial chemical weed killers are potentially harmful to children and pets and cost a significant amount of money. By finding alternative natural solutions to killing weeds and others like it for fertilizing plants and cleaning your house, you can have a safer, more enjoyable and profitable summer this year that is both good for the environment and good for your family.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: University of Copenhagen News: “Non-chemical Weed Control on Hard Surfaces: An Investigation of Long-term Effects of Thermal Weed Control Methods” Anne Merete Rask, PhD thesis, Forest & Landscape Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen.



Baking soda kills weeds too.