Weeds are many gardeners’ nightmare. After all, unwanted plants can quickly overrun your carefully tended garden, turning it into a mess of vines and leaves! Dealing with weeds is often time consuming and expensive – and unfortunately, many chemical weed killers are made from pesticides that can have negative impacts both on your health and the planet’s.
In this article, we’ll review how to get rid of pesky weeds in the safest ways possible, without putting your health, your family’s health, and your pets’ health in danger.
Are Herbicides Dangerous?
Also known as herbicides (from the Latin herba, meaning grass, and suffix -cide, killer), weed killers are usually made of chemicals that kill plants. There are many different chemical formulations out there, many of which go by a different brand name and kill plants through a different mechanism.
For example, the weed killer Spectracide is made from active ingredients diquat dibromide and dicamba, powerful chemicals that kill vegetation when the product is sprayed directly on leaves. When dicamba enters the plant, it impacts the plant’s growth “hormones,” known as auxins, which help control the plant growth.
Dicamba causes the plant to grow in abnormal ways, and usually leads to the plant’s death. RoundUp, one of the most popular herbicides, is made from another chemical, glyphosate, which seeps into plant tissue and inhibits an important enzyme that the plant needs in order to grow. Other common chemicals that popular commercial weed killers contain are atrazine and 2, 4-D.
Unfortunately, while these chemicals are extremely good at killing plants, they can lead to health concerns in humans who have been exposed. For example, recent studies have linked glyphosate to negative health effects, and RoundUp, which contains glyphosate, has faced many legal claims that link use of the product to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Similarly, studies have linked dicamba, used in many conventional weed killers, to increased risk of liver cancer.
While these risks may be associated primarily with large, frequent exposures to the chemicals, it’s still recommended that you limit your use of these toxic chemicals. After all, better safe than sorry. Additionally, herbicides can have negative environmental effects when they wash out of gardens and farms into our waterways, where they impact natural freshwater and marine ecosystems.
How to Kill Weeds Safely
Here are a few tips for weeding your garden in a way that’s safe for you and the natural environment.
1. Weed by hand
While this method is certainly the most slow-going, it’s also the safest and cheapest. The best way to tackle weeds by hand is to weed frequently. This way, you can catch any weeds before they take root (literally!), which makes it easier to pull them out. Make sure you pull the plant out down to the root, not just the stem. Using a hand=held weed puller tool can help you make sure you’re digging down deep enough.
Mulch, a material like wood chips, compost, or straw, can be laid out over an area to block new growth. Simple scatter mulch on top of soil to block sunlight and stop new weeds from sprouting up. With a mulch layer that’s around 3-4 inches thick, you should also have an easier time weeding out any unwanted plants that do pop up, since their roots won’t be as deep.
The only thing to note is that mulch stops any new plants from getting light in the soil, including ones you want growing there! Only use mulch once the plants you want have already had a chance to sprout from underground.
3. Make your own weed killer
Making your own weed killer is a great option to get rid of weeds that’s not only safer, but is also usually cheaper! All you need is a half cup of Epsom salt, a quart of white vinegar, and a bit of dish detergent. Just add this to a spray bottle, shake it up, and spray onto the leaves of the weeds.
This works because the acetic acid contained in vinegar dissolves cell membranes in plants, which, along with the salt, makes the plant tissue dry up. The detergent helps the solution stick to the leaves better.
Using this method, the weeds should be dying in about two to three days. Just be careful not to spray this onto your other plants, since the vinegar will kill them too!
4. Limit your exposure to herbicides
We get it – sometimes a pesky weed will keep returning until you use the heavy hitters: chemical herbicides. If you feel like you have to use a chemical herbicide like RoundUp or Spectracide, it’s important to read every part of the instruction manual, which must comply with governmental regulatory guidelines to ensure they tell customers how to use the chemical safely. It’s especially important to double check whether the product is safe for pets before spraying.
It’s also important to wear the right protective gear when applying chemical herbicides. For example, it’s recommended that you wear eye protection, gloves, and cover exposed skin on your legs, arms and feet to avoid the chemical absorbing into your skin.
By following these tips, you can ensure that your garden thrives – and your weeds die.