How to Make Wholesome Herbicides that Won't Poison the Planet

By Austin Bailey

Last Updated: June 12, 2019

how to make wholesome herbicides that won't poison the planet

In This Article

  • Chemical herbicides have been linked to cancer and bee die-offs. Yikes.
  • While scientists figure out what's safe for your yard and what's not, you may want to stick with chemical-free options.
  • Mulching the heck out of everything keeps weeds down.
  • Salt, vinegar, dish soap and elbow grease are also key ingredients to a weed-free lawn.

There are loads of reasons to avoid chemical herbicides. They’re expensive. Unless they’re pre-mixed or pre-diluted, they can be confusing to use. Most importantly, they’re kind of scary.

Caution labels on chemical herbicide bottles read like an intro to a doomsday tale. Always wear protective gear, keep away from children and pets and avoid using herbicides on windy days or near water? Yikes. Slip up and you risk exposing loved ones, neighbors and yourself to glyphosates. That’s a big problem, because glyphosates have been found to cause cancer in humans and to threaten bees and other wildlife. 

While scientists continue studying the effects of glyphosate-based weed killers, you may want to err on the side of caution and skip those chemicals entirely. The excellent news is that your yard and garden don’t need glyphosates to be bountiful and weed-free.

Here are three tricks to kill weeds without inadvertently killing anything (or anyone) else.

Pickle your yard with vinegar and salt to keep weeds away. But be careful not to get any of the brine on the plants you want to keep!

Pickle your yard

There are loads of recipes for non-toxic weed killers that use vinegar, salt or both. Diluted dish soap and a few sprinkles of baking soda are also popular recommendations for killing weeds without worry.

My go-to recipe begins with one gallon of vinegar, the stronger the better. Most vinegar you buy in grocery stores is only about 5 percent acetic acid. The more acid the better when it comes to killing weeds, so look for cleaning vinegar, which is stronger. But standard white vinegar works okay, too. Pour the vinegar into a watering can and add one cup of regular table salt and a healthy squirt of dishwashing liquid. Swish it around to mix, then douse pesky weeds. It your weeds come back, treat them with the same concoction again. It sometimes takes two or three helpings to knock out the problem. Be careful not to get any of the vinegar juice on the plants you want to keep! 

If vinegar still isn't quite pure enough for you, you can kill weeds by drowning them in boiling water.

Sometimes with weeding, you can't avoid getting your hands dirty. Photo by John Bogna on Unsplash

Work those quads and triceps

What did gardeners do in the days before chemical herbicides? They used elbow grease, and you can, too! Pulling weeds may not sound like much of a workout. But anyone who has spent a morning taking the fight to a crabgrass invasion knows otherwise. In addition to being great for your strength and flexibility, weeding by hand is the best (only?) way to get rid of those weeds growing dangerously close to the plants you want to keep.

Simply arm yourself with a well-fitting pair of gardening gloves and a prying tool to grab and pluck weeds by the roots. You may want to add anti-inflammatories to this list. All that bending, reaching and twisting engages muscles you may not use every day, and you’re going to be sore. But both you and your yard will look great!

Smother weeds with a thick layer of mulch.

Never too much mulch

Weeds need sunshine to grow, so smother those suckers with a thick layer of mulch. Tree bark, pine straw and shredded wood are popular choices, but the frugal among us have been known to use grass clippings and fallen leaves with fine results. Another green and cheap tip: put newspaper or cardboard down before piling on the mulch for an extra layer of biodegradable weed-busting action.