5 Safer Weed-Killing Alternatives to Roundup

The controversy over the adverse health effects of Glyphosate, which is the main ingredient in Roundup, is well documented online (Google "health effects of Roundup"), especially related to genetically modifying food crops to resist repeated dousing with Roundup. Granted there probably aren't many people or pets eating the weeds from the cracks of the driveway, so spraying Roundup there may have a less direct or immediate impact on our health. It is also important to mention that there are significantly more toxic chemicals on the shelf at your garden center than Glyphosate (Google "2,4-D"). Notwithstanding, there are good reasons to be cautious about spraying a toxic chemical in areas where we and our loved ones relax and play; and in general, we think it is a very good idea to reduce the use of synthetic chemicals as much as possible to keep them out of our public water supply (which usually contains some level of Glyphosate, by the way). Here are some safer options for addressing weeds and grass in non-lawn areas:
  1. Hand-pulling - Pulling weeds is the safest, most effective way to eliminate them and it provides instantaneous results, which are some of the reasons why hand-pulling weeds is included in the Crownover Green Lawn Care Solution. To learn more about why we love hand-pulling weeds, read a previous blog entry, We. Pull. Weeds. There are a variety of weed pulling tools ranging from less than $10 for a very basic hand tool to about $50 for one that enables you to pull weeds without even bending over. These tools are especially useful on weeds such as dandelions that have a deep taproot. However, pulling all of the weeds on your property may not be a viable option.
  2. Weed Torch - A basic weed torch, which is powered by small propane canisters, can be purchased for less than $50. Burning weeds is effective, provides instantaneous results, and involves less elbow grease than hand-pulling. However, there is an obvious safety concern. Please be careful.
  3. Boiling Water - Yes, water. Boiled. It's actually very effective and works quickly, but is only practical if you have just a handful of weeds to kill. If you have a lot of weeds, it could take a while to boil enough water to kill them all. Also, please be careful.
  4. Vinegar - Pour vinegar into a spray bottle, add a couple drops of dish soap, and spray it on your weeds on a hot sunny day. The soap helps the vinegar stick to the foliage of the weed and many weeds will shrivel within an hour our two. Grassy weeds, not so much (although don't spray it on the grass you want to keep), and some waxy broadleaf weeds might need a follow-up application. The advantages of vinegar are that it is cheap, fairly safe, easy to get, and quicker to apply to a large number of weeds than hand-pulling or torching.
  5. Other Safer Sprays - There are several effective organic liquid products on the market, but the big box garden centers don't tend to stock many of them because they cost a little more than Roundup (and therefore probably don't sell as well). At some local garden centers or online you can find 20% horticultural vinegar, which is four times stronger than common household vinegar, or products that contain citric acid, cinnamon oil, clove oil, or herbicidal soap.
There is not necessarily one best choice for killing weeds. Choose the one that will work best for you based on your budget, patience, and overall preference. And please note that a substance capable of killing an unwanted plant might also kill a desirable one, so be careful when applying it near turf or ornamental plants.

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