With Roundup getting a bad rap as a possible carcinogen, it’s time to review the non-toxic alternatives for killing weeds. There are many that work quite well. So hold up on the Roundup and try these:
1. EcoSmart products — This line of weed and pest killers relies on food grade plant oils to do the job. Their Weed and Grass Killer for yards uses 2-Phenethyl Proprionate and Eugenol, which is oil of cloves.
Neither ingredient is considered “toxic” by the US EPA and both are considered to present “minimal risk” to humans using them, though both of these botanically derived ingredients can sting eyes and cause skin irritations.
The 2-Phenethyl Proprionate also known as 2-PEP is an ester made from the condensation of Phenethyl Alcohol and Proprionate Acid. These ingredients are found together in certain waxes and oils of plants such as eucalyptus, peppermint, guava, roses and peanuts. 2-PEP is used in botanical products and as an insect repellant for pets. It’s also used as an insect attractant in some insect traps.
By contrast, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup the most used lawn chemical, while rated as lower toxicity by the EPA, is still categorized as a toxic chemical, ranked as a Category III herbicide on the EPA’s scale of Category I to IV (the lowest toxicity).
EcoSmart also makes Insect Killer Granules that use Eugenol (clove oil) and Thyme oil to kill ants, fleas, chinch bugs and other yard pests.
Of course, the danger here is that even these safer products run the risk of ruining the equilibrium of the yard’s ecosystem. That is, if they’re effective, they could be killing pest insects that beneficial bugs need for food, or to keep the cycle of nature thriving.
2. BioSafe products — BioSafe is a Connecticut company that produces safer weed and pest killers. That said, we wouldn’t spray their weed control products into a fish pond, because the ingredients used can be mildly toxic. But that is true for everything on this list.
On the bright side, the company’s weed killer is certified for use in organic operations. It biodegrades quickly in the soil and relies on ammonium nonanoate, a fatty acid or soap salt, as the active ingredient.
BioSafe makes products for home gardeners as well as for nurseries and agricultural use. You can sort them all out and see the Material Safety Data Sheets for the chemicals they use at their website at Biosafesystems. We like that transparency.
3. Horticultural-strength Vinegar — The first thing to know is you need commercial strength vinegar to make an impact on weeds. That means vinegar that’s 10 to 20 percent acetic acid; not the milder variety that you use on salads. You can find this garden duty vinegar at many nurseries and hardware stores.
The USDA found that 10 to 20 percent concentration vinegar did work to kill weeds. The downside here is that you cannot just blanket the yard with this natural chemical because it will kill the grass as well. One way commercial synthetic products avoid the wholesale killing of the lawn is by delivering their herbicides in granules, such as in certain weed and feeds. So that’s one limitation here, vinegar can spot treat, but you can’t blitz the yard. On the other hand, why would you want to?
Vinegar still needs to be handled with care because it can be unhealthful to inhale and can burn skin. Use gloves and don’t stand on the wrong side of the wind.
4. Orange Oil — Orange oil can beautify your furniture and annihilate your weeds. It is a natural acid and can kill weeds, again by spot treating, without harming the environment. It’s biodegradable.
A trick: Orange oil can also be adding to your spray bottle of vinegar to increase the potency of your natural weed killing sauce. Just add a half cup or so of orange oil (which is expensive) to a quarter of vinegar. This concoction can be made to “stick” on weeds more effectively if you also add a tablespoon of dish soap. (We like Dr. Bronner’s because it’s simple and all natural, with none of the synthetic fragrances of other brands.) Again, a sunny day will serve you well. Get out early with your uber-weed killer – we first learned this formula when researching how to kill poison ivy – and give the sun plenty of time to work.
Brands and products to look for: Nature’s Wisdom Orange Oil Concentrate (for making your home formula, above), Avenger Weed Killer (another orange oil pesticide that’s ready out of the bottle). Orange Guard is another brand that uses citrus oils as its active ingredient, but these products are sold as an insecticide for use on garden plants or to repel crawlies from patios and houses.
5. Serious Weed Tools — They say the tool makes the job, or something like that. Reward yourself for not using harsh chemicals by getting some kick-butt weeding tools.
One we, and our garden group, likes is this flexible weeder/hoe tool. Everyone calls it a little something different, but basically, you can scrape the ground between your food plants and rip up a lot of weeds. We like it because it’s easy! Some of the weeds come up completely, and some leave their roots dug in, but even some of those don’t come back. If you have to scrape again in a week or two, it’s not so bad, because this is one garden chore you can do standing up.
The other tool is a dangerous looking variation on a spade. On Amazon they call it a hand sickle. This one will cut the roots out. Now you’re back down on your knees, but you’re doing significant damage to the weed invaders, cutting them out by the roots. If you’re a gardener, you know this is a satisfying thought.
Keep it green.