Herbicides can be hard on the environment, but many people like them because it’s the easy way to get rid of weeds. The problem is that they can make your yard toxic to other creatures as well as your children. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to kill weeds in your yard that aren’t dangerous to much aside from the weeds.
My goal here is to keep things as safe over time as possible. There may be some risk with certain products at the start, and you should be careful of how much of some weed killers you get into the soil. Anything other than the boiling water may stick in the soil a little and make it harder to grow other plants there if you overdo it.
1. Boiling water
I use this method regularly. It’s pretty time consuming, but there’s no dangerous residue and it’s effective on many weeds. You may have to treat an area a few times, as boiling water doesn’t get down to the roots. Be persistent, and the roots will have a much harder time recovering. That said, I’ve found that dandelions seem to recover really quickly from having boiling water poured on them. Those things are stubborn!
The great part is that the boiling water cools within minutes. I’ve made the mistake of stepping on areas I’ve treated shortly after pouring the water, and it can be uncomfortably hot, but I have yet to get a burn. You do have to be careful with the water when you’re pouring it, of course, as it will burn you at that point.
Boiling water will of course kill all plant material it comes in contact with, so you don’t want to risk pouring it too near plants you actually care about.
2. Cover them
If you cover a weed, it will die due to the lack of sunlight. A few layers of newspaper will work well, but you can place just about anything on top of a weed to kill it. I have a circle of bare earth right where one of the kids left a bucket in the middle of my lawn, in fact. This method is slow and highly subject to the cover being moved, but if it stays long enough, that weed will die.
This is a part of why mulching around your garden is such a good idea. It covers the areas where weeds might grow, plus helps to keep the soil moist.
3. Pull the weeds yourself
Yes, it’s a lot of work, but pulling weeds by hand and with appropriate garden tools absolutely works. You can always assign the job to the kids once they know how to tell a weed from a wanted plant. Do your best to get the root when you pull weeds, and try not to spread any seeds.
Many people swear by vinegar as a weed killer. It’s an acid, and it works. Don’t dilute it with water, but some say you can mix it with a squirt of soap to make it more effective. The plain vinegar you use in your kitchen should work, but you can also use pickling vinegar or other stronger formulations. Be careful as the acidity goes up, as you can get a burn from the more acidic varieties.
Vinegar will dilute in the soil over time, but it may be too much for young plants, so be careful about using it near your garden. It may make the soil sterile for a year or two if too much vinegar gets into the soil. That’s a benefit if it’s a place you don’t want anything growing, but a serious problem for your lawn or garden. The more acidic your mixture, the more likely you are to have a problem of this sort.
This is one to be really careful with. There’s a reason why salting the earth was used in war. Nothing will grow in soil that is too salty. But if you do it carefully, it can kill weeds for you. Do your best to keep the salt on the leaves of the weeds, not in your soil. This is not a personal favorite, but in places you really don’t want anything growing, it’s a pretty effective treatment.
6. Corn gluten meal
If you use corn gluten meal, you need to be sure you buy a type made as a pre-emergent herbicide. It doesn’t kill weeds so much as it keeps seeds from sprouting. On the plus side, you can use it in areas where you’ll be planting grown plants, as it won’t effect them.
7. Maintain a healthy lawn and garden
If your lawn and garden don’t give space to weeds, weeds will have a much harder time growing. You aren’t so much killing weeds as denying them the chance to live in the first place.
All this said, remember that many weeds serve a purpose. Clover and dandelions attract bees, for example. If you can stand them in your lawn, leave them be. If you can’t, at least try to plant other plants to attract bees, such as native flowers.