Tag Archives: lawn care

7 Homemade Weed Killers

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.

4. Vinegar

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.

5. Salt

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.

How Can You Keep Your Lawn Care More Eco Friendly?

The biggest problem with lawns is that they’re really not all that eco friendly at their best. They take a lot of water and don’t give much back aside from giving the kids a place to play and making the yard look acceptable to neighbors. Some places that’s really important. But in many climates they take too much water, most popular lawn mowers aren’t too good for the environment, and too many toxic chemicals are used on most lawns.

These are some options to make your lawn care a bit more eco friendly. Even though they aren’t ideal environmentally speaking, sometimes a lawn is the choice you’re going to make.

1. Use a push reel mower.

A lot of people don’t like push reel mowers, remembering the hard to push around models from years ago. I have one now, however, and it’s really not that bad. Only slightly more challenging to use than a powered mower.

The advantage to a push reel mower is that you don’t have to plug it in or buy gas for it. It’s all human power.

2. Keep the fertilizer eco friendly.

All those chemical fertilizers people use on lawns add problems even though they green up the lawn nicely. They’re the major cause of lawn thatch. Worse, the runoff from lawns that have been fertilized is very bad for the environment.

Leaving your lawn clippings on your lawn is very good for it. They won’t provide all the nitrogen your lawn needs, but they will provide some. If you don’t want to leave them on the lawn, make sure you at least compost them.

If you can stand it, let clover grow in your lawn. Clover brings in nitrogen too. Its blooms attract bees, which is good for the bees, but may mean that kids may prefer shoes when playing on the lawn to avoid stings. Some places the homeowners’ association will give you trouble over clover, so you may have to be careful. You may also want to watch out if you have burr clover, as those burrs can be very annoying when they get in pets’ fur or into the carpet in your home.

Watch out for how much phosphorus your lawn needs too. Manure fertilizers have more than enough, and you should not add more phosphorus to your lawns if you’ve used manure on it.

3. Sweep after you mow.

Sure, it’s easier to use a leaf blower to clean up the clippings along the sidewalk or driveway after you’ve mowed the lawn, but it’s a huge waste to do so, not to mention hard on your ears. It’s better to sweep up the clippings with a broom and toss them into the compost pile.

If you don’t want to do it and you have kids who are old enough, set them to sweeping up after you mow. It’s a good chore and doesn’t require perfection.

4. Water at the right time of day.

The time of day you water makes a big difference in how much water your lawn needs. You don’t want to water at night, but you should water early enough in the day that the heat doesn’t cause too much of the water to evaporate.

Also avoid watering at times that tend to be windy, as this will blow too much of the water away. You want the air to be calm and cool when you water. Early morning is good in most places, but it’s always good to check with a local garden center for further advice.

5. Don’t use poisons to control weeds.

Weeds are an annoyance in a lawn, at least if you perceive them that way. You can see them as a benefit, such as the nitrogen clover adds to a lawn, or the biodiversity added by having weeds in your lawn, or they can be seen as a nuisance, especially if you are dealing with a homeowners’ association that tends to be difficult about such things. Weeds can also be a nuisance if they make your lawn less pleasant to play on.

The key to weed control is getting them while they’re small, especially before they’ve gone to seed. The most eco friendly way to get rid of them is probably to do it by hand. It’s tedious, but you can really get in there and get a lot of the roots, so it probably won’t grow back.

Corn gluten can work as a preemergent weed killer. It also gives a little nitrogen, so it will benefit your lawn in other ways.

You can also use boiling water to kill weeds. The great part is that it kills them pretty quickly – within a day or so of pouring the water the weeds will be quite brown, but it’s safe within minutes for children or pets to play in the area. It also won’t kill any seeds you spread there once the water cools.

You may have to repeat a boiling water treatment a few times to fully kill a weed if its roots are deep enough. Each time the weed will be weaker, and eventually it will stop coming back, so long as you are persistent.

I will warn you that killing weeds with boiling water is quite tedious if you have a number of them to do. It’s very effective, however, and can be worth the effort.

6. Let your grass grow at least 3-4 inches tall.

Tall grass is healthier grass. It’s better at keeping the weeds away and it needs less water. Don’t trim it as short as possible – trim it to no less than 3-4 inches tall if at all possible. Your lawnmower will probably have a setting that allows you to leave your grass about this tall.

7. Rethink how much lawn you really need.

There are reasons you need a lawn, such as having an easy place for the kids to play or because the homeowners’ association says you must have one, but do you have more lawn than you need? You may be able to turn part of your lawn area into something more eco friendly, such as a vegetable garden in the back yard, or a larger flower bed or more trees in the front.

8. Accept the brown.

It’s perfectly normal for your lawn to be less green in the summer. That’s its natural cycle. You don’t really have to water it so much that it keeps that perfect green all year round unless you’re required to do so. The weather is hot, and it’s much harder for your lawn to stay green.

We Finally Have a Reel Mower!

I’m very happy right now. My husband finally tired of using his electric weed whacker to mow the lawn and bought a reel mower. I’ve only been suggesting this since we moved into this house and opted to do lawn care ourselves rather than pay a service.

He was a bit worried about the reel mower being hard to push. It’s more work than an electric or gas powered one, certainly. But he was quick to agree that it’s still easier than swinging the weed whacker over the whole lawn.

Even where the clover had gotten a bit tall and thick.

We chose one that has the catcher in the back. Love to just leave clippings there, but we do live in an area with a homeowner’s association, and don’t need to be hearing from them on that issue.

The salesperson at the store tried really hard to talk us into an electric mower. He pointed out that it was zero emissions too. Sorry, wrong! Just because it’s zero emissions at my house doesn’t mean it’s zero overall. The power comes from somewhere, and that’s where the emissions are.

I think my husband is pretty content with the new mower. He’s even talking about getting a manual edger.

Efficient Lawn Watering

Much of southern California is getting into stricter water restrictions right now, with a goal of cutting all water use by at least 20%. That’s a tough goal when you consider how many people have already been conserving. Most lawns in our area show it.

The typical restriction is along the lines of allowing people to water on certain days of the week between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m., and limiting sprinkler time to 10 minutes. Also they want people to keep an eye out for obvious water wastes, such as broken sprinklers, obvious leaks and sprinklers spraying more on sidewalks or streets than they should.

These restrictions are pretty good for cutting back water use for irrigation, which is a huge part of residential water use.

For the best results for your lawn, you need to water about 1 inch per week. That’s easy enough to measure if you put out an open, empty tuna can. If you can do it in one shot you should be able to reach the deeper roots of grass, which is the most effective.

Believe me when I say I don’t water mine this much, and it’s kind of brown. But my garden looks good.

Mowing less is also good. Taller grass shades the soil, and so less water evaporates from it. The grass also is then able to better stand getting less water.

My own favorite tip is to find more native plants to put in, rather than your typical lawn. There are grasses that do better with less water. My city suggests a list of plants that are California-friendly (PDF, pretty big). They also suggest only maintaining as much lawn as you need, and having drought resistant plants for the rest of the yard.