How to Kill Weeds: Natural, Nontoxic Ways to Win the War This Summer

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Wondering how to kill weeds? Most homeowners with a lawn struggle with this issue all summer. And for good reason—battling weeds is like one giant game of Whac-A-Mole. As soon as you kill one, another pops up in its place. So what’s a lawn lover to do? Allow us to show you the ropes, with some honest answers about herbicides and natural weed killers. This will help you keep your yard, garden, and even the cracks in your driveway from being overtaken by these wily green intruders.

Are herbicides safe?

Spraying weeds with herbicide has traditionally been the way Americans have won the war on weeds. In recent years, however, concerns have cropped up about how these toxic chemicals might affect our health. Are any weed killers entirely safe to use?

The Environmental Protection Agency does evaluate all pesticides and herbicides to ensure they meet federal safety standards that protect human health and the environment before they can be sold in the United States, so there’s some level of comfort in that.

Damon Milotte, general manager at Tailor Made Lawns, says herbicides are most dangerous in their concentrated form. “The biggest risk is to the person who is doing the mixing of the pesticides,” he says. “Once diluted, the danger goes way down.”

If you do choose to use an herbicide, he says it’s imperative that you follow the label instructions and re-entry time guidelines, so that children and pets don’t play on the lawn too soon after it is applied.

“The label is the law,” says Milotte. “Read the precautionary statement, wear the proper personal protective equipment, and follow all instructions explicitly. When mixed properly, applied properly, and the re-entry time is followed properly, there should be no issues.”

Still worried? Have a licensed lawn professional do the work if it will help give you peace of mind.

How to kill weeds naturally

What if you want to err on the side of caution and go the eco-friendly route—can you still wipe out weeds? There are plenty of natural recipes online for homemade weed killers using everything from vinegar to cornmeal and salt, but none are all that effective, says Jake Hill, a research analyst with LawnStarter Lawn Care. There are, however, some proven all-natural techniques to keep weeds at bay. Here are a few to try:

  • Crowd out weeds with a healthy lawn. The best defense against weeds invading your lawn is keeping the grass healthy to begin with. This technique is called “crowding out the weeds.” Proper lawn maintenance habits, such as keeping your mower blade sharp and mowing during the mornings and evenings, as opposed to the hottest part of the day, are easy steps you can take to keep your lawn healthy.
  • Keep bare patches to a minimum. Weeds sprout the fastest in bare patches of lawn where the grass is either dead or dying. To avoid lifeless patches of dirt, right before the grass begins to grow in the spring, it’s a good idea to overseed (in other words, plant extra seeds to thicken your lawn) and aerate, which adds oxygen to the soil.
  • Make sure you don’t cut the lawn too short. This technique coincides with crowding out the weeds. A common mistake made by homeowners, in an attempt to increase the time they can leave before they have to mow their lawn again, is to cut the grass really short. But this risks scalping the lawn, creating the perfect opportunity for weeds to creep in while the grass struggles to grow back to its optimal height. As a general rule, never remove more than one-third of the grass blade at a time.
  • Water grass infrequently and deeply. Frequent watering in short bursts results in grass with shallow roots; it also helps crabgrass, chickweed, sedges, and other weed seeds to germinate. However, if you water too little, the lawn suffers, while weeds adapted to drier soil, like spotted spurge, Bermuda grass, and quack grass, can thrive. The best compromise is to give your lawn deep soakings about once a week. Most types of grass need only about an inch of water per week. Set an empty tuna can on the lawn to check on when you have applied 1 inch of water.
  • Handpick weeds the right way. Handpicking weeds can certainly nip them in the bud. Just make sure to pull them up slowly, in order to remove the entire root system. Simply picking the stem will allow the weed to grow right back in where it was.

The bottom line: Constant vigilance is key.

“Even if you do everything perfectly and eliminate every weed from your property, every time there’s a strong wind, you are receiving weed seed delivery from neighboring properties,” Milotte says. “Weed seed can be smaller than a grain of sand, and its only job is to find a place to land and grow to create the next batch of seeds.”

So keep your eyes peeled, and get your grass in great condition to fight the good fight.

Article by Julie Ryan Evans