Environmentally safe weed killer for use near municipal water source?
May 24, 2004 8:39 PM   Subscribe

I need an environmentally safe weed killer. My house is overrun with weeds and I live 100 yards from a water source for 2 million people. I could RoundUp and not worry but my conscious is heavy, but the weeds are gaining ground daily.
posted by stbalbach to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you considered a goat? I know, an animal is a responsibility, but a goat could also turn your weeds into cheese and milk.....

I'd be startled if there weren't a number of holistic weed control practices requiring minimal toxins out there.

Ah yes : Holistic Weed Control
posted by troutfishing at 9:03 PM on May 24, 2004

Definitely avoid roundup, that stuff doesn't really break down into harmless parts like it's supposed to.

I've been surprised by how much weeding I can do by hand. I've got my first house, and after leaving bare ground through the winter, I lagged on planting a garden until a couple weeks ago. Needless to say, I spent two weekends clearing weeds from the whole property, by hand. Just get a comfy pair of work gloves and pull away. Work in small areas, and eventually, you'll have everything cleared.

Then put mulch down or plant whatever you were going to plant asap. You only have a coulple weeks before the weeds start coming back.
posted by mathowie at 9:45 PM on May 24, 2004

If the weeds are in the sidewalk or driveway, use salt water.
posted by trharlan at 10:32 PM on May 24, 2004

What kinds of weeds? If it's dandelions, you'll have to poison your lawn or leave a trail of scortched earth before getting to the bottom of their roots. I think they've evolved to have extremely weak stalks just to confound us -- you pull, it snaps, then a week later it's back again.

I've found the best way to deal with them is to simply mow the lawn before they take to seed (get the puffy white things). They'll end their reproductive cycle in a month or so, and you can rest for another year.

Or (and I may get flamed for this) you might consider some lateral thinking. Why do you even need a lawn? There are some really fantastic fake-lawn substitutes (think, 2nd generation Astroturf) that look and feel just like grass. No water needed, no weeds... perfect for the aspiring Suburbanite who doesn't just want to keep up with the Jones', he wants to beat them into submission! Mua-ha-ha...
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:11 PM on May 24, 2004

Saltwater? What strength? I have weeds popping up between bricks. Most of my garden is bricked, which I had expected would be almost no maintenance (I'm renting). Roundup is not proving very effective. Seems like pouring saltwater so it flows into the cracks would be great, if it doesn't harm/mark the bricks.
posted by Goofyy at 11:12 PM on May 24, 2004

As strong as you can get it, as long as the salt is nearly totally dissolved.
posted by trharlan at 11:17 PM on May 24, 2004

Also, best to use pellets or rocks, and apply regularly.
posted by trharlan at 11:18 PM on May 24, 2004

For weeds in paths etc, use boiling water if you have lawn or gardens where the salt water would run away and kill things that you would rather stayed alive (or kill yourself by neglect).

For garden beds, the only non-chemical solution would be the old-fashioned way - get your spade or mattock out, turn all the soil over and break the clumps up. Go through and remove all the loose weeds you can (including roots where possible). When you have planted your garden, mulch it well and pick out any weeds when they are tiny.

For lawns, get on your knees and pull them out, or try the boiling water trick very carefully (pour it down the centre of the weed so as to avoid killing bits of actual lawn).

Have fun.
posted by dg at 11:34 PM on May 24, 2004

My yard is slowing turning to moss, and it's fantastic. Soft and green, very few weeds. I have rabbits that mow down the weeds pretty quick, and boy do they LOVE dandelions! The crack cocaine of the bunny world, near as I can figure. So what I'm saying is, rent a rabbit.

If you have a small yard, I would recommend moss or some other ground cover that grows thick and tight. There are some neat moss hybrids now that emit a fragrance when walked on - but you'll need a shady yard for that to work. The other warning over groundcover replacements is invasiveness. I'd do a google search on groundcover plants to see if there's anything that'll fit the bill for your area.

And Goofyy, if the area bricked has weeds going through, you could lift up the bricks, put down landscape cloth then put stones between the bricks. Landscape cloth prevents weeds coming through.

(And a note on RoundUp. My father just retired after over 30 years in the nursery trades, and was an instructor for pesticide licensing applicants. He uses RoundUp in the yard and doesn't feel any guilt over it. He always says that used properly in tough trouble spots, it's a non-issue.)
posted by Salmonberry at 12:00 AM on May 25, 2004

Now, if I could get the rabbits to leave the garden plants alone and ONLY eat the weeds.....breed dandelion eating bunnies....I could make MILLIONS in rabbit-weed-removal. They've done a great job of getting rid of the weeds in Australia, I hear. ;)
posted by Salmonberry at 12:02 AM on May 25, 2004

I've used full-strength vinegar on weeds between bricks. It smells odd for a while, but it requires only a couple applications a year to control the problem.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:03 AM on May 25, 2004

Dandelions shouldn't be pulled, for Pete's sake -- unless the soil is very moist. Use a weeding fork (looks like a snake's tongue with a handle). Even so, making sure that you get the majority of the flowers before they seed goes a long way toward solving your problem, even if it's initially labor-intensive -- so mow regularly.

The main thing you need to remember is a healthy lawn chokes out weeds. Make sure you mow your grass no shorter than 2"; this makes the grass long enough to shade the soil beneath, which retains moisture for the grass itself as well as discouraging weeds. Use a mulching mower, which will return the nitrogen in the grass back to your lawn without any store-bought fertilizer. Oh, and sharpen your mower blade a couple of times a year, so as to reduce cutting damage to the grass. Reseed wherever you weed, and overseed the entire lawn in the fall. (Consider using different seed mixes for sunny, shady, or high-use areas.) Get a spike (OK) or core (better) aerator and use it on the margins of bare spots or high-traffic areas to keep the soil open to air and water penetration. Water properly -- fewer times, and deeper, is better than many light waterings, which weakens roots.

Areas where you don't want weeds, such as gardens and planting beds, can be mulched or covered with various types of colored gravel. If you have an old walkway of brick or stone, drip small amounts of fine gravel into the cracks (sort of a regrouting).
posted by dhartung at 12:11 AM on May 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

Landscape cloth prevents weeds coming through.
Except that, after a while, nature will do her thing and bits if soil and the odd seed will collect in the cracks and you are right back where you started from.
posted by dg at 12:27 AM on May 25, 2004

Diesel fuel. Kills weeds dead. Environmentally safe? Maybe; it's probably better than Roundup. In stores I've seen 'weed sticks' -- they're sticks with a large piece of 'herbicidal wax' on one end that you rub into the weeds you want to kill. From the smell of it, it's just plain wax impregnated with diesel oil.
posted by zsazsa at 8:11 AM on May 25, 2004

Planting Noah's Garden has many great tips and resources for weeding, talks specifically about the use of Roundup and their ilk and has many interesting and informative techniques for gardening in general. (We just bought a Weed Wrench to tackle our bigger weeding. That work is so overwhelming in fact, that we made dandelion wine and dandelion jelly this spring, relishing in our bounty.)
posted by Dick Paris at 10:29 AM on May 25, 2004

Organic Gardening
posted by thomcatspike at 10:30 AM on May 25, 2004

We've got an obscene number of dandelions in the area that we're trying to let go unmowed & wild (in a controlled way, of course). I can't justify nuking them with chemicals, particularly since the area is sloped and perfectly situated for runoff into the sewers.

My solution will take years, if it works at all, but I hope will be worth the effort. Last year I put down a tarp and killed everything underneath it; this year I went back to the area, dug out all the dandys and other weeds, and planted yarrow (achillea). Tough stuff, tolerates drought, heavy seeder & invasive as all get out, pretty flowers in an amazing variety of colors, and I won't care if it rambles out into the lawn, as it handles mowing extremely well. Pretty, ferny leaves too. As long as the planting takes, I'll try to repeat annually and keep expanding the planted area until I've made a good dent in our weed farm.

And just for fun, I also planted annual pumpkin vines. Gonna have one heck of a pumpkin patch this fall--and I know those vines will trample right over the nearby weeds, even if only for a season.
posted by clever sheep at 10:34 AM on May 25, 2004

Corn gluten meal is a naturally occurring preemergent weed control agent you might try. It is usually applied early in the season prior to the weeds germinating so it may be a bit late for this year.

I use no chemicals on our lawn and have little problem with weeds. Keep the lawn well fed (all organic fertilizers of course) and cut if frequently (but to a little bit higher height than average) and it should choke out the weeds. A little mechanical control of any infestations keeps them from spreading.
posted by caddis at 10:36 AM on May 25, 2004

stbalbach - if the water source were closer, you could dig canals to it - right through your yard - and start a Mangrove-Tilapia farming venture.

[ What an amazing breadth of responses here. Orthodox, alternative, and wacky. You have no further excuse for your weedy lawn. ]

Oh - one other lateral-thinking, convergent solution : some "weeds" are highly nutritious. If your lawn soil isn't contaminated, you could just gather up edible weeds from the woods, wherever, and let them take over your lawn! Pluck out the non-edible ones, and plant a range of types to simulate a type of ecosystem (for robustness).

I can guarantee that the daily salad would benefit your health and - if need be - you could employ a goat as well.
posted by troutfishing at 10:50 AM on May 25, 2004

Look, I'm telling you, rabbits. Go with the rabbits.
posted by Salmonberry at 12:29 PM on May 25, 2004

How to Enjoy Your Weeds
posted by jfuller at 2:13 PM on May 25, 2004

Wow, great thread! Lots of good info everyone has great ideas. The Rabbit is not bad, I do have a groundhog and I read about someone who put gerbils in a cage on wheels with no bottom so they could push it around the lawn munching as they go. And Trout I recently harvested over 200 pounds of wild garlic-mustard which while edible, is invasive and I don't trust the soil here much anyway for heavy metals and pesticides.

Regarding Moss there is a cool site here about growing a moss lawn.

Anyway, I like the Noahs Garden suggestion and will check into that book.. work with nature, same with your book jfuller.
posted by stbalbach at 2:51 PM on May 25, 2004

My vote goes to rabbits, as well. Think your lawn is nice looking? Well my lawn is waaay cuter.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:49 PM on May 25, 2004

rock garden.
posted by Hackworth at 5:09 PM on May 25, 2004

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