Out, doggone weeds

Earth-friendly weed control takes persistence

Just so you know, my original headline was “Out, damned weeds!” I knew I wouldn’t get away with putting “damned” in a headline… or, worse, using an exclamation point in a headline. (“Save it for the end of the world,” one of my former editors used to say.)

With this summer’s rainy weather, the weeds did better than just about anything else in my garden. The season began with pristine, promising vegetable beds and a tidy yard. Now I had all manner of extraneous greenery competing with the plants, except where the bunnies had already made a salad bar of the beets. It’s like something in the rain drove the weeds to grow, live long and prosper while sending the on-purpose plants into a state of waterlogged inertia.

Well, some years are better than others in the garden, and seasons that are fruitful for some gardeners are busts for others. We could probably get weather data and soil analyses to explain this. Or we can put on our gloves, grab a hoe and hope for better next year. I opted for the latter.

Many weeds can be hoed out, but others have to be hand-plucked. Get them out at the root. It feels a little bit wrong to yank a plant out of the soil, but when it’s competing with your flowers and vegetables for water, nutrients or growing space, it has to go.

Weeds in gravel, stone, between pavers and obnoxiously poking up in driveways and walks are another matter. This year they were so pervasive that hand weeding was impractical, and this is where home gardeners typically use commercial herbicides. An Internet search for environmentally friendly weed control yielded a perplexing range of methods and recipes, so I asked a couple of fellow gardeners.

Basically, boiling water is the least harmful alternative (though not when the person carrying the boiling water is a klutz). Vinegar and salt can be used, but you have to be really careful, especially with salt, to avoid runoff that can kill other plants. Let’s face it, some of those areas are going to get good and salty in a few months.

After doing my homework, I decided to give plain vinegar a go. I bought two 64-oz. bottles of the household cleaning kind (rather than food-grade vinegar) and applied it with a sprayer. It does wither the weeds, but it takes more vinegar, and applied more frequently, to do so than a commercial herbicide. I went through those two bottles of vinegar quickly, and, yes, my garden smelled like a salad. I’m surprised the bunnies didn’t show up with their plates and ask for freshly ground pepper.

With the vinegar gone and the weeds only showing moderate signs of surrender, I decided to try an organic solution containing glycerin, lecithin, rosemary oil and cinnamon oil. I applied that only once, and it smelled much better than the vinegar. A couple of relatively dry weeks later, the weeds were in full retreat. Whether that was due to the single application of prepared organic solution, the multiple vinegar sprayings or all of it combined would need to be determined by scientific acumen I do not have.

What I do have is an organic pre-emergent weed control spray ready to apply against future invasion. It’s made with corn gluten, which prevents seeds from germinating. According to the folks at Gardens Alive in Lawrenceburg, this is best applied in the spring when the daffodils and forsythias begin to bloom. Fall applications can be made as early as mid-August, but it’s most effective during cooler weather before a hard freeze.

So grab some corn gluten and take aim. Think of it as an earth-friendly preemptive strike.

First appeared in the October 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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