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Spray Away Weeds
Spray Away Weeds Without Chemicals:Soap, Vinegar, Citric Acid & Clove safely wipe out unwanted plants

Q. Mike: Because of all therain this year I am spending more time on weeds (which I hate!) than mygarden. I am not happy! I was going to purchase "Weed Aside" fromGardens Alive, but they say it does not kill the roots of weeds. Whatgood is it then?
            ---Dena inLong Beach, CA

A.    Hey, countyour blessings—weeds are always worst during the best gardeningseasons. I have also had lots of rain in my area—and lots of sun. As aresult, pollen counts are at record levels; but so is our raspberryharvest. The weeds are as high as an elephant's eye—but so are mytomatoes and cukes. I'll take it!

The best way to control weeds is to prevent them: Mulch early and oftenwith an inch or two of non-wood organic matter, like compost, pinestraw, shredded leaves or peanut or cocoa bean shells.  (NEVER usewood chips, 'premium triple shredded bark', dyed mulch or licorice orother root mulches anywhere near your home, car or wanted plants. See "Isyour mulch miserable?" for details.)

Soap-based herbicides like "WeedAside" are very effective for spot control. Like insecticidal soap(which is processed differently), these sprays kill weeds by smotheringthem with a soapy film. Yes, the label and advertising wording on someof these natural products can be confusing; its really not 'their'fault—they have to dance around a lot more federal and localregulations than nasty chemical herbicides (Boo! Hiss!). The BottomLine? One good soaking soap spray at the peak of a hot, dry sunny daywill kill just about any annual weed. Perennial weeds with big taprootswill need repeated applications, but if you keep smothering their newgrowth, it will starve the root and destroy the entire plant.

Q. I caught my new next-doorneighbor spraying "Ortho Complete Vegetation Killer" on Bermuda grassalong our common fence line—where my dog lies down to wait for me tocome home from work. I know he'll do this again unless I take care ofthe Bermuda grass myself. What can I use that'ssafe?                                                 ---Cynthia in Las Vegas

Mike: You have often mentioned high concentration vinegar products thatcan be used to spray tough weeds instead of Roundup. Where can I findthem?
            ---Judy Lynnin Philadelphia

A. Well, I USED to call themhigh-strength vinegar herbicides. But virtually all of these productshave changed recently—many so dramatically they no longer containvinegar! (And several are now approved for use in organic agriculture.)

Here's a sampling of what's currently available in the rapidly growingworld of chemical herbicide alternatives. As with soap sprays, all ofthese products work best when applied to plants in hot, sunny weather.Don't spray them on wet, cold plants or if it's about to rain; youdon't want to dilute the stress you're inducing.  

The declared active ingredient in "Burn Out II" from St. GabrielLaboratories is clove oil (12% in the concentrate; 4% in the Ready toUse form); apparently, any essential oil will burn foliage, and cloveis the oil of choice. It also contains vinegar (8% & 3%) and citricacid as so-called 'inert' ingredients, but both are actually potentherbicides as well. Another St. Gabe product, "Poison ivy defoliant",marketed for tougher weeds, is simply the concentrate designed to beused full-strength. You'll find these on store shelves nationwide (theyhave the best retail distribution of any the products we're about tomention) and they're sold direct. But their 'vinegar' is chemicallyderived acetic acid; and sodium laurel sulfate is used as a surfactant(an ingredient that helps sprays adhere to their target); neither isapproved for use in organic growing.  

Greenergy is phasing out their old West Coast product "Blackberry &Brush Block", and replacing it with "Brush, Weed and Grass Herbicidefor organic production". Listed by OMRI (the Organic Materials ReviewInstitute) and thus approved for certified organic growing, it's 20%citric acid and 4% vinegar (both naturally derived) with a soy-basedsurfactant; available in stores in many Western states and direct fromGreenergy.

Garden-Ville sells "20% horticultural vinegar" in stores in the SanAntonio and Austin areas, and via mail order. A new entry to the market(new to ME, anyway), Bradfield Organics in Springfield, MO markets anOMRI listed/organic approved 20% horticultural vinegar with ayucca-based surfactant. Rodhe's in Garland, Texas no longer carriestheir 20% vinegar; they now offer a grain-based 8% acidityvinegar—still under the original Greensense label. And "Matran 2" is anOMRI listed/organic approved product that's a whopping 33.7% percentclove oil alone. (God only knows what was in "Matran 1"…)

Back to vinegar/acetic acid: Charlie Goodman, Quality Systems Managerfor 'Mizkan Americas', one of the largest vinegar makers in the US,explains that there are essentially four types of "acetic acid" and/orvinegar (the terms are often used interchangeably). One issynthetically derived (the photographic field uses a lot of acetic acidin film developing formulas and the like); and three are brewed fromnatural ingredients: "White distilled vinegar" is made from grain andranges in acidity from 13 to 15% at the time of manufacture; winevinegar's natural acidity is 10 to 12%, and cider vinegar comes out ofthe keg at 6 to 7%. Water is added to make table strength (generally5%) vinegars, or they're concentrated to make things like the 20%variety.  

In a wonderfully informative Bulletin (http://www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu/aginfo/entomology/ndsucpr/Years/2002/July/18/weeds_18July02.htm),North Dakota State University Weed Specialist Richard Zollinger reportsthat vinegars ranging in strength from 5 to 20% kill a great number ofdifferent weeds very efficiently. SO efficiently, in fact, that hecompares the mechanism of action to that of Paraquat ("rapiddissolution of cell membrane integrity resulting in desiccation offoliar tissues, and plant death").

But, he adds that unlike that notorious chemical herbicide, "Aceticacid is not reported to accumulate in the environment, and readilybreaks down into water." Of course, as with any herbicide, he notesthat, "it is important to follow all directions and safety procedures.Vinegar with acetic acid concentrations greater than 5 percent shouldbe handled with appropriate precautions."  He further warns thatAcetic acid is non-selective; be careful to spray it only on weeds, andnot wanted plants.  Charlie from Mizkan adds a concrete caution;don't spray vinegars on 'concrete', 'cement' or any other such surfacewhose manufacture involves limestone; vinegar can damage thosesurfaces. (Herbicidal soap sprays, however, are perfectly safe forcontrolling weeds in concrete walkways and the like.)

So take a close look at the various products we've described—and themany others that are doubtless out there—and choose the one whoseingredients you prefer or that's available locally. Just search theproduct and/or company name for more info on the individual productsand their availability.

Yes, obtaining some of these products may require a slight bit of extraeffort on your part. On the other hand, it's time well spent,considering that:
•    Recent research has found Roundup to be deadly tofrogs and toads and to negatively affect human reproductive function.
•    2, 4-D, the other most common American herbicide,is linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
•    And a recent Scottish study found that use of anypesticide increases the risk of developing Parkinson's.
(You'll find more information on some of these studies in the "Mike'sTips" section at our YBYG website: http://www.whyy.org/91FM/ybyg/YBYGtips.html).

You pays your money and you makes your choice.  Make it a good one.

You Bet Your Garden   Question of the Week  ©2005Mike McGrath

HelpfulProducts From Gardens Alive!
Control your weeds without harming yourself of your Garden. Use OrganicSolutions!

WeedBarrier Mat
Chokes out weeds with less Hassle
Our handy Mat keeps down weeds so you have more time to enjoy yourgarden. Weed Barrier Mat helps by blocking out light which weeds needto germinate while still allowing Air and Moisture to pass to your soil.
 
Weed-Aside
Herbicidal Soap gets rid of Weeds Fast!
Kill your Weeds with out harming nearby Garden Plants! Weed-Aside worksmuch more Effective and Faster than similar products. After Killingyour weeds it quickly decomposes into the soil making it safe to useeven around Food Crops.

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Pre Emergence Weed Control and Fertilizer
WOW! Plus lets you control pesky weeds while feeding your lawn with acomplete, balanced, and all natural fertilizer. Easy to apply so itsaves you time and money!