Weed killers. Chemicals and The Alternatives

When we design our lawns and gardens, we’re creating a space of order and beauty. Though our landscapes are made up of natural elements such as plants, soil, and water, they’re technically artificial spaces of order that nature will consistently contend against to bring it back to what they were.

Why do you think taking care of landscape requires work?! We’re fighting nature’s natural order!

Think about it: lawns are not natural. We’re trimming grasses to be 3-6 inches tall, when naturally they’d grow to 3-6 feet! We’re structuring garden beds in perfect lines and angles that you’d never find in forests.

One of nature’s best defenses, and one of a homeowner’s worst enemies is the weed.

Why are weeds plaguing my landscaping?
Aside from nature making its way back to natural order, when we trim our grass short or do not optimize our soil, we create the perfect breeding ground for weeds, since they’re highly adapted organisms that feed off these situations.

What are my options when it comes to weed killers?
If it’s quick and easy, it’s likely not the safest, but sometimes the nature (no pun intended) of the problem at hand cannot be tamed with natural options. We’ll explore the most common:

Chemical weed killers: herbicides are chemicals that kill plants or inhibit their normal growth and vary based on 4 main traits:

  1. Selectivity: refers to what the herbicide treats. Selective herbicides kill only the specified plant they’re designed to target, while non-selective essentially kill anything they touch.
  2. Persistence: refers to how long after application the herbicide will continue to work. Persistent herbicides remain “active” and prevent regrowth, while non-persistent do not offer lasting prevention.
  3. Emergence: refers to what stage of the weed the herbicide treats; pre-emergence herbicide is applied to pre-germination (seed stage) to stop weeds from sprouting, while post-emergence is applied after weed growth, directly to the leaves of the plant.
  4. Translocation: refers to how the herbicide is circulated through the plant’s system. Translocated herbicides systematically work their way through the plant’s system, breaking it down internally, while contact herbicides kill immediately on contact.

Are chemical weed killers bad?
Chemical is a pretty scary word that has many people running for the (weed-filled) hills. Not all Chemical herbicides are the same – there are the highly toxic no-no’s like Round-Up (determined by the World Health Organization to be a human carcinogen, found to cause tumors in pigs and rats, discovered to lead to DNA mutations and cancer in humans, and the basis of 10,000 lawsuits – one of which was awarded a $2 billion settlement), whose active ingredient is glyphosate, but there are safer organic alternatives, too, such as corn gluten meal (a byproduct of corn) and acetic acid (vinegar).

Though safer options are available, it’s important to keep in mind that any chemical will change the biodiversity of your soil, which is the foundation of your landscape. Because your soil can have a ripple effect throughout the entire landscape, it’s recommended that when chemical weed killers are necessary, that they be used as a targeted spot treatment only.

Alternatives to Chemical Weed Killers:
These alternatives are not immediate quick fixes, but rather changes you can make to see an improvement in, and reduction of, weed prevalence in your landscaping over time.

  • Learn what the weed is teaching you: not to get all Mr. Miyagi on you, but the weeds overtaking your lawn can guide you as to what needs to be changed; they’re a heads-up to what is biologically going on in your soil and around the roots of your landscaping.
  • For example, let’s say you have a dandelion weed problem – by looking at the biology of the dandelion plant, you determine that it has deep tap roots which work by secreting compounds that dissolve minerals in the soil around them; basically, decompose and soak up the minerals in your soil – which leaves your soil devoid of nutrients; being a “tough” tap root, dandelions love tough soil, which signals to you that your soil may be compacted.

Aerate as needed: compacted soil breeds tough-loving weeds – but you should only aerate if your soil is compacted, not “just because!” Compaction is most common in clay soils, and the best time to aerate is in the fall.
Dethatch with caution: dethatching is (usually) not something that you need to do every year, but rather every 2-3 years. Dethatching does remove dead root material and bring air to the space between your plants’ roots to allow them to breathe, but it also exposes weed seeds that can germinate – which is why the best time to do dethatch is in fall, most weeds’ off-season.

Mulch generously: think of mulch as magic; it allows your soil to build as it slowly decomposes, while forming a thick cover that keeps light from germinating weed seeds. But, it’s important to make sure you use mulch that is not dyed and not from questionable sources.

What if these alternatives aren’t working?
The safest way to address gnarly weeds that simply won’t be tamed is to spot treat with organic herbicides. The easiest thing, of course, is to give us a call – we’ll tame your weeds in the safest way possible!