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Aug 05, 2021

What to Do if Weeds are Monopolizing Your Lawn

Advice from Garden Club R.F.D.

For years, harsh chemical weed killers were the way of life in the care of one’s lawn. Products available to the homeowner ranged from pre-emergent crabgrass control to weed-and-feed fertilizer/weedkiller combinations to the broadleaf weed killer containing 2, 4-D to glyphosate (that killed everything). Many people today no longer want to use these products because they have become increasingly aware of the negative aspects of these products, namely their effects on the environment and on the health of people.

Regulations have already made much progress when it comes to pesticides that kill insects but not in regulations to control the effects of herbicides that kill plant life. Thankfully, the demand for organic products has increased, and so has the effort to find more organic alternatives to conventional weed control.

The organic herbicides can contain plant-derived concentrates such as clove oil, citric acid or acetic acid. They are nearly as effective as the chemical weed killers and far less hazardous to people, pets and the environment. But you must realize that these concentrates are generally non-selective, meaning that they kill whatever plants they touch, so one must be careful in how they are applied.  

Home recipes that have come down to us one generation to another are safe. The most common home mixture combines vinegar (1 gallon), salt (1 cup) and or liquid soap (1 tablespoon). There are, of course, numerous variations on the recipe. The acetic acid in the vinegar disrupts the cells of the plant as the salt desiccates the tissue. The soap helps by allowing the mixture to adhere to the plant. You can improve its effectiveness by increasing the vinegar concentrations. Regular vinegar that you buy in the supermarket has a 5 percent concentration of acetic acid in it, but concentrations up to 30 percent can be purchased online. Pour the ingredients into a spray bottle and shake to mix. When you have a few continuous days of sunshine, apply directly on the weeds and the sun’s rays will do the job. If it rains, the mixture is likely to be washed off the leaves, and your weeds will survive. It should be used with care, and you should see the treated leaves turn brown within 24 hours. Vinegar is good for young, tender weeds and annual weeds like crabgrass. The roots are often not entirely killed, and the weeds may reappear. Therefore, repeated applications will be required. The stronger the concentrations, the quicker the result. One last word: Vinegar is considered an organic control only if the acetic acid is created from the fermentation of plant products like grapes and apples.

The weed known as Creeping Charlie or Creeping Jenny, or ground ivy, is a stubborn perennial weed with a vining habit that can be controlled using a mixture of water and ordinary household borax. Mix 10 ounces of borax with four ounces of warm water to make a slurry. Then dilute this into two and a half gallons of water making a solution that should cover about 1,000 square feet. Once again, be careful where you spray it as it can also kill garden plants. Creeping Charlie is one of the most stubborn lawn weeds. However, it has shallow roots and so can be dealt with by hand pulling. It is a member of the mint family and in some places is also used as a salad green.

Some gardeners use an astringent substance solution of one quart of water with two tablespoons of rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle to remove moisture from a weed’s foliage. Apply on a sunny day, directly onto the weeds and away from other plants. Boiling water has also been used as a homemade weed killer. You must pour enough so that it seeps down into the roots.  

The methods above do work to kill annual weeds but won’t work against some of the tougher, perennial weeds. More work, on your part, is required as you must cover the ground in your garden with mulch, landscape fabric or ground covers. This will suppress the weeds, keeping the sun and moisture from giving weeds life.

Even something as simple as crowding out weeds can be an effective tactic as in a “cottage garden.” Plants are packed so closely together that there’s no room for weeds. 

There are really dozens of different lawn weeds, but the greatest problems are caused by just a few. One of the most bothersome is the common dandelion, a member of the aster family that arrived in North America from Europe and quickly established itself as a wildflower and a common lawn weed. It is a perennial plant, and its long taproot makes it difficult to eradicate. It can be pulled by hand or by using a “weed popper” tool. Removal is made easier after a rainfall or watering with a hose. Vinegar will also kill the dandelion, or you can eat your dandelions. Yes, they are edible, and many people think they are delicious! All parts of the plant are good in salads or as cooked greens. It is a member of the mint family. 

Finally, the common Ragweed of which there are two types – both are the curse of allergy sufferers! The form that haunts lawns is Ambrosia artiemisiifolia. It does not have a long, deep taproot, so weeding is easy; just pull it up. It thrives in poor soil, so keeping your lawn healthy and well-fed will discourage this plant. 

With the exception of hand weeding, you will probably decide that the organic weed killers are not quite as effective as the chemically based killing solutions. But the use of organic solutions should give you the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you are not polluting the environment or risking the health of your family and neighbors. 

Garden Club R.F.D. is a member of the Garden Club of New Jersey, the Central Atlantic Region of State Garden Clubs, Inc., and the National Garden Clubs, Inc. Meetings are held at the Little Red Schoolhouse on Middletown Lincroft Road in Middletown. For more information about joining our group, contact Ruth Korn at