Take a bite out of weeds

Before reaching for poisonous products, check out the increasingly popular alternatives

Will Gardner of Moana Nursery in Reno with some of the products that can substitute for environmentally unfriendly pesticides.

Will Gardner of Moana Nursery in Reno with some of the products that can substitute for environmentally unfriendly pesticides.

Photo By David Robert

Nausea, light-headedness and the gag reflex plague weed warriors. At this point in the battle, they are at the hardware store or local nursery, standing in the weed control department. Varieties of Roundup, the leading chemical herbicide, spew toxic vapors into their nostrils. Despite the side effects, many consumers purchase this expensive chemical to spray around their homes.

Roundup hit the commercial market in 1973, dominating sales ever since. Americans purchase 5-8 million pounds per year. The U.S. government uses 85-90 million pounds. Monsanto, a company skilled at product promotion and what its critics call “pseudoscience,” produces Roundup, which it claims is safe for pets, people and ground water. (Monsanto made similar safety claims about Agent Orange, dioxins, chlorinated toxins and DDT.) Independent testing suggests otherwise. Abnormalities in fetuses and pregnant rats have been documented. Studies reveal Roundup is a hormone disruptor. Monsanto was forced to drop “environmentally friendly” and “biodegradable” labeling.

Fortunately, alternatives exist. Organic products kill weeds, without known unfavorable side effects.

Will Gardner has worked in the herbicide department at Moana Nursery for five years. He says organic alternatives to chemical herbicides are increasing in sales. They’re pleasant for the senses and friendly to the environment.

“Vinegar does the job,” Gardner says. Moana Nursery sells Burn Out II, a mix of clove oil and vinegar. This product is new on the market, but customers report good results. Many vinegar-based herbicides are marketed these days, as customers seek environmentally safe alternatives to chemicals.

Household vinegar kills weeds, but the concentration of acetic acid is only 5 percent. Repeated use slowly kills weeds. Bonuses for patient weed warriors are that household vinegar is cheap, safe and plentiful. Pickling vinegars contain 7 percent acetic acid, a slight benefit for weed-abatement use.

Higher concentrations of acetic acid, at 20 percent, kill mature weeds quicker. Vinegar-based herbicides offer an 85 to 100 percent kill rate. These biodegradable products annihilate weeds growing in pavement cracks, brickwork and patios. Higher concentrations of acetic acid must be handled with care because it can irritate skin and eyes upon contact.

A few pounds of prevention can be purchased to stop weeds before they sprout. Corn meal gluten, a byproduct of milling corn for cornstarch, provides an effective pre-emergent weed defense.

“It kills seeds as they’re germinating,” Gardner says. His customers say it works wonders, especially when used at set intervals.

Sprinkle cornmeal gluten in vegetable gardens and flower beds to prevent weeds from taking root. This product won’t harm existing vegetation. In fact, it helps plant growth. Cornmeal gluten averages 10 percent slow-release nitrogen, feeding lawns and gardens. Folks can purchase cornmeal gluten in five- or 25-pound quantities, depending on the job.

Weed abatement can be safe for pets, people and animals. Stepping outside the fog of chemical herbicides offers a literal breath of fresh air. Organic options are easy on the environment, easy on the wallet and safe.