DIRT Article May 2004
Best Advice on Weeds: Get a Grip!
It amuses me to see how carried away people get about weeds. A Jewish client years ago told me he used to feel discriminated against because he was the only Jew in a primarily Christian neighborhood. Later he felt greater discrimination because of the weeds in his front yard. It appears that weeds affect people’s basic psyche. Often, all that needs to be done to solve the weed problem is to pull out the lawn mower, especially in the late winter and early spring when henbit and other cool season weeds are flourishing. Henbit is a beautiful wildflower but if you don’t like it, mow it. It is certainly not one to get all in a tizzy about. Henbit, dandelions and clover are all actually useful herbs. See Herbs for Texas for those details.
Other weeds that show up about the same time as henbit in the winter and early spring are rescue grass, dandelions, poa annua and clover. These and others can be spot sprayed with vinegar on a warm sunny day. See the formula at the end of this column for my latest recommendation. Michael Bosco with Soils Alive gave me a good tip for better overall weed control. Mark your calendars for next year between Christmas and New Year’s to spray the vinegar solution as the young winter weeds are first starting to grow. The kill is almost total and the vinegar sprayed at this time does not hurt the summer grasses in any way. Vinegar is beneficial to fertility as it enters the soil.
Corn gluten meal is still my primary natural “weed and feed” recommendation but it only works if it is put out before the weeds germinate, if we are lucky to have good weather and it doesn’t stay wet for a long period after the material has been applied. Pick the best date before the weeds germinate. Apply the corn gluten meal, water in well and then hope for a week or two of dry weather.
Another important point to understand about vinegar is that some of the vinegar products on the market are unacceptable in an organic program. This was a surprise to me when it was first mentioned by one of the Ground Crew members. Some products are made from acetic acid and thus are petroleum based. These are unacceptable in an organic program. The white vinegars, either 10% or 20% should be made from grain alcohol, not diluted 99% acetic acid. Of course natural vinegars, the apple cider and other fruit vinegars, are perfectly acceptable for other uses but not strong enough to have herbicidal value in most cases unless something else is added to the vinegar. Unfortunately some of the main brands of organic products are using this unacceptable form of vinegar. One that is using the acceptable form of vinegar and is easy to find at this point is the Nature’s Guide product.
Some commercial contractors are using a fatty acid product called Scythe; it seems to be working as well or better than the vinegar in some cases, so give that a try if you haven’t already.
Natural Herbicide: Per 1 gallon of 10% vinegar (from grain alcohol, not acetic acid), add 2 ounces of orange oil and 1 teaspoon of liquid soap.