Your front garden beds and vegetable gardens are often your first targets for removing unsightly and unwelcome weeds, but those persistent little weeds that pop up between your walkway stones and in cracks on your patio, driveway and sidewalk also need to be removed, because that's where you, your family and your pets walk, perhaps barefoot.
Using toxic weedkillers in these traffic areas puts you and your loved ones at health risk while outside and can bring those dangerous chemicals into your home because they can be tracked in on the soles of shoes. So it's best to create a nontoxic, all-natural weed-elimination plan for these non-garden locations around your house.
"The good news is that there are a lot of organic alternatives," says Genevieve Schmidt, a landscaper who shares organic gardening wisdom on her acclaimed blog, "North Coast Gardening." "The bad news is that some organic techniques can require an upfront time investment, and organic weed sprays can be pricier than chemical sprays. Still, it's worth a little extra effort to take care of the weeds in a sustainable way."
Schmidt shares the following earth-friendly methods for removing weeds from stone cracks and patio surface divides around your property:
"Sidewalk cracks, gravel driveways and stone or brick pathways can be hard to remove weeds from because the weeds toughen up quickly and we can't reach their roots. It's nice to have a few stronger options for areas where we aren't trying to grow anything." No matter which product or natural method you use, she says, it's important to protect any nearby plants from spray drift (when spray is carried in the breeze), and it's also important to check your flagstones and other stones or curbs to be sure that your organic product doesn't leave discoloration on them.
*Household Product Solutions
First, Schmidt mentions household vinegar as a popular all-natural solution for killing weeds. "Normal vinegar has a 5 percent acetic acid concentration, which isn't high enough to kill sturdy, mature weeds but which will kill the baby sproutlets coming up. You may need to apply vinegar twice to kill all the sprouts." This method takes a few days to kill the weeds after saturation, at which point the dead weeds can be pulled up and discarded.
Next, Schmidt mentions a vinegar mix that her fellow gardeners use. "Household vinegar with salt and soap. This is a rough solution, but multiple trusted sources have suggested mixing 4 cups of household vinegar with 1 cup of salt and then adding a half-teaspoon of liquid soap to help the solution stick to plants." Schmidt warns that you definitely don't want this sprayed anywhere near your planting beds or lawn.
Some gardeners swear by simple boiling water poured carefully onto weedy sections. Though it's not the most efficient weed-removal process, Schmidt says, "If you have an area of weeds right outside your kitchen door, why not dump your leftover boiling water on the weeds in between the sidewalk cracks? It works almost as well as the organic herbicides and makes more sense than dumping the water down the drain!" Keep in mind that boiling water will kill grass and other plants, as well as beneficial soil organisms, so keep this method to your driveway, curbs and sidewalks.
*Using Organic Weedkilling Sprays
Organic gardeners are quick to recommend effective nontoxic weedkilling sprays. Schmidt says: "I've found Weed Pharm extremely effective in my own tests. It's the only food-grade herbicide currently on the market. It's 20 percent acetic acid (as opposed to the 5 percent acetic acid in household vinegar), and it works the same way as the other organic herbicide sprays, by burning the waxy cuticle off aboveground portions of the plant." When the cuticle is burned off, the weed's cells cannot retain water, and thus it dies.
"It can also be injected into the taproots of dandelions or the base of the plant using a syringe. (The manufacturer recommends a 40 cubic-centimeter syringe without a needle, like one you'd use to give your cat liquid medicines.) The best thing about this method is that you can kill dandelions fully in any weather; all weed sprays, organic or not, need temperatures of 60 degrees and dry weather to work their best, but this method is effective even in the winter rain."
Another product that Schmidt mentions is Blackberry & Brush Block, by Greenergy. "Blackberry & Brush Block is certified organic and has gotten high marks from the people I know who have used it," she says. This spray tested well against woody weeds, such as blackberries, after several applications starting when the weeds are young.
"The nice thing about organic herbicides is that they only kill things that get their foliage coated with them, so if you have bulbs underground or tree roots nearby, you're still safe, unlike with some traditional chemical herbicides." Some of Schmidt's followers apply organic weedkiller to weeds with craft sponges to eliminate spray drift.
*Weeding by Hand
Of course, you might choose the old-fashioned method of weeding by hand, which provides you with exercise, as well as immediate results. The weeds are gone -- not browning as they die, to be pulled later. For stubborn weeds, use an inexpensive weed fork or Schmidt's recommended Japanese soil knife in lightweight stainless steel, which allows you to dig down to remove long weed taproots.