Mother Earth News Blogs > Nature and Environment

Nature and Environment

News about the health and beauty of the natural world that sustains us.

Weed Control Alternatives


Right now talking about weed control seems pretty ridiculous with the ground covered in snow. I was getting my weeding tools out to clean and sharpen in order to be ready for next springtime and thinking it is wise to plan ahead because those weeds will surely present themselves when this snow melts. I especially like to cut the weeds back that have stickers which get into the dogs fur. Locally we are being told that Canada thistle is an invasive species and will crowd out native vegetation but I have not seen that threat mature yet in our area. The Department of Agriculture wants weeds like Canada thistle and leafy spurge plus a host of other weeds eradicated from our common lands and our property. Our community seeks to comply and their last effort at weed control was to apply copious amounts of 2,4, D, Amine 4 to noxious weeds. Failure to seek out every thistle and saturate it with spray or rip it out by the roots seems to upset some zealots who are more committed to killing weeds with toxic spray rather than protecting the environment.

I personally observed a dead deer laying in the meadow with no apparent external cause of death and numerous deer and elk with tumors on their bodies. Some people are still of the belief that if a little is good then a lot is better. I personally witnessed spraying this toxic chemical on a specific location in the morning and later that day saw a herd of deer eating the sprayed weeds. One of those responsible told me that he was also using an experimental herbicide on leafy spurge that he obtained from a university professor who was one of his friends. Using an untested herbicide without knowing its potential toxic side effects on humans and four legged animals is seriously irresponsible in my opinion. People who are more intent on killing weeds at the risk of our safety need to be kept away from spraying apparatus so they don‘t get carried away with their obsession.

A Hazard Outside - Greater Hazard Inside

I have seen the commercials on television where this big manly guy with a deep voice comes onto your screen singing a catchy jingle that is designed to make you want to buy a gallon of their pre-mixed herbicide whether you have weeds or not. No sense reading the label or warnings on the container because it is pre-mixed and all you need to do is point and shoot and watch that weed wither and die. That product is only one of many brands which have carcinogens in them. The half life for 2,D.4 Amine and most products outdoors is only a few days but in one independent report I read it stated if tracked inside onto carpet its half life extended for up to one year. That would be the same carpet our children and grandchildren play on and is walked on in bare feet.

Humans Smarter Than A Frog?

The other remarkable feature I found when exploring the use of herbicides is that the reports available are either pro or con depending on who writes them so ascertaining which one is truly correct is difficult. Add to this the manly type standing with feet spread singing a catchy jingle and it is no wonder why some people disregard common sense and rush down to buy the pre-mixed herbicide that only takes a few minutes to apply. In many respects people remind me of the frog experiment where attempts to put a frog in hot water results in its immediately jumping out of the pan of hot water to safety. However, if you put a frog in a pan of cold water and slowly increase the water temperature the frog will remain in the pan until it dies. We humans are a lot like that frog when it comes to our use of herbicides. Exposures occur over time and accumulate with other exposures from the food we now eat to the air we breathe and the water we drink. Some people have a greater tolerance to toxins than others. Children and those with weak immune systems tend to be more susceptible to adverse effects than others. Pets appear to universally be susceptible from all the reports I have read. I know what I personally witnessed in our community when they were spraying herbicides.

Manual Removal Of Weeds

Those who are prone to spraying herbicides will go right ahead and spray them due to expediency sake and ignore the hazards. As for me I would suggest an alternative method I have found practical. It is more labor intensive and takes a longer time to perform but in the long run is just as effective and much safer. Note the photo where my array of weed control tools are laid out on our picnic table. Mowing is very effective but requires more time to manage the weeds. Some weeds like the dandelion we actually harvest and eat. That is effective weed control and is nutritious too since dandelions have many vitamins and nutritional aspects that are good for you. For the taller, non-edible weeds I use the manual weed whacker. I found the handle that came with it didn’t last long due to our many rocks so I put a heavy duty handle on it which I salvaged from a snow shovel. The electric weed whacker is used within 80 to 100 feet of our house according to the length of the extension cord. Weed control around the house is also good for wildfire mitigation. The other tools are for pulling weeds up from the root and getting into harder to reach places. Our grasses are all native natural grasses.

I concede that chemical companies are clearly here to stay and will market their herbicides with catchy commercials. However, I prefer to do my weed control manually and don’t mind taking the extra time needed to avoid putting any toxic material on our property. While our weed population is currently covered with snow and will remain that way for the next few months perhaps this topic will be a reminder to others that alternatives are available and when those weeds appear next spring instead of rushing down to purchase a herbicide possibly the manual way will be just as effective.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and sensible mountain living go to their blog, McElmurray's Mountain Retreat.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.