7 Best Natural Weed Deterrents To Use Instead Of Roundup

On Monday, a jury in Pennsylvania unanimously ruled that Monsanto and its parent company, Bayer, were responsible for causing a man’s cancer after he used their popular weed killer Roundup — and its key ingredient, glyphosate — for two decades on his property. (Monsanto disagrees with the verdict and plans to appeal.)

There’s long been some awareness surrounding the dangers of unregulated pesticide use (it was even outlined in classic books like Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”), but there’s still very much a consumer demand for weed killers. They might even be in your shed or garage right now.

Giles C. Thelen, co-owner of Montana-based Native Yards, a nursery dedicated to restoring natural landscapes, claimed that the majority of weed killers on your average store shelf contain glyphosates and 2,4-D, another herbicide that’s been linked to health problems and can be toxic to wildlife.

And, according to Kelli Rohrig, owner of Montana-based Mountain Organic Landscaping & Irrigation, even fertilizers that appear to be marketed as “natural” are often owned by major chemical companies that are attempting to greenwash.

Jody Ash, owner of Colorado’s Natural Heritage Gardens landscape company, takes an earth-centered approach to management of weeds and unwanted plants.

“Healthy plants and a full garden will always win the competition against weeds,” Ash said. To do this, she encourages people to opt for landscapes containing plants that are not necessarily always native, but are prone to thrive in your specific climate.

Her company utilizes online resources like PlantSelect.org to help determine which plants are suitable for Colorado’s environment and believes that similar platforms exist for many different regions. (For example, a quick Google search revealed the National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder database.)

“Also having plant diversity, generally areas with 10 or more different types, will usually keep out the weeds,” Thelen said.

According to Ash, it’s important to be conscious of the weed-management products you introduce to your green space, even if they are completely natural. This is because they can still disrupt balance and just exchange one problem for another, be it a new overgrowth of another weed species or an invasion of insects that were deterred by the plants that you just exterminated.

“We’re always going to have weeds,” Ash said. “And that’s OK because everything is beneficial.”

But, Ash admits that there are instances where it’s necessary to control a particularly persistent plant. For situations like these, Ash and a few other natural landscapers have some techniques and effective natural products that are much safer alternatives to the weed killers that many of us have become so wary of. Check them out below.

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A highly rated manual weeding tool

Josh Nelson, development director for Wild Ones Natural Landscapers, an initiative dedicated to preserving plant biodiversity, suggested the tried-and-true method of weed-pulling to manage unwanted growth.

“While this is the most labor-intensive method of weed control, it is one of the most effective methods as it removes the whole plant, including the roots,” Nelson said. “It is important to do this before a weed goes to seed to prevent future weeds from sprouting. Hand-pulling of large weeds should be exercised with caution to prevent excessive soil disturbance and injury to the gardener.”

We found this standing weeder, which was made specifically to effectively remove weeds without kneeling or causing strain on necks or backs. The simple design features a metal claw that grabs weeds from the root with just a tilt of the weeder.


Drought-tolerant ground cover seeds

According to Jody Ash, owner of Colorado’s Natural Heritage Gardens, planting ground cover is a phenomenal way to deter the growth of weeds. South Mountain Nursery, based in Phoenix, Arizona, has a wide selection of ground cover seeds to choose from, depending on which species will grow best in your region. Find options like this brightly colored heirloom thyme plant that is tolerant to drought and has reviews saying that it’s quick to sprout.


A natural cedar mulch for weed smothering

Both Ash and Nelson talk about smothering, a chemical-free technique that involves covering soil with materials such as mulch, newspapers or cardboard that can be effective for controlling weeds in larger areas.

Ash said that for her specific region, she prefers using cedar mulch, a very thick and dense woven mulch that, in addition to deterring weeds, also naturally repels pests.

We found this 100% natural and fresh cedar mulch which ships from a small business in Texas in increments of up to three and half gallons.


A drip irrigation system

“A lot of people will overhead water their plants with standard lawn head sprinklers,” Ash said. “Drip systems on the other hand water at the base of that plant, only the amount of water that it needs, [so] you’re going to have less weeds because you’re not supporting the natural weed population with water.”

Ash’s company installs their own irrigation system which can be timed depending on how much a specific plant requires watering. Online, we found this six-sprinkler head kit by Rain Bird, which contains everything you need to easily convert your current sprinkler system into a drip one, without requiring any digging or existing irrigation knowledge. It eliminates wasteful overspray by sending water directly to plants rather than the sidewalk or other unwanted areas, thanks to an included pressure regulator.


A citrus-oil-based weed killer

If you are going to make the decision to venture into the world of natural weed-killing formulas, also known as “biopesticides,” Kelli Rohrig, owner of Montana-based Mountain Organic Landscaping & Irrigation, recommends this concentrate by Avenger, which uses a solution of essential citrus oils to eliminate weeds.

Ash cautioned that the use of essential oils can still pose a risk to wildlife, specifically birds, if ingested in large quantities. We asked Hardy Kern, director of government relations for the American Bird Conservancy, for his general guidance surrounding this risk.

According to Kern, essential oils are beneficial because they dissipate quickly after application and tend to degrade into nontoxic compounds. However, pesticides are pesticides, and tend to be indiscriminate within their intended class of target organisms.

“For birds specifically, it really depends on the individual oil. Some have little to no effect on birds seemingly, while others may be harmful,” Kern said. He recommends the following:

  • First, use non-chemical methods for controlling weeds and other pests before moving to chemical applications.
  • Be as specific and sparing as possible and keep application areas small.
  • Follow all directions on the pesticide label, which may include timing, amount, and any personal protective equipment.
  • Avoid spraying near areas where you know birds will be, such as under feeders or near nest boxes or nest trees.
  • Avoid use in wet conditions, or early in the morning when birds tend to be most active.


A horticultural vinegar

For persistent weeds in areas like driveways, patios and sidewalks, Rohrig uses horticultural vinegar which is a corrosive solution that, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, has an 85% to 100% kill rate of weeds at all growth stages. Because this is a concentrated solution, it’s important to follow the dilution directions listed on the label and only use in areas that are far away from water sources and never during a rain event, according to Rohrig.


A corn gluten fertilizer

Geordie Schuurman, owner of the Los Angeles-based sustainable landscape and design company Natural Earth, wrote to HuffPost about the methods of employing natural herbicides in conjunction with physical barriers like mulch as well as natural pre-emergents like corn gluten.

“Corn gluten is a natural product that prevents seeds from sprouting and can be purchased in granular or liquid form and can help ensure weeds won’t sprout,” Schuurman said.

We found this organic corn gluten fertilizer, which has a nutrient-rich composition to enhance soil and promote a healthy foundation for plants and grasses.

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