Happily spring is here - trees are flowering, flowers and shrubs are blooming and lawns are turning green. Oh lawns, we love them and we hate them. They add beauty to the landscape and are a playground for our kids and pets, but to maintain a “picture-perfect” lawn requires a lot of time, money, energy, and usually toxic chemicals. A conventional lawn is the largest irrigated “crop” in the country. With an organic lawn you mow less, water less, thatch less and skip high nitrogen-based fertilizers and herbicides. Organic lawns are clearly the safer alternative, but you have to be able to tolerate a few weeds as your lawn transitions from a chemical free lawn to an organic one.
What can you do about those dreaded weeds? First of all, realize that a monoculture, like a lawn, is not usual in nature. With the more natural approach, there will be some weeds. Change your perspective about them. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” Weeds are a messenger of problems in your soil and will grow where nothing else will. Many are an edible and nutritious food. If you really can’t stand them, try the simple and safe recipes for weed control I’ve listed below using ingredients right from your kitchen.
VINAIGRETTE “DRESSING” FOR DANDELIONS
A well-placed shot of vinegar right on the plant can thwart dandelions or other broad-leaved weeds. Be careful not to splash it on the turf or any plants you want to keep, because vinegar will kill grassy plants as well. A section of newspaper or cardboard can act as a shield for desirable plants.
Vinegar (as close to 10% acidity as possible); Dishwashing Liquid (optional); Pump Spray Bottle
Fill the spray bottle with undiluted vinegar (or mix 3 parts vinegar to 1 part dishwashing liquid). Spray a narrow stream, dousing the weed’s leaves and crown (the area at the base of the plant). Rinse the sprayer well with water, especially if it has metal parts because vinegar is corrosive. This is a spot spray only!
Rubbing alcohol is a simple way to kill a weed. Mix it with water and it will dehydrate almost any weed. This also works against spider mites, aphids, and scale, but may require some experimentation to find the right level of effectiveness. Test spray on one leaf to check for burning.
1-quart water; 1 (or more) tablespoons rubbing alcohol; Pump spray bottle
Mix water and alcohol in the spray bottle. (Use 1 tablespoon of alcohol for weed seedlings or thin-leaved weeds and 2 tablespoons or more for tougher weeds.) Spray weed leaves thoroughly but lightly. (Avoid surrounding plants.)
Creeping Charlie is a low-growing, yellow-flowered perennial weed that can be a real nuisance in lawns. If you have noticed it in yours, borax can be a very effective weed-killer, particularly in late spring or early summer when weeds are growing most actively.
5 Teaspoons borax, like 20 mule Team Borax, for every 25 square feet of lawn; 1-quart water; Pump spray bottle
Mix borax in water. Measure exactly: Too little and it won’t kill the weeds, too much and you could kill the grass too. Spray to cover a 25-square foot area. Water and fertilize your turf after the treatment so that it rapidly fills in the space left by the dead weeds.
SPRAY AWAY BROWN PATCH IN LAWNS
Brown or yellow rings that die out in your lawn, caused by rhizoctonia fungi, which comes from poor drainage, too much rain and/or too much nitrogen fertilizer, can be treated with this simple solution.
1 rounded tablespoon baking soda or potassium bicarbonate (a better choice since it has less salt); 1-tablespoon horticultural oil; 1-gallon water
Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Spray lightly on your lawn. Avoid overuse or drenching the soil.
DELUXE BAKING SODA SPRAY
For a very effective disease and insect fighter, go no further than your kitchen. This concoction works best as a preventative, so spray susceptible plants before disease symptoms start and continue at weekly intervals.
1 ½ tablespoons baking soda; 1-tablespoon canola oil; 1 cup plus 1 gallon water; 1-tablespoon vinegar; Backpack or pump sprayer
Mix the baking soda, soap and oil with 1 cup of water. Add the vinegar. Don’t mix the vinegar in until last or the mixture may bubble over. Pour the mixture into the sprayer and add 1 gallon of water. Shake or stir to combine the ingredients. Spray plants, covering the bottoms and tops of the leaves.
PLAIN AND SIMPLE GARLIC JUICE
If you are a garlic lover, you may want to use this simple recipe to fight diseases and insects on your plants.
3 garlic cloves; A blender; Pump Spray Bottle; Molasses (optional)
Liquefy 3 garlic cloves in a blender that is half-filled with water. Strain out the garlic, then mix the remaining liquid with enough water to make 1 gallon of spicy concentrate. Two tablespoons of molasses will help the mixture adhere to the leaves.
CITRUS KILLER FOR APHIDS
Aphids and other leaf-sucking insects can cause considerable damage if you don’t control them. This mixture neutralizes aphids and can also act as a deterrent to ants!
1-pint water; Rind from 1 lemon, grated (or orange or grapefruit rind); Cheesecloth; Pump Spray Bottle
Bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat and add the grated lemon rind. Allow the mixture to steep overnight. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth, and pour into the spray bottle. Apply the mixture to plant leaves that are under attack. (This mixture must come in contact with the insects’ bodies to be effective.)
WEEDS IN HOT WATER
Use boiling water to eliminate weeds from sidewalk or driveway cracks. Be careful not to splash it on to neighboring plants or turf.
Teakettle or pan
Boil a full kettle of water. Pour slowly and carefully, dousing both the weeds and the soil immediately surrounding them.
For more recipes, email me at greenwithbetsy.com.
Recipes for organic weed, insect pests and disease controls compiled from Great Garden Formulas, 1998 Rodale Press, Inc.
Information compiled from: lawncare.about.com/od/lawncarebasics/a/historyoflawn.htm