Anybody who cares about the environment and wants to limit the lawn care chemicals entering the water system, raise your hand.
So, will the best organic weed killer get rid of lawn weeds instead?
Let’s take a look at the strongest natural weed killers, how effective they are, and other non-chemical strategies to give weeds the boot.
The Case Against Roundup
Most of us have turned to that weed-killing super spray Roundup over the years to rid our lawns of unsightly weeds.
But its potent ingredient, glyphosate, is increasingly being banned because of its potential link to cancer in humans; potentially causing the death of important insects like bees; and damage to ecosystems by disrupting the natural food chains and plant pollination.
Montgomery County, Md. has already banned the use of glyphosate and some pesticides on private lawns, at childcare facilities, and playgrounds.
Professional landscaping companies that use these products use them responsibly. They’re licensed and certified for pesticide use by the state, are required to take periodic training, and follow strict usage protocol.
But glyphosate is still under attack.
“There are all kinds of lawsuits about glyphosate,” says Doug Delano, founding partner of Level Green Landscaping. “We need to be looking for alternatives. There may come a time when that won’t be an option.”
Can Organic Save the Day?
The problem with the best alternatives to chemical weed control is that they’re not very effective — and they’re expensive.
“There are organic solutions beyond chemicals,” Delano says. “The problem is they don’t work very well and they cost a lot more than what we’ve been using. And most people don’t want to pay.
“Everybody says they’re interested in helping the environment until they find out it’s more expensive.”
What about good old-fashioned yanking weeds out by the roots? Very organic.
“We can’t hand weed everything,” Delano says. “We can’t find the labor, and if we could the labor costs would be too high. We’re a commercial landscaping company. We have to be competitive.”
The Best Alternatives To Chemical Weed Control
Here’s a look at two of the best alternatives to Roundup. But chances are, you won’t love them, says Paul Wisniewski, Division Manager at Level Green Landscaping.
The high iron content “shuts down the function of the weed, then it turns yellow and dies,” Wisniewski says.
While grass can tolerate an overload of iron at the recommended dose, most weeds shrivel and die within a few days
But it’s tricky.
“It needs multiple applications within a 21-day period,” Wisniewski says. “The timing has to be just right. We use it in Montgomery county but with limited results.”
One of the best alternatives to chemical weed control is corn gluten meal, a powdery byproduct of the corn milling process. Originally used as a supplement in hog feed, it’s also used as an organic weed killer.
But, like chelated iron, it’s pretty fussy.
Instead of preventing weed seeds from germinating, it inhibits them from forming roots after germination. And it’s only designed to do that — it doesn’t kill weeds after they’ve sprouted.
Again, the timing is super tricky.
After application, corn gluten needs to be watered with a quarter-inch of water, either by rainfall or by watering, within five days. After this, it needs a dry period of one or two days.
It costs more than traditional pre-emergent weed control, too.
You need to put down several applications, which means hundreds or thousands of pounds of the stuff.
“You put it down and hope it prevents crabgrass,” Wisniewski says.
“It’s very expensive, especially when you’re talking about large commercial properties, and you don’t get good results,” he says. “You’re basically throwing your money away.”
Easier Alternatives to Chemical Weed Control
Part of Level Green’s responsible approach to weed control is limiting its use of chemicals, Wisniewski says.
“We put down as minimal applications as we can,” he says.
One of the best alternatives to chemical weed control is good lawn care for healthy turf.
Follow these strategies to battle weeds:
Regular Aeration and Overseeding
Aeration and overseeding in the spring and fall helps create a thick, healthy lawn that can naturally crowd out weeds.
Aeration uses a machine to pull out tiny cores of soil from your lawn, allowing water and oxygen to get to the roots, so they can grow nice and deep.
Aeration is typically followed by overseeding, as the holes created are perfect new homes for grass seed.
The goal: you want grass filling in any empty spots, with new grass growing all the time. Thicker grass, fewer weeds.
“The healthier the lawn, the better it can crowd out weeds,” Wisniewski says. “That’s a better value for customers than expensive organic weed control.”
Deep root growth is another natural defense against weeds.
That means longer, but less frequent watering.
Chances are, your irrigation controller is set to water three times a week for 20 minutes.
If you water longer, but less frequently, turf roots will grow deeper, which makes for healthier grass.
Aim for an inch of water every seven days, if it doesn’t rain.
Cutting grass no shorter than 3-4 inches is more important than ever if you’re limiting chemical weed control.
Taller grass helps shade weed seeds and keeps them from sprouting. Cut it shorter than three inches and you’ll get more weeds.
Add Organic Material
Chop those fallen leaves up to return to the turf in the fall— don’t haul them away.
You want all those nourishing nutrients to go into the soil.
Level Green crews mulch leaves whenever possible, using a mulching mower that breaks the leaves down into nutritious bits beneficial to your turf.
The tiny bits of leaves fall down to the soil level where they’ll begin decomposing, acting as a natural fertilizer.
Chemicals like glyphosate do a great job at banishing weeds, and that’s what we’ve all come to expect.
“People want weed-free turf,” Delano says. “Nobody likes crabgrass.”
But one of the best strategies as we look to more organic weed control is adjusting expectations about how the lawn looks.
A few weeds are OK. Focus on a healthy lawn, not a perfect lawn.
Trust Your Turf’s Health to Level Green
Here at Level Green Landscaping, we strive for the best possible balance between environmental responsibility and our customers’ desire for the best- looking lawns possible.
We know our customers appreciate our earth-friendly stance as we balance it with their desire for excellent landscaping.
If you’re not already a Level Green Landscaping client, we’d love to add you to our growing list of happy customers.
Our focus is on commercial properties like offices, mixed-use sites, HOAs, municipalities and institutions in Maryland, Washington DC and parts of Virginia.
Contact us at 202-544-0968. You can also request a free consultation online to meet with us one-on-one.
We’d love to hear from you.