Friday, August 9, 2013

Round Up Your Weeds Without Toxic Chemicals!

By Joey Shea, Public Health Writing Intern

Everyone likes the look of a tidy flowerbed, surrounded by golf-green grass and pristine sidewalks.  When crabgrass and dandelions sneak in, it’s tempting to nuke them with herbicides like Roundup.  But every time you spray weeds, the chemicals you leave behind wind up on the bottoms of our shoes as we walk by, and come right inside with us.  Indoors, there is no rain and wind to break down herbicides.  They stick to the carpet and to house dust, where we are exposed to them over and over again—especially little ones who spend lots of time on the floor and putting things in their mouths!

Weeds are a pain because they compete with the plants you’re trying to grow.  They can also make your garden look untidy!  Getting rid of weeds makes the garden look better, but it should be done without the use of harmful pesticides.

Step 1: Prevention—keep weeds away before they grow!
Photo by Amit Patel via Flickr
  • Keep your “good” plants healthy…
    • Healthy soil comes from composting or using organic fertilizer;
    • Make sure that water can drain away easily;
    • Garden with native plants that do well in local conditions.  You can learn more about native plants here.
  • To keep weeds down, use barriers like…
    • Newspaper.  A layer 3-6 pages thick breaks down in the soil in a few weeks;
    • Mulch.  About 2-4 inches thick helps soil retain water moisture and decreases flooding;
    • Corn gluten meal (sold under brand names like BioWeed).  This adds nitrogen to the soil but prevents new growth.  So, make sure you add it after your good plants are growing, and before the weeds come in!
Step 2: When weeds attack…
  • Pull!
    • Pulling up weeds is a time-honored tradition, and a great job for kids.  Pull out the whole weed - if the root systems are left intact, the weeds will come back.
  • Heat/Boil
    • When pulling isn’t enough, pour boiling water onto weeds.
      • Excess heat causes plant cells to rupture.  But this can hurt your good plants, too, so be careful where you pour!
  • Vinegar
    • Vinegar also kills both good and bad plants, so be careful.
    • Toxic Free NC has a recipe for vinegar-based weed-killer that you can find here.

Keep these tips in mind as you plant, and keep your gardens free of weeds and nasty chemicals!

Joey Shea is a volunteer intern at Toxic Free NC, and is very excited to be working with a group so dedicated to the health of the planet and its communities.


Did you find this article helpful? Approximately once a month, Toxic Free NC volunteers or staff write a newsletter-ready article, focusing on children's environmental health, that we send to child care centers across North Carolina.

These articles contain helpful tips on ways child care centers, staff, and the children's parents can reduce kids' exposures to toxic chemicals and pesticides...we also think they're great for using in your home, too!  We hope you find the article useful and feel free to share.

If you would like any of the past articles, please email Lynne Walter for copies or to be added to our Child Care News list.  Examples of past articles include:
  • Having Fun in the Sun: Avoiding Sunburn, Skin Cancer, and Toxic Chemicals, too
  • Toxic-Free Gardening with Kids: 5 Tips for Gardeners at Home, School, & Child Care on Getting Rid of Bugs Safely
  • Insect Repellent and Kid Safety
  • Get Pesticides Out of Your Kids' Classrooms: It's Easier than You Think!
  • Mosquito Management in Child Care

1.   Toxic Free NC fact sheet for weeding.
2.    Info on native plants, how to grow them, and where to get them!

Text, Copyright 2013 by Toxic Free NC.  NC Child Care centers have permission to use text and photo for educational purposes with their parents and staff, provided full credit is given to Toxic Free NC.

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