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May 26, 2011

Mix your own non-toxic weed killer

Thistles suck and they resprout from a piece of root 1/8 of an inch long.  Learn how to get rid of them without going to the dark side (i.e. chemical killers). 

We re-graded the yard a year ago and its green pelt has sprouted a crop of thistles that would repel Norwegian invaders (which is exactly what happened in Scotland in the 13th century and that’s why Scots made the thistle their official plant.  I hope they’re happy.)

Is it possible to eradicate the thorny infestation?  

Before you answer, here’s some trivia about Canada thistle, the over-muscled cousin of Scottish thistle:
•    Its seeds remain viable for up to 21 years
•    Its taproot can travel to a depth of 5.5 meters (18 feet)
•    Lateral roots can extend as much as 6 meters (20 feet) in a single season
•    Those lateral roots produce colonies of clones
•    New plants can erupt from root pieces as small as 3 mm (1/8-inch)

Thistles are the zombies of the weed world.

Dandelions aren’t much better.  They’re poking through my heavily mulched flowerbeds as if to say, “Nice try, but a 10-inch thick layer of mulch is like a 4 SPF sunscreen for us piss-a-beds.”  (Dandelions used to be called 'piss-a-beds' because of their strong diuretic properties.)

I’ve found three effective, natural weed-disciplining techniques.  One is cheap, one is easy and one is so much fun you’ll squeal.

1. Cheap Homemade Solution: Boil 1 pound of salt in one gallon of white vinegar until the salt dissolves.  Add a squirt of dish soap.  Pour the cooled mixture into a spray bottle.  Apply to weed foliage.  This concoction kills anything green in about 24 hours and that includes grass, so watch your aim.  Cost: About $4

2. Scotts EcoSense Weed B Gon - The kid-and-pet-safe EcoSense formulation exposes weeds to excessive amounts of iron (absorbed through their leaves and roots when you spray it on).  Oxidation damages the interior cell walls and the weed turns black and shrivels to nothing over the next five days. The beauty of EcoSense Weed B Gon is that it only attacks broadleaf weeds, not grass (iron is actually a nutrient for turf), so you can spray it all over your lawn and only the weeds will die.  Suck it, weeds.  Cost: $20 for 2 litres, available at most hardware and gardening centers.

Weeds  062

3. Fiskars Stand-up Weed Puller - This is the squealy one. This tool rocks, literally and figuratively.  You don’t have to bend over at all to pull out weeds, even stubborn thistles.  At its business end, this lightweight implement has steel tines that grab the weed underneath the soil surface.  When you gently rock back on the handle (using the foot rest as a fulcrum) the weed comes out easily with roots intact.

Weeds  068
There are two Fiskars models - the basic model is $30 but it’s a bit short for good leverage, so if you can spend $50 on the extendable-handle model, it’s worth it for the extra length.  TIP:  The smaller the weed, the shallower you press the tines.  This will limit the size of the resulting soil divot.  Available at Canadian Tire.

I collected a heaping bushel basket of thistles in under an hour using my Stand-Up Weed Puller.  It’s the most fun you can have while naked from the ankles down.


Art Phillips

We have a weed puller. It works well but gets tiring after a while.
The kid & petsafe "Weed B Gon" sounds like the thing for me. Must give it a try!

Gold Party

I often host gold parties in my backyard (during the summer!) so I feel like I spend a lot of time trying to keep it weed free. I think I'll try the ecosense first and see how that works!


Thanks Toolgirl for posting these tips. Hopefully this will keep my yard weed free for the rest of the summer!


You're welcome S-Bond!

Jim Barry

I own a weed puller, cheapo model whose 'tines' are half a dozen 2-1/2 nails. Cheap? Yes. Effective? Yes. Bought at CT? Yes. :) I have about 10,000 sq ft of lawn and have learned that if you pull the weeds as they appear early in the yr, the lawn will do ok. I've bought that weedbegone and like you say, it kills broadleaf by turning the leaves black. But I find that more weeds come up in its place. I also do double duty by pulling the weed and since I can't get all the tap root, I spray the remaining root in divot with weed be gone. :) Works most of the time. The bigger roots keep coming back, and so do I, with more spray. :) I haven't tried the natural solution yet but will put the ingredients down on the shopping list for the next run into town. Cheers!


Thanks Jim. Your cheapo model sounds fantastic. If you're in a hurry to kill the whole plant, the homemade solution is way harder on the root. And may I just commend you for tracking down weeds over a 10,000 square-foot chunk of monoculture!



I tried the vinegar solution and find it works quite well. I cut off the leaves and spray into the remaining stems and roots. However, I find that they come back in the same spot, so I spray again. I find the best time to spray is when there is full direct sunlight as it helps them wither faster. My intention is to get all the weeds this month (august) and in september cover my lawn with soil and seeds and fertilizer to prevent weeds from having room to seed. It is hard work but I'm hoping to have a great lawn, as weed-free as possible.

Sharon O'Loughlin

I am having a vicious battle with a weed commonly known as Creeping Charlie. It is a broad leaf weed and it has invaded a very large section (15' x 30') of my backyard. I am ready to rip my hair out trying to get rid of it. Thoughts of paving my yard and painting it green etc etc.
I recently read an article that you wrote concerning newsprint as a vital weapon on weed wars. Is it possilbe to put the newsprint down as you suggested for a garden bed and then put down a layer of top soil on top of that and then wait a year and put grass seed down? Will this work? I have tried everything.....Please help me before I throw in my trowel. Thanks

Jimmy Jam

Does the weedbgon work for ground ivy?


Good info. I like your sense of humor. Peace to you and yours.


Good info. I like your sense of humor. Peace to you and yours.


Thank you for this article! I have a fenced half acre that my dogs run in and a few years ago I noticed a thistle. One. Now I have millions out there and I'm pulling my hair out trying to figure out how to reclaim my property. I'll give the salt/vinegar solution a try before they go to seed. :)

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