Natural vs. Chemical Weed Killers

Should you use chemical or natural weed killers? We'll help you decide. Learn what to consider when you need a product to kill and prevent weeds.

Weed Killers: Is Chemical or Natural Best?

No garden lover is ever happy to see weeds sprouting up between their lovingly nurtured plants, strangling the roots and sucking up the precious nutrients from the well-tended soil. But what do you do after you’ve spotted the weeds rearing their ugly heads between your beautiful begonias?

This is where you have to choose the best course of action to get rid of them. Do you pull them out individually? Do you use a professional chemical weed killer? Or do you try something different?

Because today’s consumer is more informed and concerned about the long-term effects of chemical weed killers on both humans and the eco-system, many people are now reaching for natural alternatives to traditional chemical weed killers. But what’s in these natural alternatives, and how well do they actually work?

What Types of Weed Killers You Can Use

Weed killers can be divided into several categories. These include non-selective herbicides which kill any plant life they contact. Selective herbicides that are formulated to only target specific weeds and not harm other plants. Pre-emergent herbicides to kill the seeds before they can sprout. And finally, post-emergent herbicides which kill grown, or growing weeds.

In addition to these categories, weed killers are now further divided into chemical weed killers, and natural, or organic, weed killers.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Chemical Weed Killers?

Before heading for the chemical weed killers, we should take a moment to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks. Chemical weed killers reliably provide quick results in killing weeds over large areas of ground. These chemicals also stay in the ground for long periods of time so they inhibit further weed growth. Chemical herbicides for lawn care are easily found in any neighborhood hardware store or garden center. They work fast and provide lasting results through their residual effects.

Herbicides have improved crop yields over the years to allow reasonably priced food to be easily accessed in ways that have been life-saving in some underdeveloped countries. They also offer unbeatable results in yard and garden maintenance, allowing us to have the beautifully manicured yards that we desire.

Unfortunately, chemical herbicides also have their downsides. They can kill more plants than they were intended to kill. They also have known negative impacts on the environment, the water supply, natural eco-systems, aquatic environments, and even human health. Rainfall effects can carry these chemicals far beyond the areas where they were applied. They also cause plants to evolve into chemical resistant strains, which then require more, or stronger herbicides to be dealt with effectively.

What are the Pros and Cons of Natural Weed Killers?

Natural weed killers can include such harmless substances as soap, vinegar, salt, corn gluten, clove and cinnamon oils, lemon, and natural plant oils. Corn gluten is especially efficient as a pre-emergent herbicide because it prevents roots from forming during seed germination. Soap-based herbicides are effective at spot treating grown plants by breaking down the outer surface of the plant foliage. Salt and vinegar are desiccants, meaning they work by dehydrating the weeds to kill the top growth.

Natural herbicides are safe to keep in households without fear of toxic exposures. Using a natural weed killer means that you are avoiding contributing to the long-term negative environmental effects of chemical herbicides. They can be purchased now in most garden centers or can be made at home by following recipes easily found online.

Natural herbicides also have some disadvantages. They are often not as effective as their chemical counterparts. They mainly work on small, annual-type weeds, and are not effective on perennials because they don’t have residual effects.

Most natural weed killers require one hundred percent coverage in order to work and can be washed away by rain or blown away by the wind, so it’s important to know the weather conditions expected before application.

While farmers depend on the more potent, long-lasting and reliable chemical herbicides to protect their crops and increase yields, if you are contemplating using an herbicide for your home vegetable or flower garden, or for lawn care and maintenance, using a natural, organic weed-killing agent is probably a good choice.

Whether you plan to prevent weed growth or wish to kill existing weeds, there is now an option available to suit any lifestyle, and any garden or lawn.

Resources— The Nest, Timberline, ABC Home and Commercial Services