3 Simple Ingredients for Less Toxic Weed Control

by Texas Homesteader ~

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There are a few sensitive areas on our Homestead where I refuse to spray toxic chemicals. Such places as the fence line around our vegetable garden, the chicken yard fence and around our beehives in the apiary.

But I still need a grass killer spray for those areas. Will I buckle and use grass killer spray?

Well, maybe I’ll just spray grass killer around the perimeter of the garden when needed.  Whaaaa….???!!!  Grass killer sprayed around our food??!!  Are you CRAZY??  Read on, dear friends…

A Non-Toxic weed killer in the garden! I wonder if I can use a less toxic grass & weed control... As it turns out, YES! #TexasHomesteader

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In an effort to finally win the war against Bermuda grass I’ve lined the perimeter of the garden with flattened heavy-paper feed sacks and topped those sacks with thick layers of Bark Mulch I Got For Free

But since we plopped our garden area right into a cattle pasture, Bermuda grass can still encroach from all around it.  My hope is that any Bermuda grass runners will have to run the entire width of those walkways to reach my garden and perhaps I can keep the grass eliminated that way. 

I’ve re-worked my vegetable garden this year by ripping up the raised beds, splitting the fenced garden area in half and making 1/2 of the area into the chicken run, the other half remaining for my veggie garden. 

Although the garden has less space than before, it’s set up more efficiently so it should grow roughly the same produce with less maintenance – gotta love it! 

3-Ingredient Weed Control Recipe

My weed killer recipe is made of 3 simple inexpensive ingredients that I typically have in the kitchen anyway – Vinegar, Dawn dish-washing soap and Epsom salts.  

I didn’t invent this recipe myself, I’ve read about it for years on many various sites but I thought now was a good time to give ‘er a try.  So I bought a *hand-pump sprayer and poured in 2 quarts of vinegar, 1 cup Epsom salt & about 2 tablespoons of dish soap, mixed it all together & gave it a try.

A Non-Toxic weed killer in the garden! I wonder if I can use a less toxic grass & weed control... As it turns out, YES! #TexasHomesteader

Grass/Weed Control On Sidewalks

I first tried this solution on my sidewalk where grass grows into the bricks. It worked beautifully there, but those blades of grass are thicker so it’s easier for more of the solution to hit more leaf surface making it an easier control. 

Although I was pleased with the initial success, I really wanted to put this stuff to a REAL test…

A Non-Toxic weed killer in the garden! I wonder if I can use a less toxic grass & weed control... As it turns out, YES! #TexasHomesteader

Grass/Weed Control In Vegetable Garden

Bermuda grass is notoriously hard to control even using the harshest of chemicals. But after my success at the sidewalk and with guarded optimism.

I decided to go ahead & try it with the roaring beast that is Bermuda grass. And I was pleasantly surprised to see it was effective there as well!

A Non-Toxic weed killer in the garden! I wonder if I can use a less toxic grass & weed control... As it turns out, YES! #TexasHomesteader

The before/after pictures above were taken after only a couple of hours.  Impressive! By the following day the grass was completely brown as shown in the picture below.  Yes.  Yes!  Y-E-S!!!(insert evil maniacal laugh here…)

So I’m convinced that this will be my grass-control method of choice from now on. I used a permanent marker to write directly on my spray bottle to both identify the only contents allowed in it as well as keep the recipe handy. 

Yep, I’m just clever that way…  Two birds.  One stone.  🙂

A Non-Toxic weed killer in the garden! I wonder if I can use a less toxic grass & weed control... As it turns out, YES! #TexasHomesteader

Now I realize this is a non-selective grass killer so I’m careful to spray on a day that is not windy to prevent any drift and I sprayed only what I wanted dead. 

I also waited until the weather promised to be warm & sunny, then after the dew dried in the morning I did my spraying. 

Using this spray I have renewed hope that at least I may be able to gain the upper hand on this out-of-control grass growth and finally regain control of my garden.

Questions About Effectiveness:

There is some question out there about whether or not this spray actually kills weeds. And also whether it actually fertilizes plants.

So I thought I’d address my understanding of effectiveness right here.

Is Epsom Salt A Fertilizer?

Some people say that since the epsom salt contains magnesium and sulfate (also ingredients in many fertilizers), that adding epsom salt to this spray actually FERTILIZES the weeds.

Technically if a weed was in deficit of magnesium and/or sulfate, I suppose it could replace those missing items within the plant. But I would assume the large ratio of epsom salt along with the acidic vinegar in this spray would negate any fertilizer effect. I’m not a botanist, just a Homesteader trying to live lightly on this land. But it sure seems to make sense to me.

Using Table Salt Instead Of Epsom Salt

Some say instead of using epsom salt that you should use table salt. And we all know that table salt will kill plants!

But I’m extremely hesitant to put table salt around my garden. I’ve read that it can render that ground sterile for years.

And I’ve seen what happens in the pasture where we have salt & mineral blocks out to supplement our cattle. That area dies of all vegetation and the barren area spreads over the years into a larger & larger area.

To me the harm of adding table salt would outweigh any weed-killing benefit.

Does This Spray Actually KILL Hard-To-Treat Weeds?

Well, it appears to kill hard-to-treat weeds such as the bermuda grass demonstration in the photos above. But according to my extension agent, bermuda grass and other weeds that spread underground are probably less affected than it appears.

Basically, this spray is burning the foliage, turning it brown. But again, here’s my take on it: Yes, I may need to spray a few times to get the same effectiveness of using poison, but many less-toxic methods of doing things require more applications.

And plants need photosynthesis to grow. I’m denying that to the plants I spray, although it’s taking more than one application to do so. 

So for now I’ll continue with this less-toxic weed spray when trying to kill weeds and grass around my garden, around my chicken pen and around the beehives in our apiary.

But I’m researching it further to make sure it’s the best fit for our circumstances. It’s always best to go to the experts to ask the hard questions, so I went to our county extension agent. When I asked her about my experience using this spray, she had this to say:

The vinegar is probably what is turning the plants brown, while the salts may “help” with leaf burn. The chemicals in the dish soap act as a surfactant making all this “stick” to the plant. 

 The main problem with this mixture is that in most cases it doesn’t actually kill the plant roots. It kills the top growth, but if the weed is perennial or has an extensive root system it simply doesn’t kill it. It burns the tops off. So shallow rooted plants are knocked back. The deeper rooted perennials are not as affected. 

I’ve asked my extension agent for further clarification on the above questions, I’ll be sure to share right here when I hear back from her. In the meantime I’ll continue using this less-toxic weed killer spray in sensitive areas of our property. 

Here’s the recipe if you want to try it as well:

3-Ingredient Grass/Weed Killer Recipe

  • 2 Quarts Vinegar
  • 1 Cup Epson Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Dawn Dish-Washing Soap (Blue Original)

Mix all ingredients into a sprayer.  Choose a day with no wind. Wait until dew dries in the morning. Spray only on grass & weeds you want to kill. 

CAUTION: Do not allow spray or drift onto desirable plants!  Be sure to rinse your sprayer thoroughly after spraying.


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32 thoughts on “3 Simple Ingredients for Less Toxic Weed Control

  1. Charlotte Bell

    Is this mixture harmful to dogs? I have a very active Dachsle that eats everything–rocks, dirt, grass, wood. and I don’t want to kill her with whatever I am using to kill weeds

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Ya know Charlotte, I’m not a vet so I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment on such things. Your best source of info would be your vet. What I *can* tell you is that our mini-schnauzer munches on whatever she finds outside as well and it’s never adversely affected her. Anything in over abundance is a bad thing and some dogs are so small. But I feel it’s very basic ingredients sprayed in a light spray, so I can’t imagine they’d be able to consume enough to harm them. Certainly in comparison with some of the commercial weed poisons out there. But again, if your concerned at all I’d advise you check with your vet. ~TxH~

  2. candace Ford

    Out here in the back woods of Oregon I have had pretty good luck with straight vinegar – being careful not to get it where I do want things to grow,
    After near drought conditions for quite some time we are now experiencing “normal” December weather conditions – read RAIN. My plastic flamingos, which I can see from the living room window are listing probably indicating supersaturation of the dirt where they have landed. It all has the effect of making me want to warm up a cup of coffee and crack open a book. RE: homemade gifts for me that equates to me signing checks for the son and d-in-law and the two granddaughters along with a holiday shopping bag filled with things like sticky notes, pens and pencils, hand sanitizer, candy and this year a bright fleece throw to curl up in. And one of the granddaughters is expecting and it could be any time now so that will be the highlight of the holiday gifts! Hope everyone where you are has a warm and fun filled holiday time.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Hummm… I always just make enough to fill up my little hand sprayer for perimeters of my garden and such. I guess you could multiply the quantity I use by the quantity you’ll need to fill a larger sprayer? ~TxH~

  3. Sammie

    This is good for above-the-ground vegetation, but it doesn’t kill the root, so it just keeps coming back. I’d love to find something that really was beneficial and not toxic.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Depending upon the kind of plant and at what point o maturity Sammie, this does indeed kill the plant. More difficult weeds that spread via rhizomes underground will of course need a different attack, typically with a sharp digger on your hands & knees. But this weed control works well for most of the weeds in and around our garden. ~TxH~

  4. Danielle @DIYDanielle

    I can’t seem to get vinegar to do a decent job. Def got to try adding salt for our garden path. I don’t mind weeding the actual garden, but I HATE also needing to weed the path. Thanks for linking up at #SustainableSundays!

  5. Katy SkipTheBag

    I was just thinking I needed to get something to spray in our garden to kill weeds. Perfect timing. Thanks for posting this on the #WasteLessWednesday blog hop!

  6. Next to Natural

    This seems like an easy weed killer that even I could make, and I’m not a very good DIY person! Thanks for sharing over at Simply Natural Saturdays!

  7. Lara @MommyKazam

    Perfect! I am fighting the same bermuda grass battle right now and will definitely be giving this a try. It’s so pesky, and hard to eliminate!

  8. Bradleigh@WideMeadow

    Thanks for sharing in the linkup… I can’t wait to try this! We just moved, and I’m trying to take back overgrown raised beds at our new place without dumping chemicals, so I’m going to mix some up today! Your homestead looks so beautiful, btw… makes me want to visit!

  9. Jaclyn | One Thousand Oaks

    I was just out in my yard working yesterday thinking about what I could use to kill the weeds that wouldn’t be toxic to my kids and dogs. This is great! Thanks for sharing!!

    – Jaclyn

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      It works best in full sun and light winds, and the higher the temps the better (and faster) it will be effective. I’ll be spraying the fencelines today since the sun is finally shining and the winds are light. ~TxH~

  10. Karen

    The more I learn about pesticides the more I believe we need to use more natural methods. Those toxins are building up in our body. Thanks for sharing this method. Will be pinning. Thanks for sharing at Let’s Get Real Friday Link Party.

  11. Grace

    Nice! Vinegar is like 5% acetic acid which is the active ingredient in most chemical weed killers always. Do you have any recommendations for a natural ant killer? I’ve tried the sugar and borax, but it doesn’t seem to be working for these ants.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Sugar and borax never worked for me either Grace, nor most of the other home remedies. I often resort to poison for ants unless they’re in my garden. Unfortunately the ants in my garden are FIRE ANTS so they absolutely must be dealt with. Ouch! So in the garden I’ve been semi-successful taking a shovelful of ant mound out, pouring boiling water into the now deepened hole and replacing the dirt from the shovel. I do that because I’d always read that by the time the boiling water gets through the mound to the queen it’s not hot enough to kill her. Sometimes it works for me, and sometimes if the mound is close to my veggie plant I’ll use diatomaceous earth with some success too. Good luck! ~TxH~

  12. Texas Homesteader Post author

    LOL Nicole. I can relate! If you decide to give it a try be sure to not allow the spray to drift to desirable plants since it’s a non-selective killer. This works well for me. ~TxH~

  13. Sarah

    Oh my goodness – I need this! I hate having weeds in the yard, but with four boys running around, I refuse to use chemicals. I’m pinnning this so I can refer back to this post! Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      It’s best sprayed on a hot sunny day Sarah, and be sure to not allow the spray to drift to desirable plants since it’s a non-selective killer. But my garden fence borders a calf paddock and I certainly don’t want to spray any poisons there either, not to mention I don’t want poisons around my food. This works well for me. ~TxH~

  14. ColleenB.~Texas

    Fire Ants Do Not like anything that is Organic.

    Before planting your plants in your veggie beds, sprinkle on some lava and greensand and rake it in. Same goes for any new flower beds, etc. If you already planted, no problem as you can still sprinkle some in and using your gardening tool, rake into the soil.

    LAVA SAND FOR VEGGIE BEDS, FLOWER BEDS, SHRUBS, TREES AND LAWNS.(sorry about the cap.) Put lava sand out any time at a rate of 40 pounds per 1,000 square feet. For perennial beds, you could make a heavier application and add a layer of lava sand up to 2 inches thick before mixing it into the soil. You can use lava sand in any soil and with all plants. All lava sands help retain moisture, but the varieties with the highest paramagnetism work best.

    Lava Sand has very low levels of nutrients and trace minerals. Lava Sand is also said to work because it increases the paramagnetism (sp)levels in the soil and thus stimulates energy and growth in plants.

    Texas Greensand is a rich source of minerals and iron. It’s a fast-acting and natural marine deposit product that is typically used by organic gardeners and nature enthusiasts as a soil amendment. SBS’ Texas Greensand is dry and easy to work with. As a soil conditioner, organic gardening experts recommend 10-20 pounds per 1,000 square feet, tilled into the soil or broadcasted over lawns.

    By spreading this stuff on your yard as well as a good fertilizer you won’t have any ant hills popping up.
    We didn’t get any lava or greensand on this year and now have ant hills coming up all over but I did manage to sprinkle some in my garden bed before planting my tomato and pepper plants

  15. Sharon

    I have never used Dawn…as the sticker…In fact, I buy “no name” dish detergent…and it works fine…I’m wondering if Proctor and Gamble recommended blue Dawn?!…(Halfway kidding!…)…I am very careful where I spray this concoction…so have had no problem, with it killing plants other than weeds…I mostly use it, in the cracks of my sidewalk…on my brick driveway and on a gravel driveway…I feel it works best, when the temperature is at least 75 degree’s…and the hotter the better…

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      LOL Sharon, you just might be onto something there… Good to know the no-name dish detergent works just fine. I always have Dawn in my kitchen anyway because I like the way it cuts grease, but a little money can be saved in mixing up weed killer from now on. Thanks for the tip! ~TxH~

  16. Linda

    Now if someone could just come up with a home fire ant killer that works. I understand the boiling water part, but it isn’t feasible on six acres.

    Johnson grass reproduces by runner, rhizome and seed. That is why it’s so difficult to control. Another non-toxic method is mowing. Supposedly, eventually, the rhizomes come to the surface and can be dug up. No seeds if it can’t ‘flower’. If you till and find black, woody-looking bits, that is Johnson grass rhizome.

    Thanks for this recipe. I may just try it on fire ant hills, too. Can always replant grass…

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      I hear ya Linda! And what about fire ants in your veggie garden – I deal with them every year and you can’t really use boiling water around your veggie plants. I’ve tried many of the home remedies and haven’t really found anything that gets rid of them, although diatomaceous earth on the mound does often help. I have some Johnson grass in the garden that came in with some hay I used to mulch with, I battle it but can usually get on top of it by keeping it hacked short. Old timers say if you keep hacking it down it will run out of energy in trying to grow – even the rhizomes. So far being persistent keeps me on top of it. YEA! Good luck! ~TxH~

  17. ColleenB.~Texas

    Sharon; basically any kind of salt will work; even rock salt but being very careful as salt can and will erode concrete surfaces and leave the ground rather barren for a long period of time if using salt as a barrier especially if using when a mower can’t get to.
    Tammy, same recipe that I use here. Going to kinda throw my 2 cents worth in here.
    sounds like a lot of work but worth it in the long run. First spray the grass you want to kill with 10% vinegar (on a warm, sunny day). Vinegar is a home remedy which kills only top growth, but if you keep repeating the application, eventually, it will die off. I think the trick is to spray when it’s brutally hot & brutally sunny, wait a couple of days & do it again, & then, a day or so after that, which should make it easier to pull or dig out..

    A couple of days later, use a sod cutter; setting at deepest setting and that cut out all those stolons near the top; remove the grass. What you don’t want to do is retill the area as that will only scatter more seed.

    The lasagna method (newspaper and about a foot of organic matter on top). the Bermuda will still come on through.

    Bermuda sets it’s roots several feet deep that no herbicide will ever reach and will result in it showing back up down the road. At that point you can result to hand pulling and digging. Believe me it will be a life long battle.
    Bermuda doesn’t like shade

    Another way is to use a bamboo barrier

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Yessum Colleen, this will be a life-long battle for me. The Bermuda will certainly not be removed using this method, but my hope is that it will at least slow it down enough for me to get on top of it (finally!) Wish me luck! ~TxH~

  18. Evelyne

    Hi Tammy,
    I’m really impressed by your recipe and the results. I’d do anything that would keep me from getting down on my hands and knees to pull those weeds! BUT I do have a problem. I live in France where Dawn is unavailable. Could any kind of dishwashing liquid do the trick? If not, would you know what ingredient in Dawn helps to do the magic? Would REALLY appreciate your comments. Thanks much and God bless.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      I’ve always seen the recipe using original blue Dawn for this weed killer, similarly to the fact that I always see it stressed to use original blue Dawn when ridding your dog of fleas. Not sure if it’s that specific formula or perhaps it’s the thickness original Dawn has? You don’t have much $$ to lose with this recipe, give it a try with a good-quality thick dish-washing soap & let us know how it worked for you. ~TxH~

  19. Sharon

    Tammy…is there a reason you use epsom salt?…I have always used table salt…I mix up a gallon of the cheapest white vinegar, I can find…a box of table salt and 4 tablespoons of any liquid dish washing detergent…I’m not sure, why I keep seeing recipes…using epsom salt and Dawn…and do you know…is there a reason to use Dawn?…I know the soap is used as a “sticker.”

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Sharon, I know regular table salt will ‘kill’ the soil where nothing will grow there for quite some time. I also know that there are certain garden veggie plant recipes that use Epsom salts for fertilizer for more vigorous growth. Now I don’t know what the difference is chemically between the two, but google says “Chemically, Epsom salts is hydrated magnesium sulfate (about 10 percent magnesium and 13 percent sulfur). Magnesium is critical for seed germination and the production of chlorophyll, fruit, and nuts. Magnesium helps strengthen cell walls and improves plants’ uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.” Because of that I’ve always stuck with Epsom salts. Table salt would be cheaper though – have you ever noticed a problem on surrounding areas where you have to treat often? ~TxH~


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