Some friends have asked that I write a column about pest control using common household products or so called “Home Remedies”. I have resisted doing this as we are taught in “Master Gardener” classes to only recommend garden solutions using “research based information”. In Part I I discussed “Creepy Crawlies” (Insect and Animal Control), and In Part II I discussed “Rots and Spots” (Fungicides) and “Fertilizers”. Today is “Weed Control”     

          Many of the “home remedies” that use materials found around the house have not been tested. Some are effective but nobody has taken the time to research to see if they are safe. The federal pesticide act requires that any product that claims to be a pesticide must undergo extensive testing and periodic retesting. It also requires that the active ingredient be listed on the label along with the plants it can be used on, what insect or disease it will control, and if used in the vegetable garden, how long between application and harvest. The   testing does not guarantee that the product works as claimed only that it is safe when used as directed. A home remedy does not have that testing. So how long do you wait before you can eat the produce? Or, how often do you apply it and at what intervals? Remember, a “home remedy” control may be toxic to you, your plants and/or your soil. Use with caution.

 WEED CONTROL:  The latest “home remedy” I have heard about is the use of vinegar as a pre-emergent or as a post-emergent “weed killer”. Yes, vinegar was tested in a federal study and it will kill weeds. However, “industrial strength vinegar” (20%) was used in the study and this is usually not available to the homeowner. Common household vinegar (5%) is not strong enough to be effective. Also, remember that vinegar is non-selective, which means it will kill all green plants and if not used correctly it can harm your soil for some time. As a result of the federal study, it is not recommended as an herbicide, so use with caution.

          Another product that can sterilize your soil for many, many years is salt. Our parents and grandparents dumped salt on the asparagus bed to control weeds. After making homemade ice cream in the summertime, the salt and brine was poured on the asparagus bed, or along the fence line. Salt does not hurt the asparagus but is toxic to weeds so was effective. However, it can leach into adjoining beds and kill desirable plants. Over time the salts will build up in the soil to where it will stunt the asparagus and the soil will become so toxic that nothing will grow. Salt also kills beneficial insects and organisms. Be aware that if you use salt in your asparagus bed and then want to dig it up and put in something else, it will be years, and years, and years before the salt is sufficiently leached out of the soil.

          For the same reason, do not use “table salt”, “rock salt” or “ice cream salt” to melt the ice on your driveway or sidewalk. It can damage the cement surface and also will leach into your lawn or flower bed and sterilize the soil. In the same way, hot water will kill your weeds but it will also kill everything else around it, including beneficial insects and organisms. Use salt and hot water with caution. 

          A few years back Iowa State University did some research and recommended the use of “Borax” for the control of “creeping charlie” (ground ivy and henbit). Twenty Mule Team Borax (the laundry soap) does contain borax or the chemical “boron”. Boron is a micronutrient that is beneficial and needed by most plants in very small amounts. If mixed and used properly the Twenty Mule Team Borax solution will kill “creeping charlie” in a bluegrass lawn. It is not recommended for use on fescue lawns but bluegrass will tolerate the extra boron. However, follow-up research has found that many people did not follow the instructions. Also, they found out that the number of applications needed to be effective on ground ivy and henbit builds up the amount of boron in the soil over a couple of years and creates a toxic level in the soil to where the grass also won’t grow. Therefore, borax to kill “creeping charlie” is not recommended anymore.

          Corn gluten is not a home remedy but is an effective organic weed herbicide and fertilizer. You can purchase the granular as a pre-emergent to prevent weeds, and the liquid as a weed killer. It does not hurt your grass and the granular has some value as a fertilizer. It is a safe herbicide, made from the residue of processing corn, and supports our Nebraska farmers.

          Newspapers (not the colored advertisements) makes good mulch to prevent weeds. Almost every year I put down 6 to 8 layers of newsprint between the tomato cages and in the walkways. Newsprint is made from trees and the publishers now use soy ink that will not hurt your soil. Newspapers can actually be beneficial to your soil when tilled in next fall. This is a good way to add organic matter to your soil and control your weeds at the same time. The best home remedy for weeds is to hoe them out, pull the up, and use mulch.

REMINDER: Some “home remedies” passed on from your parents and grandparents may work, but be careful. Remember, they have not been tested and you do not know if the product is safe to use on the plant you are trying to treat, or what the long term effect will be on the environment. I have heard of some home remedies that are actually more harmful to the environment than any commercial product.

          Whether you use a “home remedy” or a commercial product, use it correctly and follow the instructions on the label. If the recipe calls for two ounces per gallon of water, four ounces is not better. Misuse of any pesticide, whether a home remedy or a commercial product, can be unhealthy for you and your family, and may actually damage your plants and your soil. Read the label before using a product, not after. Be sure and follow the instructions on the label as to what plant the product can be used on, how to prepare the product, and how much to use on the plant, shrub, flower, or tree you need to treat. Do not over medicate your plants or soil!!!!! 

          If in doubt, contact your local County Cooperative Extension Educator for information or check the internet at “”. In the top box scroll down to Extension publications. In the bottom box type in the name of the plant, shrub, flower, tree, insect, or disease you want to treat or control. A list of publications will appear. Read the ones of interest and print what you want to file and save. Also this site is excellent for securing information about what to plant where so it does not become a pest.

          Iowa State University Extension information may be reached at In the search box type in the name of the plant, shrub, flower, tree, insect, or disease you want information about or you want to treat or control. A list of short, practical articles will appear. Read the ones of interest and print what you want to file and save.

Copyright 2005