Safe Weed Killer’s – studies with Vinegar against weeds

Getting ready for “weed season”… those who are the Do-it-Yourself types may be interested in knowing this little bit of information on studies using “vinegar” as a weed killer. Those who are professional landscape maintenance people may also be interested too – hey, there’s no reason why the pro’s can’t be REALLY green and save themselves and their clients money!

In place of the very toxic Round Up and other options that make the lawn and garden section of stores smell so bad and irritate our eyes and sinuses, why not try using vinegar!?


Authors: Radhakrishnan, Jayakumar, Teasdale, John, Coffman, Charles

Submitted to: BARC Poster Day
Publication Type: Abstract
Publication Acceptance Date: April 18, 2002
Publication Date: April 18, 2002

Technical Abstract: Vinegar (acetic acid) is registered as a herbicide for weed control in concrete pavements in Sweden (David Hansson, personal communication). However, there is no scientific literature on the use of vinegar for agricultural purposes available. The objective of this research was to study the efficacy of vinegar as a potential candidate for weed control in organic farming situations. Replicated greenhouse experiments were conducted during Spring and Fall 2001. Common lambsquarters, giant foxtail, and smooth pigweed and Canada thistle were sown in pots and irrigated regularly. The plants were hand-sprayed with 0.0, 5.0, 10.5, 15.3 and 20.2 percent vinegar to obtain a uniform wetting of all foliage. The results indicated that the effectiveness of the vinegar to kill weeds was dependent on the concentration and the plant growth stage. Lower concentrations of 5 and 10 percent were more effective in killing the weeds during the early stages while at later stages they were not as effective as the 15 and 20 percent concentrations. Vinegar provided 95-100 per cent kill at all growth stages of the weeds studied at 15 and 20 % concentrations. Canada thistle was the most susceptible species with 100 percent kill of top growth with 5 % vinegar. Vinegar has a potential to be used as an inexpensive, herbicide for spot treatment of organic farms.

Authors: Radhakrishnan, Jayakumar, Teasdale, John, Coffman, Charles

Submitted to: Proceedings of Northeastern Weed Science Society
Publication Type: Abstract
Publication Acceptance Date: January 6, 2003
Publication Date: January 16, 2003

Technical Abstract: The objectives of these studies were to evaluate 1) the efficacy of vinegar to control weeds when used as a directed spray at the base of crops, 2) rates and volume of vinegar required to achieve weed control when broadcast, and 3) soil drench as a method of control for Canada thistle. The injury to corn in the first experiment ranged from 5-35%. The replicated experiments suggested that the foliar application damaged corn more than the basal spray and the 20 % application was more injurious to corn than the 10% application. The corn grain yields did not show significant differences for all treatments from the weed free controls but the coefficient of variability was very high at 55% due to extreme droughty conditions. The crop injury in soybeans ranged from 5 to 45%, with the younger plants showing more injury than older plants. The soybean yields did not show significant differences among the weed free controls and the vinegar treatments. In all the trials weed control ranged from 90 to100 percent. An investigation of the effect of vinegar soil drench in an established Canada thistle patch was conducted on an Elkton silt loam soil. The results showed 90% reduction in the number of stems and plant biomass in all vinegar treatments compared to the control. The pH of the soils ranged from 5.9 to 6.6 at the beginning of the experiment in October 2001 and declined to 4.7 to 5.2 in the vinegar treated plots a month later. However, the pH in the treated plots ranged from 5.8 to 7.1 by April of the following year.

Articles on Natural Gardening:

Essential Oils and Tiny Ants How I used my Young Living Essential Oils to get hundreds of ants off my house!

Essential Oils and Aphids My experience using Young Living Essential Oils against Aphids

Spring Gardening Season – where to find great seeds and gardening books

Bye-Bye Birdies – why monoculture is dangerous and how it is destroying tens of millions of common birds, some species are disappearing by an alarming 40% in recent years (by The National / CBC Canada)

When did “Flavor” fall out of Favor? Soil organisms and how they affect the taste of our food.

Essential Oils as Pesticides and Insect Repellants

The Future of Food – there is a revolution happening in the farm fields and on the dinner tables of America – a revolution that is transforming the very nature of the food we eat.

9 thoughts on “Safe Weed Killer’s – studies with Vinegar against weeds

  1. Again, no mention if this treatment kills the grass also or not! Am I the only one that wants to kill the weeds and NOT the grass?

    What say you?


  2. I haven’t tried it yet but will in a few days. I have to pick up some vinegar – I’m not going to use my expensive vinegar on weeds : )

    Has anyone else tried this yet?

  3. Hi All

    What type of vinegar should I use.
    My garden is over run with weeds and I was about to buy a weed killer until I read the above.
    Has any one used the vinegar and did you get good results.

  4. Folks, listen… so many of those so-called “weeds” that pop up in our lawns are actually edible and medicinal plants and herbs !! Plantain, burdock, yes, even the dreaded dandelion. Each is an amazingly useful and beneficial plant for our good health, as cancer fighters, burn and wound dressings, safe and natural detoxifiers, and more. PLEASE google the uses of the (thankfully) hardy and tenacious flora that God has created. Remember where your essential oils come from. All plant life is valuable for something. If you really want them out of your life (and your lawn), there are numerous tools that make removal easy, i.e. the “Sharkspade” (no I don’t sell this…:]) Then add them to your salads and make them into tea and infusions. You can even make a coffee from the dandelion root. So stop fighting them and let them work for you!

    Hi Chris,

    I totally agree with you.

    This is especially relevant due to the fact that 70% of our food is Genetically Modified (GMO) and no doubt the cause of the poor health in the USA, and 2/3 of the population ‘believe’ that they have never eaten GM food – it’s time to wake up!

    Here is another article on weeds, specifically dandelions, that reader’s might find useful and ultimately save some lives Dandelion – useful weed for cancer

    Two of my most favorite books are:

    A Dandelion Celebration: a guide to unexpected cuisine edited by Peter Gail, PhD
    Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide by Lawrence Newcomb

    For newbies to the world of edible and medicinal native plants and weeds I highly recommend joining a local Native Plant Group and go on field trips to learn how to properly identify edible and medicinal plants (not to learn how to harvest and use, but simply to learn how to identify plants properly as there are many plants that look the same to the untrained eye). There is an amazing natural world out there that most miss out on.

    Then, take classes with a local herbalist. There you will learn proper and ethical harvesting, preparation, usage, recipes, lore, and more.

    Additionally, learning the principles of Permaculture will enhance your appreciation of growing and harvesting free food (considered ‘weeds’) and how to grow cultivated vegetables in an eco-friendly manner.

    Two that I have been to:
    Bullock’s Permaculture Portal – a wonderful permaculture farm on Orcas Island, WA.

    Earthaven EcoVillage – an eco-village in Black Mountain, NC.

    For those who are motivated and have the space, I highly recommend Eliot Coleman’s books on growing (directly in he ground/no benches) in unheated greenhouses. I had a 12′x20′ unheated greenhouse (inspired by Eliot Coleman) in central PA and I grew my own produce and edible/medicinal weeds year round. You will need to know how to do it and which seed varieties are best for different seasons. He has two terrific books on how to do this:

    Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman
    Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman

    Being an organic and native plant landscape designer for years (my previous business before I decided to sell essential oils) my appreciation of native species runs deep. I didn’t even own a lawn mower – I removed lawns and installed natural edible garden rooms and backyard wildlife habitats.

    No matter what type of garden landscape you have the health of it depends on the soil micro-organisms – you’ve got to start with your soil first if you want to have healthy plants on the top!

    A couple articles that reader’s may find useful are:

    Tips for Growing Good Plants in Bad Soil

    Where to Find Great Seeds and Gardening Books (some of my favorites)

    An interesting fact: dandelions only occur in disturbed soil. Look around you, you never see dandelions growing in an old forest, do you? Nor do you see brambles in an old forest. There’s a reason for that, it’s called Plant Succession – and it is the reason why you either see, or don’t see, certain plant species in a given area. Gaining an understanding on how it works can help us to learn much better ways of appreciating and working with the natural world around us.

    Additionally, one would also want to compost. I’ve used many different compost bins over the years and here is one I designed myself using scrap 2×4′s – it’s cheap, it’s easy to make, and it costs nothing to use and maintain. Follow my tips and you will easily have a zero odor, zero maintenance compost at your fingertips!

    And of course, one of the most “Green” things one can do is minimize lawn (and get a reel lawn mower) and avoid lawn and garden chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers – all of that nasty toxic stuff runs off into steams and wetlands and ruins the natural ecosystem.

    I too encourage everyone to learn the plants and deepen their connection to the natural world around them – you won’t believe what is available, and how it can benefit you and your local community. ~ Evelyn

  5. I am all for using the plants to their full value….. Except when I dont want them in certain spots and I plan on trying this vinegar solution.I have some kind of weed that is super aggressive and I am sick of pulling it out of everything, just for it to look the same 5 days later. I dont care if it is beneficial to something cuz it irritates the hell out of me. But otherwise I am all for what your saying guys.

    Hi Jen,

    Do you know what kind of weed it is? If you don’t know a terrific field guide is Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.

    Regardless, I understand completely.

    I’ve been known to dig up and transplant my favorite native, edible and medicinal weeds into a spot where I do want them to grow, so that’s an option.

    Regarding your weeds that spring up so quickly, that’s almost always due to the weed setting out seed – it sounds like that’s what you have going on there. The other time it can happen is if the plant is an aggressive grower and you don’t get all of the roots out, but I don’t think that’s what is happening in your garden (roots left behind can’t sprout up after a couple of days, it takes longer then that for them to heal and start growing again, some species as little as a week).

    Some tips I can share with you are:

    Generally, keep an eye on things (as you’re passing by or looking out your window) you can let a weed grow to an extent before it starts populating all over the place. But what’s really important is to ‘spot’ a weed BEFORE it blossoms and/or sets out seed. This is one way you can get things under control naturally.

    What you can do when you see a weed putting up flower buds, just real quick pull it out of the ground and toss it into the road – do not leave it on the ground or put it into your compost pile (the only time you can put a weed in the compost is BEFORE it has budded – that practice has saved me countless hours of weeding, and I love weeding.

    Sometimes when I’m super pressed for time and I see a weed that I do not want growing in a particular area, I’ll just reach down quickly and pull off the flowering tops (when I know I won’t have the time to do a proper weeding within the next couple of days) – this can be done easily as you’re flying by and it will save you countless hours of weeding. In other words, don’t just observe them growing and say, “ugh, I gotta get out there soon and weed.”

    Also, most seeds are in the top inch of the soil and every time you move the soil around you could be making conditions even better for dormant seeds to sprout. This is one reason why I do not practice cultivating, and I rarely use a roto-tiller. I don’t like using a roto-tiller because every inch of the soil is a different layer, each layer is home to unique and specialized organisms (which we most certainly do want for the overall health of our soil and plants). The only time I’ll use a roto-tiller is if I have no other options and the soil is extremely compacted. And even then, I remove the sod (lawn) in sheets (the top 1-2 inches only and ‘roll’ it up) before I till – I don’t want to be mixing that top one inch of soil into the rest because it is absolutely loaded with seeds just waiting for perfect conditions.

    One other little tip that makes a huge difference – do NOT shake the sod over ground that you’ve just removed sod from. A handful of sod is like a salt shaker filled with weed seeds!

    A little side note on lawn/sod that’s been removed – put it in a separate pile and let it rot, once it’s done it can be used as compost for potatoes – potatoes LOVE the nutrients in sod compost! (I”m not referring to grass clippings).

    I prefer to use a Broadfork instead of a roto-tiller, you can see one here at Johnny’s Seeds. Using a Broadfork will help keep your soil nice without ruining the soil layers and organisms. I cringe when I see people, year after year, taking the roto-tiller to the garden, I just want to yell over to them, “leave the soil alone, you’re only making a perfect home for more weeds that you don’t want!”

    When starting a garden where there is lawn (this is only one way), I simply throw down a tarp (the ones that are silver color on one side and brown on the other is best), hold it down with pieces of firewood or rocks so it won’t blow away. After 2-3 weeks (depending on time of year) the weeds and grass underneath are dead or mostly dead. Then, cover with the ground with compost and take the broadfork to it.

    In all my years of gardening and being an organic and native plant landscaper I can honestly say that there are very few tools one needs to have an excellent garden – more than anything, what the gardener needs is knowledge, not tools and fertilizers and sprays, etc.

    The best place to start is to learn is – not about plants – but about ‘soil structure’ because that is where it all starts, in your soil. The second thing to learn about is ‘plant communities’.

    Once you learn those two things you’ll know how to grow darn near anything that’s capable of growing in your area. You will also know ‘why’ everything is growing well where it is, whether it’s a weed, a prized heirloom, or a favorite wildflower or cultivated plant/tree/bush. Knowing ‘why’ is key. Plus, you’ll spend very little time doing things the average gardener does, and you’ll save an enormous amount of time and money over the years.

    For instance, I started my landscape business with $200 worth of tools (and I didn’t even own a truck at the time, for 3 years all of my tools and most of the plants I hauled in my 1990 Lexus – I didn’t mow lawns, I did design and installation). And, $90 out of that $200 was for a pair of Swiss made Felco Pruners (which I still have after 25 years – so don’t waste money on cheap junky tools, buy fewer of them and better quality, they will last a lifetime).

    As for weeding, it would take me about 1-2 hours once a month to entirely weed about an acre in my own garden or a clients. It works best when you are diligent with the steps I’ve explained – you will feel and see the results either immediately (if starting from scratch), or within 2-3 years with a landscape or garden that did not start off with the tips above. Either way it’s a win-win.

    But I’ve gotten off track here : )

    My point is, it is soooo easy and inexpensive to garden and landscape when you know the mechanics of things – whether it’s the life cycle’s of a plant, soil, insects, or simply knowing that we don’t need gadgets and jazzy techniques. It bugs me when I see all of the books and tools for home gardeners – for such a “Green” thing, the gardening industry is very not-Green.

    Hope this helps. Happy gardening! ~ Evelyn

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