Weeds are frustratingly inevitable in the garden. Sadly, the chemicals marketed to combat them are not only toxic to the environment, but also to the health of your pets (not to mention to you and your family as well). This is especially of concern to many dog owners, whose furry friends probably make a habit of rubbing and rolling in plant materials; for them, a dog-safe weed killer is imperative. Fortunately, there are several household items you probably already have on hand that can be used as organic, pet-friendly weed killers.
Another pantry staple, salt is a powerful ingredient in the war against unwanted vegetation while still being a weed killer safe for pets. Because it makes soil inhospitable to plants, it should only be used to kill weeds and plants where you want nothing else to grow, such as cracks in sidewalks, driveways, pathways, and under decking areas. Sprinkle it liberally and then water it into the area. It can also be mixed into the previous vinegar/soap solution to increase potency.
Vinegar, that hardworking pantry staple, is full of surprise uses. It just so happens that being an effective and safe weed killer is one of them. Acetic acid is the component of vinegar that works its herbicidal magic in the garden by drawing moisture out of plant material, which subsequently kills the plant. As with many weed killers, it isn't selective, which means it is effective not only in killing unwanted weeds, but any plant, so it should be used with discretion. Unlike traditional herbicides, vinegar won't usually travel all the way to the root of the plant, so it may take several repeated applications. To further the effectiveness, it may help to make a mixture of vinegar and dish soap (a one gallon to 1 tablespoon ratio). The soap will help the vinegar stick to the leaves of the plant instead of running off too quickly. The best part is, of course, that this combination makes a weed killer safe for dogs.
Sugar and Chili Pepper
Much like salt, sugar makes soil conditions unfavorable for plant growth. What it also does is attract pests, such as ants (which means, of course, that it is an animal-friendly weed killer; maybe too friendly). To counter this attractiveness, mix it with equal parts of chili powder to repel those pesky pests. Sprinkle the mixture liberally across the soil where the weeds are growing, taking care to keep away from the plants you don't want to be affected. Exercise a bit of caution with your pets, because some animals (especially dogs) might be interested in the sweet stuff, and could get a nose- or tongue-full of the chili pepper, which could cause mild irritation.
Cornmeal is a surprising, yet highly effective, pantry item to put into your pet-safe weed killer arsenal. It acts as a pre-emergent, which means it prevents seeds from germinating (it is not effective in combating existing weeds, it only stops new seeds from growing). This makes it an excellent pet-safe weed killer for lawns, as it won't affect the lawn but will combat the emergence of new annual seeds. It can be safely spread around existing landscape plants to prevent new, unwanted growth. Another bonus? Cornmeal can also be used to kill ants by pouring it wherever you see them trailing. They will carry it back to the nest and feed on it, but because it is indigestible for them, they will starve to death.
There's nothing more pet friendly than simply pouring water on your weeds. For targeted weed control, boiling hot water is a great, easy option. Simply douse the unwanted plant in just-boiled water and watch it wither and die. An added benefit of this method is that it also hydrates the soil without disrupting the health of it in any way. Add salt or vinegar for additional strength (but these will affect the quality of the soil) and be wary of splashing onto surrounding plants (or yourself!) because they will be affected, as well. Tough weeds may require several applications. Wear protective gear and be careful.
Weeds need sunlight to thrive, and if you take it away from them, they'll inevitably die. This is just one of the reasons why the use of garden mulch is such a widespread practice. Mulch includes sheets of newspaper or cardboard, shredded bark, leaves, evergreen needles, and even rocks. Anything permeable that will let water in and keep sunlight out can be placed around existing landscaping to help mature plants thrive while keeping new weeds at bay. Furthermore, if widespread weed-killing is required, opaque plastic sheeting can be spread across a large expanse of yard and left to smother any weeds by blocking sunlight, and also by baking everything beneath it. You'll be left with a perfectly weed- and chemical-free zone.
Weeding by Hand
One of the most safe and effective means for eradicating weeds remains the good, old-fashioned, elbow grease method of pulling them up by hand. It can be rather tedious work, but it's one of the best ways to ensure that the root of the weed is gone, as both toxic and non-toxic weed killers might actually leave it behind to regenerate. There are lots of handy little weeding tools on the market that help speed up and streamline the process, so if your problem is sporadic weeds popping up, this is one way to handle them without using chemicals.
Making the decision to tackle your weeds organically might not be the easiest path to a weed-free yard, but it is certainly the healthiest for you, your family, your pets, and the environment.