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Alternatives to Roundup

The Ocean River Institute is providing information about alternatives to Roundup as part of our Clean Water Project.

Finding a one-to-one substitution for Roundup is difficult, as none of the below alternatives can attack an entire weed system like Roundup can. Therefore, we suggest that homeowners use a combination of Roundup alternatives that are best-suited to their personal preferences and the characteristics of their lawns.

Type of Alternative Description Examples/How to use
Mulch Not only does mulch help to retain moisture, but the barrier created by the mulch will serve to keep weeds at bay as well. To use mulch as a natural weed barrier, you need to put down a 2- to 3-inch layer. That’s enough to keep most weed seeds from sprouting. Because you block their access to sunlight, they won’t have enough energy to push through the mulch.
Homemade herbicide This homemade herbicide is made from vinegar, salt, and dish soap. It is effective against weeds that pop up around edges, fences, or house foundations. Combine 1 gallon of white vinegar, 1 cup of salt, and 1 tablespoon of dish soap. Transfer to a spray bottle and spray on weeds as needed.
Safer postemergence herbicide alternatives “Postemergence” means that the herbicide kills weeds only if they have already emerged. In contrast, Roundup kills attacks an entire system of weeds, meaning it can kill weeds whether they have begun to grow or not. Diquat (Reward™), pelargonic acid (Scythe™), glufosinate (Finale™ and others), and many “natural products” that contain high percentages of vinegar and/or botanical oils.
Mechanical, heat-based approaches When using a heat, you do not need to actually burn the weeds. A brief exposure to the heat source will heat the water inside the plant without flames. The leaf tissues will collapse very rapidly after treatment. Larger weeds will require repeated treatments. Using heat will provide only foliar damage to grasses, perennial sedges and perennial broadleaf weeds. These types of weeds re-grow rapidly following treatment. Flame, steam or hot-foam weeding. Sites where flame weeding may be practical include cracks in driveways, between pavers, or in gravel mulch. Flame weeding is effective on seedling broadleaf weeds growing in hardscapes but should not be used in areas where flammable mulching materials are present. Where flammable materials are present, steam or hot foam weeding are preferred over flame weeding.
Weed whacking/electric weed control String trimmers and other electric-powered machines use a flexible monofilament line, a blade, or some other material to cut weeds. It consists of a cutting tip at the end of a long shaft with a handle. These machines provide a physically non-intensive way to manually remove weeds. Just hold and point where it needs to be used, no stooping or bending necessary.
Corn gluten Corn gluten is a preemergent herbicide; it will not kill already existing weeds. While greenhouse trials in other parts of the country have demonstrated that CGM application can inhibit seed germination of a number of both weed and desirable species, field trials in these same locations often have not. The high levels of nitrogen in corn gluten will benefit existing weeds. Therefore, inadequate weed removal prior to treatment can actually result in an increased weed problem. Effectiveness in greenhouse trials generally increases with application rate (as does the cost).
Manual removal Here, we mean removing weeds one-by-one by hand. Remove weeds before they have a chance to establish a large root system and before they go to seed. This is best accomplished with frequent weeding – about every 2 weeks. Hand weeding frequently is effective for annual weeds but can also control perennial weeds before they become well established.

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