Vinegar, Salt & a Weed Kill Makeover

Salting the Earth?  Isn’t this what evil people in, like, the bible did?

I read over on the Brick House that Morgan, in a desperate attempt to rid a huge gravel driveway of weeds, salted and vinegar-d the whole thing — to great (at least initial) success.   You can read all the details of what exactly she did on her website (weedy and weedy, the aftermath)– but the bottom line is she used basic easy materials and creamed lots of weeds.

Can we discuss this?

before and after weed removal

BEFORE

Seriously, I have so many questions about this….(please, I only claim to be a design expert — and merely a pretty darn good gardener with alot to learn)  that I hope some of you can answer.

1) Though I have not yet tried it, I am well aware of the purported green and organic qualities of using vinegar for weed killing.  But I thought you had to buy the horticultural grade stuff (i.e. much more concentrated).  This is main reason I have not tried it — I just haven’t got around to buying the specialty stuff….so my first questions is, can I really just go to the grocery store?

2) The salt aspect.  How much does this really mess up your soil?  To what level can you do this and perhaps have the effects dissipate in a few rain showers and to what level will you be regretting it forever?  Contrast that with what level works for weed removal.

salt and vinegar

3) And what about the Salt and the Vinegar mixed.  What does that do? Does it make HCl or not — (I’ve read both sides and chemistry is NOT my thing).  And if it does make Hydrochloric acid — what does that do to your garden soil?

4) And if you never want anything to grow in a place, how good of an idea it is to go for it regarding the salt and vinegar treatment.  Is this something that has other hidden effects (like runoff, groundwater, other ecologically damning side effects?)

salt and vinegar weed removal

There is a huge discussion on the garden web about this….but I am hoping that someone can cut the jabber for me and give me some facts….because I’d actually like to try and use this idea if it’s any good. Anyone?

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rochelle greayer

Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.

12 Comments

  1. Mary on April 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Wow, I would love to learn more too! I have 5 acres in the desert and have to hula hoe a large portion every year to get rid of junk – would love to have another solution wo/hurting the environment or killing other plants…

  2. Jenn on April 15, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    Ugh.

    Has Jeff Gillman weighed in? He is the man on these kinds of things:

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0881929123/garde-20

    SCIENCE!

  3. The Sage Butterfly on April 15, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Using a diluted mixture of vinegar with water and concentrating the mixture to your weeds will not hurt your soil. However, if you use too much or use too strong a mixture (vinegar) the pH of the soil will be affected for a few days. And if you use too much so that it spreads to another plant–one you don’t want to kill–that could cause problems. I have used it successfully for years…seems to work really well. I try to be as careful as possible.

    Here is a web site that talks more about it:
    http://landscaping.about (dot) com/od/weedsdiseases/qt/vinegar_weeds (dot) htm

  4. rochelle on April 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    so, is it the vinegar on the leaves that kills the wed or is in the soil/ and taken up by the roots that does the trick?

  5. Doug Green on April 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    I’ve run multiple trials on vinegar in combinations. The 7% pickling vinegar works nicely on it’s own but add a cup of vegetabe oil per gallon and it turns into a lethal plant-burner. The 3% table vinegar only works minimally by itself – add a cup of vegetable oil (remember you have to warm up the mix to get the vinegar/oil to mix well enough) and it too turns lethal (although not as complete as the 7% and it depends on the species you’re trying to kill) Salt at 1 cup per gallon is also a promoter of burning-off although with the oil added, it becomes unnecessary with either mix. Salt and 7% vinegar is better than 7% vinegar by itself.

    Bottom line – salt does perform a “burn” function and increases the range of plants burned off but isn’t necessary if vegetable oil is added. And the amounts used (1 cup per coverage area) are far less than what most folks are using to clear a walkway of ice every time it snows. Not saying that’s good – just a relative comparison. You get to make the moral/environmental decision but a good rain or two will remove it from growing level in the northeast. Can’t speak for other soils or bio-regions.

    Soil acidity isn’t an issue with a burn or two but I had to spray 5 times with 7%/salt/oil to wipe out some Aegopodium (thanks former owner) and it took most of season. (it was a trial). Ground the next year sported a fine crop of moss (in dampish shade) but area was then mulched under 4-inches of bark chips. No issues growing the spring after spraying.

    Hope that helps

    • rochelle on April 15, 2011 at 8:44 pm

      Doug — you are my hero. 😉

  6. Doug Green on April 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    p.s. Rochelle – it’s a “burn” on the leaves. Soil uptake isn’t the case here.

  7. rochelle on April 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Jenn — I dont know why I don’t already own that book — buying it now. thanks!

  8. rochelle on April 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    yes Mary — I am curious because I too have a large area….mine is not desert, but a recently cleared area (about and acrea and a half) has quickly been colonized by the most heinous wild raspberries. Want to get rid of them fast – I can’t even walk through the field!

  9. p bargar on April 16, 2011 at 9:08 am

    another thing about salt – meaning NaCl, not potassium or other salts – is that it’s a super additive for marshy plants. Like Asparagus. I concur it has to be used carefully, as Doug said so nicely, depending on your climate and soil buffering capacity.

    The referred to method of the Romans tilling in salt to make fields unproductive – you need to think of rock salt, not fine grain table salt, in quantities similar to liming a agricultural field (the large piles of white stuff that lay around for a few months on the edges of fields). Also keep in mind that these locations tended to be somewhat semi-arid.
    Think of a mean neighbor buying a wheelbarrow full of rock salt one weekend and then dumping buckets of it in your flowerbeds and tilling it in while you are off for a short trip. First, the labor of pulling it all out is daunting. In temporarily retains heat and water and binds up other nutrients and messes with the pH. Some of the large TX / OK fields are having this very issue with using decades of groundwater in overhead irrigation causing salts to accumulate in the root zone.

  10. Lorraine Roberts on April 18, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    Here is a site with the lowdown on Horticultural vinegar.
    http://ecoval.ca/index.php?page=hort-vinegar
    Very informative.
    BTW- I would never be putting salt and vinegar in combination anywhere! Toxic concoction.

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