How to Use Vinegar for Weed Control


How to Use Vinegar for Weed Control ~ Black Fox

Every summer there is something: heat, spider mites, wind, drought, rain.  This year it was weeds ~ particularly: bermuda grass.

Weed pulling is a garden chore I don’t really mind, believe it or not,  but bermuda is a different story altogether. 

If you aren’t familiar with it (and you’re lucky if you’re not) the stuff propagates by stolons on the top surface, and rhizomes underneath, sending down deep roots in search of moisture.

If you want a heat tolerant lawn this is a fantastic concept.

If you prefer a garden instead, this is a nightmare.

In building our garden, we have primarily used the sheet composting method, laying down layers of compostable materials such as newspaper, cardboard, mulch, etc.  The first layer of cardboard is supposed to smother the grass and then enrich the soil.

Sheet composting over the raised bed infested with grass.

Sheet composting over the raised bed infested with grass.

This worked well enough in our urban homestead garden but here ~ not so much, and I’m not sure why.  All of our raised beds, including those in which we’re trying to grow okra, cucumbers, and beans, house a lovely pouf of green grass that will not leave.

Pulling bermuda only seems to encourage it to grow. There is no way to completely eradicate it except by physically removing it (just not possible right now, we’re talking acres) or a popular chemical in a bottle whose active ingredient is glyphosate (I really can’t use that).

At a loss as to what could be done we decided to try vinegar.

This was not the first time we resorted to this technique. The first year we did this, I misread the info and just used a jug of plain ole white vinegar purchased at the store.

The grass barely withered.

How to Use Vinegar for Weed ControlThen I realized that what I was supposed to be using was 20% vinegar.  This is an entirely different product.

Folks, this is strong stuff.  Do not use this on your cucumber salad.

I emptied the jug into a sprayer, added a small amount of dish soap to make it stick,  and one afternoon tackled one of the less scary beds.

In this bed, I had added a top layer of cardboard and wood chip mulch to smother the grass,  but within a day it had started to take over again, coming up around the edges.

Armed with my sprayer and potent stuff, I started in the morning spraying to completely cover each blade.

By afternoon, I was seeing some progress. The tips of the grass had started to turn brown.

A few more applications over the course of the next few days and it looked like there was some hope.  The grass had completely dried up and the dead debris could easily be pulled out by hand leaving the bed nice and clean ~ free of grass and weeds.

The 20% vinegar, at least for now, is a keeper.

If you decide to try this here are a few pointers:

Choose a warm, sunny day.

The warmth and the sun coupled with the vinegar are what seems to make this work.

Commit to more than one application.

This is not a spray once and your done sortofa deal.  You’ll need to come back the following day, and then most likely a third in order to get the job done.

Vinegar isn’t waterproof.

If rain is in the forecast, you’ll need to wait.  Once I started spraying, we had a few days of rain, and moisture ya’ know is what encourages grass to grow, so I had green shoots coming up through the area I had just sprayed.  Frustrating ~ but there it is.

Vinegar will only kill the top growth.

This natural alternative is not like the stuff in a bottle.  This is not a systemic herbicide that will kill the grass all the way down to the roots.  Unfortunately this will just take care of what is on the surface, and if the rhizomes are still there, they’ll be back.

Bottom line: you’ll need to make spraying one of your regular garden chores and always have a jug of vinegar on hand.

Do you have a bermuda grass problem in your garden?  How do you take care of your weeds?

This is the vinegar we used:

And this is the kind of sprayer you will need:

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How to Use Vinegar for Weed Control — 23 Comments

  1. How funny I was thinking about using this myself. We have had a lot of rain this month and the weeds are taking over, especially in the pathways between the beds. Question is where did you find 20% vinegar? Good info, thank you.

  2. I’m currently trying a solution of 1 gallon of regular vinegar, with 2 cups of epsom salts and 1/4 cut of dish soap. Initial results have been promising but a spate of rain has kept me from doing a large scale test.

    One question I have is about the effect of vinegar on the soil PH. I know the epsoms salts will acidify the soil to a degree because of the sulfur but I think that, by itself, that’s not much of an issue with moderate use and if you use compost, (I do), for fertilization. The epsom salts are primarily the sulfur but also contain magnesium which is very beneficial, especially for blooming plants , because it facilitates the absorption and use of minerals by plants.

    I am looking to control weeds at the edges of the garden with this formulation more so than in the actual beds themselves, as I have had some success with just removing them and using some no tilling methods to keep the weeds manageable. But I am curious about the effect on PH of high concentrations of vinegar just because of leeching.

    My research shows that significant concentrations will lower your PH, so if your is high no, or if you are growing plants that prefer a more acidic environment such as blueberries it will actually have a beneficial effect. Most plants prefer PH in the 6 to 7 range so, it may create issues.

    One way to see how much effect it might have is to mix your soil with vinegar. If it bubbles that’s an indication that you have free lime in the soil. Lime has the effect of raising PH. My take on what I’ve read is that if you have free lime in the soil, that makes it fairly difficult to lower the PH and so the vinegar should have too much of an effect.

    I live in a coastal area with a lot of rainfall, which means soils generally tend towards the more acidic end of the scale, so I lime my garden beds each year, (depending on my soil test results), just to keep the PH up.

    But if this weed formulation works as well as glycophosphate as represented it’s a boon, even if it means a little more care and work in keeping PH levels right. That stuff is highly toxic and I wouldn’t use it on a bet.

    • Phil thank you so much for this info!

      I did have some concerns especially because control requires repeated applications. At this point I’ve just been spraying the edges of a few beds, and watching it to see how it does. My biggest problem, like I said, is bermuda grass that creeps in. The other stuff I just pull by hand.

      I’m also glad to hear that you had success with regular household vinegar. I went through my gallon jug rather quickly. It is easier and less expensive to have the other on hand. I’ve been using epsom salt for other things (peppers, tomatoes) and have been pleased with the results.

      We had someone on our FB page express concern about the effect on the soil. I am going to suggest she read your comment. Have a great week!

  3. errata…”My take on what I’ve read is that if you have free lime in the soil, that makes it fairly difficult to lower the PH and so the vinegar should NOT have too much of an effect. “

  4. Jenny, you’re welcome. Happy to share. I think, as with most things the key is moderation, but if anyone wants to monitor their soil PH, most county extension offices will take samples and have a detailed analysis with recommendations done. Depending on the amount of agriculture in the state, time of year and the workload it can take a couple weeks to get the results back but it’s very instructional. In NC they provide this free, but due to the heavy loads from farmers they will be charging now for the heaviest times of year.

    The county extension offices are also great places to find free, or nearly free classes on everything from composting to seed starting, etc. Most people don’t realize that they address not only agricultural needs but also gardeners and have classes dealing with lawn, flower and ornamental care. Info is tailored to your specific regions. I highly recommend people check them out and support them.

    You can also carry in bugs or diseased plants, or even email photos in many cases and get great info. Ours puts out a newsletter that is invaluable for alerting me to current conditions, or pests that might be appearing in the area, to tips on canning and preserving..even cold weather alerts and advice.

    One last idea if you don’t want to wait, is to buy red cabbage and distilled water and boil a few leaves. Take samples, (you can look online for the best way to do this and for the color charts), and put them in the resulting purplish liquid while still warm and it will change color depending on the level of acidity or alkalinity. This method would be particularly suited to checking an area you treated with vinegar for weeds. Do it before and after and you should be able to easily note if it has any effect. Done over time it will tell you how long the effect takes to dissipate. Sort of like patch testing for colorfastness, same idea. That way you can be sure you don’t have to learn by destroying something.

  5. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post on Wildcrafting Wednesdays! I didn’t know there was such a thing as the 20% vinegar, so I guess I will be tracking some down to help with some of our weeds. I hope you’ll join us again and share more of your awesome posts in the future.

    • UPDATE: The rains finally stopped her for a few days, so although the initial test with a few sheltered weeds worked well, I was anxious to do a larger sample. So yesterday afternoon I took 2 gallons of regular household vinegar, 4 cups of epsom salts and 1/2 cup of dish soap, filled a Hansen sprayer and did a patch of the driveway. By midday today it was almost all brown the rest dead or dying. What wasn’t was probably just due to my cheap sprayer giving spotty coverage.

      It would appear to be a good solution for edging beds as the lines I sprayed died off nice and evenly. Good chemical wheedwhacker, since I’m too inept to make one of those work right. Good luck to all.

      • Thanks for the update! I will see how it works to use it as an edger here around our raised beds.

  6. Hi, I just popped over from a linky list somewhere (I’ve lost track – I clicked, then went away, and just came back to read).

    It’s great to hear about something working against bermuda. We have couch grass here, which is a similar nightmare.

    I’m wondering about the effect on the acidity of the soil. Are you concerned? And if so, do you have a plan to address it?

    • Hi Kirsten, Yes I have had some concerns and another reader brought up the same issue. If you have the time, read through Phil’s comments. He had some great info on that.

    • Kristen, that was my primary concern about using 20% so I stuck with household vinegar which is about 4%. Even with several applications which don’t seem necessary at this point the that should dilute any potential acidifcation from the vinegar and/or the sulphur in the epsom salts. .regular liming of soils with powdered lime, (cheap at @ 5 to 7 bucks for 50 lbs.) anytime you plant will gradually raise PH as well to counter any acidification.

      The epsom salts, in that amount shouldn’t have anything but a beneficial effect. They’re primarily sulfur and magnesium. While sulfur is an acidifier the magnesium helps plants utilize the nutrients in the soil. I top dress all my fruiting plants, peppers, tomatoes, etc., as well as flowering plants, with it and the increase in the number of fruit that set from the blooms is noticeable.

      I have no real expertise, but that’s what I’ve learned and noticed. Hope it helps.

  7. My garden was a Bermuda Rectangle at the beginning of the season! I spent two weeks in the early a.m. for about 2-3 hours each session, with a digger and trash bags, just ripping it out by hand. This was after it had been tilled and raked twice! Then, I used cardboard all around the edges to keep the lawn Bermuda from creeping back in, and I covered the garden area with tons of wheat straw. It has paid off.It’s pretty much muda-free. I have to keep watching it though. It will go back in one winter if left uncovered.

  8. Haven’t tried this…not sure we have Bermuda grass. But we do have these pesky little vines that seem to be popping up all over the place.

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