Flame weeding is considered an organic method of weed removal. However, if the weather is hot and the fire danger is moderate to extreme, Roundup may be the better option to avoid accidentally starting a fire or risking fines from the local fire district or other government agency.
In addition, a thick layer of mulch reduces weed seed germination while conserving water. You can add a drip irrigation system to put water over the desirable plants’ and shrubs’ root balls while leaving the weed seedlings to dry up in the hot summer sun.
Roundup in the Garden
Before using any glyphosate product, take the time to read the instructions carefully. Put on protective gear, including goggles, gloves and a dust mask, to protect your eyes, skin and lungs. Wait until the weather is calm, not windy; overspray can affect nearby desirable plants. Spray only the weed until it is wet, but not dripping. Keep children and pets out of the treated area until the herbicide is completely dry.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in several nonspecific herbicide products, including Roundup. It is absorbed by the plant’s leaves and moves through the plant down to the roots to destroy the weed. As the National Pesticide Information Center points out, glyphosate interferes with the shikimic acid enzyme pathway, which prevents essential protein production in plants. It is nonspecific, so it will also affect nearby plants if you spray on a windy day.
An alternative to both Roundup and burning weeds is using cultural controls in the garden. Hand weeding and careful cultivation with a hoe around existing plants reduces the number of weeds in the landscape. However, digging deeply when removing existing weeds or adding compost and other amendments to the garden bed also exposes buried weed seeds, warns the University of California IPM Program.
“You know you’re successful when the weed changes from a glossy to a matte finish,” says Tom Lanine, weed ecologist at the University of California at Davis. “The weed may not droop immediately but will wilt and die within a few hours. Then you just leave the weed to compost naturally. You don’t want to disturb the soil and bring more weed seeds to the top.”
Though flaming technology has been around since the 1940s, home gardeners have expressed renewed interest in these weed-fighting tools. Flamers require no chemicals, and don’t result in groundwater contamination or chemical residues on garden crops. But safety concerns of another type remain. Never use flame torches around any dry, brown, or otherwise flammable material. Also, their use during dry periods in forested or arid regions is prohibited, or ought to be. Always check with your local fire department or town clerk before investing in a flamer.
Our early ancestors discovered fire and invented gardening. And even though farmers for centuries have used controlled burning to improve crops, it has not been until recently that home gardeners began to use mechanical flame torches, or flamers, in the garden. Of course, it’s never too late to invent a garden tool that kills unwanted weeds without requiring the gardener to bend and pull, disturb the soil, or lace both soil and crops with herbicides.
Some flamers attach directly to small propane tanks (14 to 16 ounces). This makes them easier to maneuver, but they burn for only 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Flamers attached to large tanks (like those used with barbecue grills) need an extension hose, that runs from the tank to the flamer. The hose length limits your range, however, and you must lug the tank around. Use a dolly if the tank is too heavy to move around comfortably, but make sure you strap the tank down securely.