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weeds on gravel

 
Posts: 5
Location: Dublin/Leitrim, Ireland
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Hi I am looking for organic, labour efficient ways of managing weeds on a gravel courtyard in front of my house ( pictures attached). They grow out out of leaf fall from nearby trees. It is quite impressive to see soil forming from leave decay and the weeds growing - it is just in the wrong place! I don't want to spray them and it can be quite labour intensive to pull them all up  ( as the grassroots pull up the  gravel stones) and hard to keep the leaves from the stones. Just wondering if anyone has any interesting solutions?
all suggestions gratefully received.
John and Grainne
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weeds in gravel
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grass weed pulled up with gravel stones attached
 
pollinator
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Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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I've just started experimenting with 30% vinegar. It's done an excellent job on mosses, an excellent to very good job on most forbs, and a so-so job on grasses. Some grasses it kills in one spraying. All the young grass seedlings I sprayed got killed on one application. Some mature grasses died but others came back. I'm right now seeing if a second or third application will kill those stubborn mature grasses. I've used a small handheld pump sprayer for most of the application, since it's just spotty weeds here and there. And I used a paintbrush for close use near a plant I didn't want to die. I was able to treat weeds right up to the base of pineapple plants without damaging the pineapple.

I know that you said you didn't want to spray, but I'm assuming that meant you didn't want to use a toxic herbacide. But if it's the spraying that you object to, you could always use a paint brush to apply the 30% vinegar.
 
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Grainne,

Do you have a weed barrier under the rocks?  This does not completely stop weeds from growing but it does stop them from rooting into the ground as well as cutting down on their numbers.

Also, do you have a small leaf blower?  This can easily get rid off leaves before they decompose.

Eric
 
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I wonder if heavily salting it would work?  May leach downhill and affect other plantings though.  Flame weeders work too but they usually require propane.
 
gardener
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Burn them.

A propane torch runs about $35 to $45.  If you have a gas BBQ, then you've already got a propane tank.  It's easy, doesn't take much fuel, and doesn't poison the soil long-term.  You don't have to burn the weeds to a crisp, but just singe them and they'll die back.  

I was just on Amazon and searched "Propane Weed Torch".  There are bunches of them for sale.
 
Su Ba
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Weedburners work great on young seedlings, especially those only a couple days old. So a quick flashing of the gravel once a week would control new weeds. Using a weed dragon, the flashing could be done in only a few minutes. Yup, it's quick. But..........

But........ In my own experience in Hawaii, the burner doesn't kill most established grasses. The growing heart of the grass plant is protected at or below soil level and embedded in the plant. Thus it's difficult to heat it up enough. I've flashed grasses and gotten poor results. So I tried holding the flame on the grasses. Yes, it wilted the leaves, but the plant regenerated. Now this may only apply to my tropical grasses which might be juicer than other grasses, but the weed burner just wasn't the answer for them. I have a couple of miles of pasture fence that I need to keep the grasses off of, and the weed burner just didn't do a good enough job. Besides, it's difficult lugging a propane tank around and propane is expensive here ($4.99 a gallon plus tax).

Perhaps borrowing or renting a propane burner to do a test run would be a good suggestion, rather than investing in one immediately.
 
Marco Banks
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Yes, grasses come back, as Su has shared.  But with each successive flush of new growth, the grass exhausts its store of energy that it has stored in the root system.  Usually after the third or fourth burn, the grass gives up.  But I could understand how this would be different in your tropical climate, Su.

Most grasses tend to spread by rhizomes -- lateral roots that spread underground.  So even if you kill the mother plant, the roots may still be alive.  So as they pop up, you need to burn them as well.  It's a bit like playing whack-a-mole.  It can take some time to eventually kill everything.  Even if you put down black plastic sheeting and smother everything, those rhizomes tend to lay dormant under the soil surface, just waiting for their turn to pop up and start growing again.

I used to have a long gravel strip along the side of my house, 10' wide x about 75' long.  The previous owners of our house parked their boat there.  I bought a propane torch and started burning the weeds.  In our climate where we don't get rain for 9 months of the year, it proved to be very effective.  But I still got crab grass coming back every so often.  It took about 2 years but I eventually killed everything on that gravel strip.  (I've since paved that area with interlocking brick pavers -- it's a lovely patio space now).

Given the alternative (Round-Up), torching the weeds is the most soil-friendly long-term solution.

If you don't mind the look of a big sheet of black plastic covering everything, that would be an alternative.  But if the goal is for that space to look nice, I don't think you want a big old sheet of plastic flapping around in the wind.

Great thread!
m
 
Su Ba
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Marco, thanks for your thoughts. It's good information. I'm comforted to know that repetitive treatments eventually gets rid of the mature grasses.

I'd rather use a flamer or foliage application of vinegar than a toxic herbacide or salt. I see lots of people suggesting salt, but that idea doesn't sit well with me. You'd need a high concentration of salt for it to prevent weeds, I should think. What does that high concentration of salt do to the soil life? And will it migrate into future drinking water supplies? Could it cause sakt damage to near by food production gardens?

I'm totally off of using weed cloth. It was always a nightmare after a bit of time. Here in the tropics, the aggressive grasses will eventually poke through even the commercial heavy duty weedblock, and nurseries end up using herbacide anyway. And if the stuff is just residential quality, the tropical sun degrades it rather quickly.
 
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I wouldn't bother with the burner. I bought a plumbers gas torch for this sort of purpose and hardly both using it now as I find it the most labourious method. The OP is in Ireland its generally wetter than here the grass would not burn well most times of the year, especially with all that wet organic matter around it. By the time you burnt all the grass you could have removed it with a weeding tool or screwdriver and it wont be back the next week.

I would use a leaf blower to remove the organic material and cover it with something for as long as possible. Vinegar and washing up liquid can work, however during the winter with all the extra potential heavy rain it can get diluted and not work as well as it should.

Long term I would buy more gravel doesnt look like you have very much there and the more you have the less the weeds will grow.

Using hydrated lime might be another alternative to kill the weeds with alkalinity but I havent tried it as I have only just thought of it!

 
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Location: Australia, New South Wales. Köppen: Cfa (Humid Subtropical), USDA: 10/11
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Grainne Sharry wrote:Hi I am looking for organic, labour efficient ways of managing weeds on a gravel courtyard in front of my house.



The first thing I'd suggest is to remove the leaves so the gravel functions as intended. The leaves would make great compost.

A 'safe' way to kill such weeds is to simply pour boiling water on them. It may take a few repeats, but it won't do any significant damage and doesn't use finite resources.
 
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If you have good sun and it's hot, lay down some clear plastic over the area for a couple of days.  It will basically cook top of the ground, killing seeds laying on the surface (or maybe even a tiny bit underneath).

I know this can work well because one hot summer Saturday I laid down a long sheet of clear plastic scrap down a slope in my back yard for my kids to put a hose at the top and run and slide down it.  They enjoyed it, and I only left it there for a most of a day.  It was an established grass lawn, but it took it over a year to recover.  (it didn't kill it all, but it was weak and patchy).
 
Mick Fisch
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Oops!  Sorry Grainne, I just noticed your living in Ireland.  If my mental stereotype is anywhere accurate, you may have a hard time finding the long, hot, sunny stretch of days I was envisioning.
 
Mick Fisch
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If it was my patch of gravel I would just declare it my garden.  That would surely cause whatever was growing there to die!
 
Marco Banks
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Su Ba wrote:

I'd rather use a flamer or foliage application of vinegar than a toxic herbicide or salt. I see lots of people suggesting salt, but that idea doesn't sit well with me. You'd need a high concentration of salt for it to prevent weeds, I should think. What does that high concentration of salt do to the soil life? And will it migrate into future drinking water supplies? Could it cause sakt damage to near by food production gardens?

I'm totally off of using weed cloth. It was always a nightmare after a bit of time. Here in the tropics, the aggressive grasses will eventually poke through even the commercial heavy duty weedblock, and nurseries end up using herbacide anyway. And if the stuff is just residential quality, the tropical sun degrades it rather quickly.



Agreed and agreed.  When the Romans wanted to punish their enemies, they would salt their fields, whereby killing the soil pretty much forever.  Yes, salt would kill the weeds . . . and everything else for as long as you own your home (and the next 5 generations to follow).  And salt migrates.  It doesn't just stay in that spot, but would slowly move through the soil profile and kill everything around the immediate area over time.  Salt should be a non-starter.  We have enough natural salt in our water supply that we have to flush from our soils without bringing in additional salt to wreck things further.

As for weed cloth, that stuff is the bane of my existence.  When we first got out place, I'd roll out yards and yards of the stuff.  It looked like grey felt.  I'd buy rolls of the stuff 4' x 50' and put it everywhere.  Then I'd cover it with 8 inches of wood chip mulch and thought I had a great solution to weeds in the orchard.  Uggg.  Years later, I'm still finding that crap out there in the orchard.  It's frayed and stringy, with roots growing through it.  I've dug and dug and dug over the years to try to remove it all.  I've probably got 95% of it out now, but I'll still find a piece of it on occasion.  What took an afternoon to put down has taken me years to remove.
 
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I've used roofing tar paper that has the sand on it, not the thick tar stuff, over weeded areas, mowed as low as possible first, and it stops the weeds.  Metal fence posts hold it down even through bad wind storms.   A happy accident part of this is that the voles come up under it and tunnel around, loosening the soil, kicking up anything that might be under there.   Left long enough the soil is so "tilled" I can stick my finger down 4" or so in heavy clay.   Mostly I use it around the house foundation, covered with rock, where I don't want the weeds coming up around the foundation.  It last for many years even if completely exposed.

When it gets so it's just falling apart and I put it under stepping stone pathways, layer the chunks under any pathway that gets a covering over it.  

Large pieces of plywood or old siding, left for several months, blocks out weeds, leaving complete bare patches.   Voles also come up under this and "till" it.  Sometimes antsand a nest get under this, too, and break up the soil. amazingly deep  It's easy to turn the soil over with a shovel, expose them, and they leave.

Once the soil is usable, then really thick mulch over the bare patch helps stop regrowth.






 
Grainne Sharry
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thanks for helpful tips and really interesting discussion
Grainne and John
 
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I use boiling water and just dump it where I need the weeds to die.
We have gravel walkways that connect our house to other structures on the property, so there's always weeds poking up. Every time I boil water for pasta or when I'm canning jams and jellies, I take it outside and dump it a little here and there. For big grassy patches, I have to use several trips.
In the winter, I keep water simmering sometimes on the stove to help with moisture in our house (we use exclusive wood heat) and when it's been going for a little while, I'll take it off the stove and go out and kill weeds with it. Works great!
Plus, I build into my understanding that every 3 years or so I will need to regravel. Then I'm not irritated when 3 years has gone by and I need to regravel the walkways. When I thought that I would never have to gravel it again, then I just got annoyed when it broke down so much that I had to order gravel. Now I just build it into my garden plan for that year. And if I can stretch it to another year, I'm happy!
 
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