Natural Ways to Prevent and Eliminate Weeds

Gardening can be an incredibly enjoyable and gratifying experience. Yet, even those with the greenest of thumbs have to admit that it can be frustrating at times, especially when it comes to weeds. No one wants to see the fruits of their labor overrun by weeds, but you don’t need to reach for the Roundup just yet. You already have several natural, inexpensive ways to avoid and eliminate weeds at your disposal.

First, focus on getting your lawn and garden as healthy as possible. The healthier your plants and the thicker your grass, the less room there is for weeds. Make sure to plant native species whenever possible. Native plants are better suited for persevering against the weeds of the local area. Then provide your plants with optimal soil conditions. Aerate soil before planting and fertilize with compost. Lay down newspaper to block weeds – it's organic, can be turned into the soil the following spring, and is less expensive than plastic. Strengthen your lawn by mulch-cutting and leaving the clippings (they're a great source of nitrogen) on the grass. And make sure to cut high – weeds get choked out and the lawn’s root system becomes hardier. For an all-natural and safe pre-emergent weed killer try corn gluten meal. It has been shown to inhibit the growth of dandelions, crabgrass, and several other annual weeds.

Even if you take every preventative measure, there's always at least a few weeds bound to show up. Start with the cheapest, most natural weed killer – your own hands. Pull weeds by hand or with a hoe or spade. There are also several different tools available to make removing weeds by their roots easier. Some other all-natural weed killers to consider:

Boiling water. Pour boiling water (you can re-purpose cooking water) on a weed and it will shrivel up within a couple days. This is a great way to clear a grouping of weeds popping out of or around driveways, walkways, and sidewalks. Take care though . . . boiling water will kill any plant it comes in contact with as well as the underground roots of nearby plants.

Salt. Salt (any type will do) is a serious plant killer. You can sprinkle just a small bit at the base of a weed to get rid of, but then the soil will become unsuitable for future plant growth. It's best to use salt on gravel walkways and driveways (just sprinkle it on) to keep anything from growing there for several months. Avoid using salt on concrete because salt erodes concrete surfaces.

Vinegar. Spraying vinegar directly on weeds will kill the leaves and cause them to shrivel up within a few days. Young weedlings will likely die all together, but more established weeds will need to be sprayed a few times before being completely eliminated. Avoid spraying vinegar directly on the soil since it also kills beneficial microorganisms which would ruin the soil for any future plant growth.

Rubbing Alcohol. Rubbing alcohol can be used the same way as vinegar. It too can ruin the soil, so make sure to only spray the leaves of the weed.

Soap. Add a few drops of liquid dish soap to any of the above ingredients to make it more effective. The soap breaks down the surface of the plant boosting the weed killer's absorption and thus its ability to do damage.

A Combination. Your best bet is a combination of ingredients. Mix a gallon of vinegar with one cup of salt and two tablespoons of dish soap. Spray this combination directly onto weeds or pour on entire areas where you want to eliminate plants completely.

Finally, you have two additional options for dealing with weeds. One: If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em. Common weeds such as dandelions, purlsane, chicory, and violet are all safe to eat. Two: If you can't beat ‘em, enjoy ‘em. Accept weeds as part of nature. As A.A. Milne put it, “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”


How to Save on Gas

Gas prices are rising as Memorial Day, the official start of summer, approaches. So, here are some tips on how you can save money and cut down on greenhouse emissions by using less gas.

Let's start with the most obvious . . . drive less. Walk, bike, use public transit, and carpool when possible. Check with your local public transportation authorities; they often have carpooling information as well as their regular services. If you own more than one car, choose the one that gets the best gas mileage whenever possible. Make the most of each car trip by combining as many errands as you can.

How you maintain your car can have a significant impact on gas mileage. Make sure to get regular tune-ups. Stick with the recommended maintenance schedule found in your owner's manual. Keep tires properly inflated (again, check your owner's manual) and aligned. You can even improve your car's gas mileage by using the manufacturer's recommended grade of motor oil. Selecting oil labeled "energy conserving" can also help.

When it's time to gas up make sure to fill the tank so you don't waste time, money, and fuel driving back to the service station for another small purchase. Never top off the gas tank though. Once the nozzle clicks off the first time the gas you're paying for is not going into your tank. Waiting until you have just a quarter tank (but no lower) can improve your gas mileage because you are carrying a lighter fuel load.

The way you drive is also important. For optimal gas mileage drive at a constant speed and avoid quick accelerations and hard braking. When there is little traffic use cruise control. You can also improve your gas mileage by 15% if you drive at 55 mph instead of 65 mph. When it comes to manual transmissions the lower the shift speed the better the gas mileage so remember to shift up early and shift down late.

Avoid idling. Turn off the engine whenever you will not be moving for a minute or more. If you're stuck in traffic or in another scenario where you can't turn off the engine, shift into neutral instead.

Keep your car light to boost fuel efficiency. Take out any unneeded items from the trunk and reduce drag by carrying items inside the car rather than on a roof rack.

On hot days seek out parking spots in the shade to reduce gas evaporation as well as your need for air conditioning. Investing in a good windshield shade will help keep your car cool which also reduces your need for AC. If you have a garage, make sure to use it to park your car. Parking in your garage helps your car stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer, reducing your need for heat, defrost, and AC. When you do use the heat or air conditioning remember to turn it off 5 minutes before you reach your destination.

If you're in the market for a new car, get only the options you really need. Optional features, such as four-wheel drive, can significantly decrease your gas mileage. Manual transmissions have better fuel economy than automatic transmissions. Get only the size of car you truly need since the bigger the engine the lower the fuel efficiency. Decide on your required model size and compare the gas mileage of cars in that category at fueleconomy.gov – the official U.S. government source for fuel economy information. Consumer Reports released its list of the most fuel-efficient cars tested just this past February.



Turning Your Yard Into a Wildlife Habitat

Whether you have a small spot on a porch or deck, a community garden lot, or acres of land, you can create a beautiful garden that provides food, water and shelter to local wildlife. Your wildlife habitat can be your own simple pleasure or you can boast a bit and encourage others around you to follow your green footsteps by becoming a certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation.

Here are the basics of a Wildlife-Friendly Garden:

Food. Planting native plants is the easiest way to provide the nectar, leafs, seeds, and nuts local wildlife needs. You can also supplement with elements like squirrel and bird feeders.

Water. Wildlife needs clean water to drink and bathe. If you are not near a natural water source such as a pond, lake, or wetlands, you can provide an artificial one like a bird bath, puddling areas (for butterflies), or rain garden.

Shelter. Wildlife needs a place to hide from people, predators, and bad weather. Little critters also need a place to raise offspring. Dense shrubs, thicket, rock piles, and birdhouses are a few options for shelters you can include in your wildlife habitat.

Keeping it green. Using Green Gardening practices will keep soil, air, and water clean and safe for local wildlife (not to mention you and your family).

Once you have these basic elements of a wildlife habitat, you can apply to be part of the National Wildlife Federation's Certified Wildlife Habitat program. For $20 you get a personalized certificate, a one-year subscription to National Wildlife magazine, 10% off all NWF catalog merchandise, a subscription to Wildlife Online — Habitats (a quarterly gardening and wildlife e-newsletter), an optional press release for your local newspaper announcing your certification, your name listed in NWF's registry of certified habitats, and the opportunity to purchase a Certified Wildlife Habitat yard sign (see picture below).