April 5th, 2011

A few years back we installed almost 4,000 sqft gravel driveway with our bare hands. It was misery. Back breaking misery.

Part of the driveway installation entailed that we lay down rolls and rolls of landscaping fabric to help control the inevitable weed problem. Well, no one quite explained that weeds wouldn’t grow through the fabric, but they would totally grow on top of it. Dirt settles between the rocks and then the weeds are like, “hey guys its awesome over here – lets move in.”

Since installing the driveway, which feels like forever ago, we’ve been battling the shameful ghetto weeds about this time of year. Somehow through a mixture of the super moon, super rain storms and supernatural mystical forces bent on driving me nuts, the weeds have been particularly hardy and spiteful.

We hand pulled the bigger ones, which in some twisted irony are way easier to remove than the baby weeds. So, we tend to let these bad boys get big and then yank them. Usually the summer heat kills everything outright and we wait for the scheduled die off, but it’s been so lovely and wet out that the weeds found purchase and made themselves a little too comfortable too early in the season.

Also found some lovely artifacts hiding in the weeds caught from the wind blowing into our wide open backyard – empty cigarette boxes, trash bags, some cans, chip bags, some stuff that looked like blood – you know all the glittering detritus that Hemet bestows on us.

Weeds? I made you my bitch.

To conquer the little baby and broken weeds left over from the great weed massacre (and to deter any other punks that wanna mess with me) I gave the driveway a nice bath of salt and vinegar. Still tastes terrible though.

50 pounds of salt ($8) and a few gallons of vinegar ($3) from the local Smart & Final are my DIY and more “green” solution than grabbing some chemical weed killer from the local hardware store. Who am I kidding – have you seen the prices on that weed killer stuff? It’s OUTRAGEOUS. We need tons to cover this giant driveway, so my broke ass is going to try this salt & vinegar solution and see how it works.

BTW, after a couple days the left over weeds are looking pretty shriveled and brown; take that you bastards! Let’s see how it works out long term – I’m totally salting the earth out of vengeance, but from what I read the next few rainfalls will probably dilute it all within the next few months. Whatever, salt is cheap and weed killer is not.

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  1. Ryan on 04/05/2011:

    Haha sweet. Never seen that done before. Hope it keeps working.

  2. Natalie on 04/05/2011:

    We’re starting to pull back the nasty black tarp on our front yard that the previous owner put down (yay people who flip properties without doing anything properly). I’m not sure whether layering on the mulch and woodchips for the next year is going to end in a solution better than gravel, but I’m pretty sure it takes a miracle to fully defeat the weeds of Southern California.

    Oh well. Least summer is incoming.

  3. Curator on 04/05/2011:

    Woodchips and mulch is no solution to exterminating weeds, as they actually proliferate in such an environment; plus it’s usually full of debris including the seeds of the weeds!

  4. cheryl on 04/05/2011:

    Hey Morgan! Isn’t Hemet interesting? It’s not coastal, so you can’t grow the same things that work in San Diego County – they thrive for a few months and then either wither in the heat or freeze – and that’s the end. But it’s also not true desert – so it’s not east to keep it desert-style neat and tidy. But while we may be limited in what can grow here – what does grow naturally, grows very very well!

    Have you taken a drive out on Bautista Canyon Road? It’s really beautiful, and because it’s part of the national forest, relatively untouched – so lots of native plants. Might give you a few ideas!

  5. Megan@Shelterrific on 04/05/2011:

    Hmmm… I wonder if it’ll work on the weeds of the PNW… the Himalayan Blackberry. Doubtful, but perhaps it would be worth a shot! Delicious, yet evil, the little f**kers are. They are trying to eat my house alive!

  6. Lunaluna on 04/05/2011:

    weeds are under-rated…

  7. Chris on 04/05/2011:

    Good luck with the weeds, but using salt is a very bad idea, if you want to take care of the environment, especially the trees nearby.

    Please read Salt Damage (PDF) from http://www.umassgreeninfo.org/fact_sheets/plantculture.html

  8. THE BRICK HOUSE on 04/05/2011:

    We aren’t in MASS and we aren’t using deicing salt. There are no trees in the drainage area. Better that I spray super harsh chemicals?

  9. Chris on 04/05/2011:

    There is no neutral solution, and surely the chemicals are even worse, but as you say, “the next few rainfalls will probably dilute it all”. That salt will go somewhere, hopefully not into the ground and ground waters.

    I’m by no means an expert, just trying to show you a potential problem. Road salt in cities is causing much trouble for the trees.

  10. THE BRICK HOUSE on 04/05/2011:

    The driveway drains into the street culverts, but our rainfall is usually pretty scarce. The desert climate is much different than colder climates – we don’t use road salt here – there isn’t as much of a drainage issue. Our usual problem for most plants round these parts is the drought and then people using tons of water on plantings that aren’t drought tolerant.

  11. The Vintage Cabin on 04/05/2011:

    Pfft! Road salt is used in massive quantities which is why it causes problems and I doubt it is ever used in sunny California!!! It’s not as though there’s a road salt issue there already and Morgan’s little bag of salt is throwing it over the tipping point or anything! So silly.

    I use it every year on our front walkway, although I must say it doesn’t kill the roots, just the tops of those bitches. If your weeds are anything like mine, they likely have carrot sized roots on them, too. Unfortunately I have no suggestions for you to ‘organically’ remove them other than by hand. Weeding sucks shit. I hate nature! Thinking of paving my whole property and renting it out to skateboarders.

  12. The Vintage Cabin on 04/05/2011:

    And might I add, currently there are thousands, if not millions, of tons of radioactive water and waste spewing into the Pacific Ocean…I think there are more important environmental problems going on in the world than this!

  13. jennifer on 04/05/2011:

    Hi! i’ve never met a weed that could live through boiling water. super cheap.

  14. Nette @ This Dusty House on 04/05/2011:

    Your mention of the back breaking work to put your driveway in made me cringe just a little. We have a concrete pad we want to take out. I would be grateful if we had weeds poking up through it, because that would mean it was already cracked! No such luck.

    We’re in TO where they use road salt and side walk salt like crazy all through the winter. I don’t really see how this is any different than that.

  15. Melissa on 04/05/2011:

    I second the idea that boiling water works. I usually boil a tea pot and kill a few weeds at a time. It would take good chunk of time for that big of area though. But I have more time than money so I always go with the cheapest option!!

  16. naomi on 04/05/2011:

    you can just spray straight vinegar on the weeds. that kills them. no need for the salt. Or you can get a flame weeder and torch them!

  17. EEesh! Your first picture brought back nightmares of the “flower” beds at our last house. We just sold it in March and every sunny day I’m counting my blessings that I’m not in the yard on my knees weeding! Good luck!

  18. www.classiccasualhome.com on 04/05/2011:

    I’m scared and I’m not even a weed πŸ™‚

  19. Amanda on 04/05/2011:

    We are dumping trash into the ocean- creating trash islands. The crack heads are throwing & pissing there crack rocks into there toilets when the cops show up- I’m sure we all get a little high with each sip. Our crops are overly fertilized, which not only makes us huge, but polutes the earth. AND then there is Morgan…with here bag of ice.

    Our earth is a piece of broken down piece of shit- bag of salt or no bag of salt.

  20. L on 04/05/2011:

    I SO feel for you — once had a house that was surrounded by gravel “landscaping” and hadn’t been weeded for years. It was put in with the black fabric and everything . . . but total b*t*h to renovate. Whenever anyone says “gravel” I now say “no way”. Salt idea sounds good, although overuse could cause trouble downstream. I like the blowtorch thingys. Something very satisfying about burning those muthuhs up.

  21. Suzanne on 04/05/2011:

    Good luck with those weeds – I am getting ready to install a large gravel patio and I thought that putting the tarp down was going to solve my weed problemts….darn it this is depressing. I am not as earth friendly as you and i will probably just opt for weed killer.

  22. laurenjanelle on 04/05/2011:

    I’ve never heard of using vinegar but it totally makes sense with the amount of acid it has! Haha, love that you’re enjoying taking wrath out on your weeds.

  23. big-dewey on 04/05/2011:

    chemicals are your friend. really. Round-Up works fast but keep it away from the lawn, it’ll migrate a few feet and kill the grass. Weed B Gon slower acting but effective, and safe for lawn.

    Or get yourself a roofer’s torch and burn them bitches down. $19.99 at Harbour Freight.


  24. theresa on 04/05/2011:

    I second the flame weeder – way more fun to burn those weeds! Works great in gravel.

  25. Gini on 04/05/2011:

    Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, eh Morgan? I love the vinegar and salt idea – do you just hand sprinkle it? Do you mix the two together? Use a sprayer? Enquiring minds want to know. πŸ™‚

  26. Tamoto on 04/05/2011:

    We have crabgrass that i HAAAATE. when you get your landscaping closer to finished you could hire gardners. surprisingly inexpensive and in one hour a week good gardners will totally bust a move on those weeds..keep us posted on how the salt/vinegar works..flame weeder sounds awesome

  27. Melissa on 04/05/2011:

    Loving these comments. Haha. Im going to try the vinegar idea. I have plenty of weeds to try it out on.
    Do I dare share my gopher killing secret?

  28. laguna dirt on 04/05/2011:

    i pulled out my front lawn, and put in a path of decomposed granite with weed barrier underneath. same thing. weeds are growing on top. it’s looking a bit too native right now, but some summer heat and they will mostly shrivel up on their own. circle of life.

  29. ValleyWriter on 04/05/2011:

    I always refuse to be part of landscaping when it involves weed killer – I just hate using that stuff. But this I could handle – thanks for sharing a great idea. Keep us updated on how it works over the long haul!

  30. Anon on 04/05/2011:

    Really, just trip along with a teapot of boiling water, pour onto center of plant – bonus is nice smell of steamed spinach – next day or so – check back – usually nothing there – redo if necessary.
    Anytime I have boiling water from cooking, I just go outside with it and dump it on my next victims.

  31. B. on 04/05/2011:

    Chemical herbicides are required to go through extensive testing to prove that they will degrade within 30 days of application. Salt will hit the groundwater for sure, and considering the problems California has with saline groundwater from agricultural irrigation, I’d say that’s worse.

    But like you said, they’re expensive at Lowe’s/HD. So go to the farm store! You can get a big jug of concentrate that you mix with water, and it’ll last you a couple of years. Pretty cheap.

    If you’re dead-set on not using a chemical application, my suggestion is mechanical removal. Just go buy a $5 hoe instead of bending down and hating life. Then rake the gravel back smooth afterwards. Easy peasy.

  32. Elizabeth on 04/05/2011:

    there is actually landscape-strength/super-strength vinegar you can buy (I think somewhere like Home Depot and/or a garden center should have it. do not put it on your food, it would wilt your salad.) It’s the shit. All you have to do is spray it on the weeds on a sunny day, and two to three-ish days later all those weeds are shriveled up to nothing. bam.

  33. Caroline on 04/05/2011:

    Straight vinegar on a sunny day is a great weed killer. Salt kills the beneficial organisms in the soil – not so much a problem under gravel, but others may not know this and salt spray their veggie or flower gardens. If you are going to use salt, be sure to spray only the leaves you want to kill and don’t use it in areas you actually want plants to grow.

    Vinegar is most effective when the weeds are young and tender.

    Another idea is to throw some contractor grade black plastic bags over the area for a week a couple of times a year. This will look ugly, but will cook the weeds and weed seeds, giving you more weed free time. This is really only good in areas you don’t want to grow anything, eg. gravel pathways, driveways etc.

    Burnout is the commercial name for a great vinegar/clove based weedkiller. I swear by it for cracks in the pavement/gravel/stone driveways.

  34. bianca of terri planty on 04/05/2011:

    looks like we both have been busy with the weeding. i am still hunting down the best recipe for killing those damn things without upsetting mother earth… research in the works!

  35. Lisa on 04/05/2011:

    I use vinegar on my decomposed granite paths.
    Vinegar + hot Texas sun = dead weeds.

  36. modernhaus on 04/06/2011:

    That last photo is making me want chips real bad….
    salt and vinegar chips…

  37. modernhaus on 04/06/2011:

    And to you, Amanda, I quote the Almighty:
    “And he will bring to ruin those ruining the earth”

  38. Melissa on 04/06/2011:

    I think I heard on NPR that you have to get agricultural grade vinegar to kill the weeds.

  39. Christine on 04/06/2011:

    Melissa is right, you will have a higher success rate with a much stronger vinegar, one with a higher acidity. It smells like holy hell but works (I used to do landscaping & we did this vs round up to remove lawns). The harbor freight flame thrower is a great idea – I have one of those and it is one scary tool, but highly effective. I can’t believe they sell them to the general public.

  40. jellyfishheart on 04/06/2011:

    I think the weeds are beautiful.

  41. Craig on 04/06/2011:

    It’s like a driveway douche

  42. Florian on 04/06/2011:

    YAY! Back outside again! Freedom!

    Come on, turn the camera around. How’s the fire pit doing? Installed the bar yet? Are the pool and the white butterfly chairs turning green or is everything still hunky dory? Sunshades still up?

    Flamethrower, I say! What do you care, what the neighbours think? Remember, they are crazy cat people. I looked at your street on Street View – by the way, isn’t technology great; I can totally stalk you from the comfort of my own home on the other side of the world – and it’s time you showed them you won’t stop at nothing, nothing I say, when it comes to renovating.

    Weeds beware – The Morganator on the move!

  43. Steven Larson on 04/06/2011:

    Hi Morgan,

    I have had great luck using a roofing torch. My patio is next to my goldfish pond and I do not like to use any chemicals by it.
    They are about 50 bucks at Home Depot. Just keep the garden hose at the ready.

  44. Steven Larson on 04/06/2011:

    Hi Morgan,

    I have had great luck using a roofing torch. My patio is next to my goldfish pond and I do not like to use any chemicals by it.
    They are about 50 bucks at Home Depot. Just keep the garden hose at the ready.

  45. Pam on 04/06/2011:

    LOL…i feel your pain. I have pulled up my concrete-paver patio not once but TWICE to put down weed cloth, including a stint with sheet plastic in Texas-summer sun. I still have weeds. Someone told me baking soda changes ph enough that the weeds get unhappy, and i will say that they have been far fewer in the last 18 months. I think i used about four boxes while i was re-laying the pavers last time.

  46. Pam on 04/06/2011:

    Baking soda, vinegar, accomplishing same thing from diiferent ends of the ph scale. Might consider your area’s typical soil alkalinity/acidity to decide which to use.

  47. erika on 04/06/2011:

    I’ve used this solution, but in the past have added just a touch of dish soap. It’s supposed to make the solution stay / stick longer to the weed. Killed lots of dandelions this way, and it does smell. One thing that really seemed to work was to apply on a particularly sunny/hot day. It fried them!

  48. Anna on 04/06/2011:

    get ’em girl!

  49. alice on 04/06/2011:

    why not plant a flat ground cover that you can drive over? it’d be beautiful and self-scaping!

  50. Angela on 04/07/2011:

    The chemicals are by far the worst. Not just for the environment but for you. They basically kill weeds by making them grow so much at the cellular level they explode….ie, cancer. I wouldn’t use weed killer if I got paid to use it.
    I’ve also heard newspaper is a great weed barrier. I’ve seen it used in veggie gardens as borders then topped with grass trimmings or hay. The acidity of the paper apparantly is not yummy for weeds but ok for veggies and us. Have not tried it but was going to with my recent landscaping.

  51. bekah on 04/07/2011:

    “Groupon” has subscriptions to Dwell for $10 for the next five days, look under “All Deals”! Sorry to be spammy, but it is pretty exciting!

    To bad we will miss the issue your in!

  52. sarah on 04/07/2011:

    my condolences and I feel the evil twinge of commiseration. our backyard is gravel, improperly laid black plastic and effing BAMBOO. ergggg….. I am going to try this salt water trick tho!

  53. Tami on 04/07/2011:

    Salt’s definitely not a ‘green’ or ‘natural’ idea. Water, which is always in the soil, will make it migrate, and maybe not just ‘into the culvert’ like you think it will. Do try the concentrated vinegar, torch, and boiling water ideas that your kind readers have suggested.

    Another ‘natural’ remedy you could try is solarizing the area: put down clear plastic, seal the edges, let cook for 2 weeks. It should take care of seeds, too. Just a small question here: how often do you drive over this part of the driveway? If you don’t use it enough to deter weed growth, maybe you could remove this part of it?

    Also a few non-hysterical words on chemicals. Roundup’s active ingredient is glyphosate. It’s a lot cheaper to buy the generic glyphosate instead of the roundup. And, despite what someone said above, it does NOT migrate in the soil. It rarely penetrates at all. BUT it does vaporize if you leave an open container of it in the sun. It’s heavier than air, so the vapors flow up and over the container and then along the ground, coating everything in its path. Also, it’s a systemic that gets absorbed and works in the plant, not in/on anything in the ground. It does break down (weather) in a fairly short amount of time. 2,4-D, on the other hand, is an entirely dreamed-up-by-evil-mankind-compound which natural processes can’t break down easily. Think PCBs – they’re not that dissimilar chemically. I’d stay far away from that stuff unless you want to turn your yard into a superfund site.

    And I’ll take a chance here on inviting your quick wrath, but someone probably should say this. Please watch how close you get to your property line with the salt. All it takes is one neighbor to call the nearest US-EPA office and they WILL send out investigators. True story: one of my neighbors had her bushes sprayed by another neighbor. She called, they came out the next day, confirmed the evidence, declared it a felony, and offered to prosecute.

  54. Becky on 04/07/2011:

    Yikes! I wouldn’t have even thought that weeds would do that with a gravel driveway. Good to know that weeds are just as stubborn and annoying as cockroaches. I hope you manage to tame those weeds!

  55. Conan on 04/07/2011:

    Well, my neighbors used to just pour gasoline on their weeds, which always gave me the willies.

  56. THE BRICK HOUSE on 04/08/2011:

    Tami. OMG, I wish you could meet my neighbors. The you would understand oh hilarious that sounds with them in mind.

    They’re more the gasoline pouring kind of folk. In fact, most the neighbors properties only have weeds for landscaping.

  57. Sara on 04/08/2011:

    Melissa- PLEASE share gopher killing tricks? They are destroying my front yard. My backyard is solid weeds. I just don’t look out there.

  58. Nathan J on 04/08/2011:

    I tried using using straight food grade vinegar on my weeds. Super cheap it was. Super effective it was not. They just ended up speckled with brown spots. I’m going to try to get some industrial grade stuff from a farm store soon and give that a whirl. Though I admit, this blow torch idea sounds like more fun.

  59. Tami on 04/09/2011:

    Ha! That story happened in smalltown rural Utah – I never imagined a more rednecky place could exist than there. Well, I feel for ya, sister.

  60. Shelley on 04/09/2011:

    Had to come back and read these after the next post. Suddenly everyone’s a scientist. These comments are hilarious. Did you get the warm fuzzies while you were spraying down your driveway?! It looks great.

  61. nick on 09/28/2011:

    i’m getting a blowtorch.

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