For a couple of hours this morning, I was spot spraying my back garden with 2,4-D. 2,4-D is a potent herbicide that is sold under the brand name Weed–B-Gone. I used about four tablespoons of the stuff, which kills everything that isn’t grass, mixed with water.
And as I sprayed, I felt guilt. I think of my garden as a sort of benevolent kingdom where critters are welcome, a tiny refuge where birds and insects will find water to drink, berries and foliage (and other critters) to eat, and a healthy environment at least relatively free of toxins. Spraying 2,4-D violates that vision of my garden.
What’s more, 2-4 D, can be toxic to mammals, birds, and fish. But from what I’ve read there is unlikely to be much toxicity from very limited use (spot-spraying twice a year). We don’t have pets, don’t roll around in the grass, and don’t live near a body of water or natural area. And of course I am following directions to minimize my own contact.
And here’s the thing. The lawn behind the house is a mess. And I don’t mean a few dandelions here and there. In fact, there are some weeds I like to have mixed in with or even taking over from the grass: violets, white clover, and barren strawberry, for example. There are weeds I don’t like, but can live with. Plantain, chickweed, and dandelions come to mind. I just pull some out when I have the time.
But there is one weed whose aggressiveness precludes me from having a live and let live approach. I’m talking about creeping charlie (Glechoma hederacea). You may tolerate creeping charlie, but it wants nothing less than total domination. It spreads rapidly by seed and stolons, smothering the competition, invading lawns and flower beds alike.
Creeping charlie is almost impossible to pull (I have spent much time trying), as the stolons put down roots every couple of inches.
I do plan on replacing some lawn with pavers. However, I have been forbidden to replace any more lawn with flowering beds or borders, as there needs to be room in the back garden for people (this last pointed out to me by members of my family at a louder volume than was strictly necessary).
Planting alternatives to grasses isn’t much of a solution, as these alternatives would likely have the same struggle with creeping charlie et. al.
So I have resolved to spot spray twice a year, in spring and fall. This will not eliminate weeds, but I hope it will push them back a bit. And when I am done with spraying, I will spread some compost and organic fertilizer to give the grasses a helping hand. To date I have treated my turf grasses with total indifference (I’m just not into lawns), but I think that must change a bit.
I tell myself that what I’m doing isn’t so bad. But it doesn’t sit right.
On the other hand, perhaps my vision of the garden as a miniature refuge is quixotic. Can we have an island of ecological purity the size of an urban lot? Perhaps not, but I hate to give up trying.
Do you think I’m making a mistake, or fretting over nothing? Do you ever use herbicides in your garden?