by Cherry Dodd

Are Edmonton gardeners planning on killing a few robins this spring?

Of course not, but gardeners who spread granular “Weed and Feed” products on their lawn this spring might inadvertently kill some birds.

It’s a problem of mistaken identity. The birds think that the Weed and Feed granules are grit. Since they need grit to digest their food, they gulp down as many of the granules as they can find. The toxic herbicides and other weed killers in these products can quickly kill a robin.

That’s the bad news, but at least these poisons kill the dandelions, right?

Unfortunately not. Most of the “weed and feed” granules are washed into the soil during the first rainstorm and often contaminate the groundwater. If it is a big storm the granules are flushed straight down the nearest storm drain and end up polluting the river too. Very few granules make contact with their intended target.

This is why Edmonton and Calgary are currently working with the Provincial Government to ban the sale of “weed and feed” products in stores. Water is too precious a commodity to contaminate with poisons. The lawn care industry and Alberta Environment are both backing this initiative.

So what is a safe weed killer to use on dandelions?

Surprisingly the safest weed killer, corn gluten meal, doesn’t kill weeds at all. It stops new plants from germinating. It can stop up to 80% of new dandelion seedlings from growing and it is completely harmless to pets, kids and wildlife. As an added bonus it also acts as an organic slow-release fertilizer so you don’t need to fertilize as heavily. Its one drawback is that it prevents all seeds from germinating, not just weed seeds, so it can’t be used if you are planning to over-seed the lawn at the same time.

If you want to kill off the dandelions that are already established in your lawn, just use an old steak knife to slice through the root. It takes me five minutes a day during flowering season to cut out my dandelions. After about a week I’ve got them all. I save the blossoms and dry them for dandelion tea. Dandelions are a wonderful spring tonic. They purify the blood and cleanse the liver. Just put a small handful of flowers into a mug and add boiling water. Let the tea steep for five minutes before drinking it. It has a pleasant mild taste and is not bitter.

(2010)