Hardiness Zone: 6a
Val from Terre Haute, IN
Vinegar is non-selective, meaning it will kill anything it comes into contact with. This is usually limited to the above ground growth on a plant, which is why repeated applications are often necessary to completely kill weeds. How much damage a "desirable" plant sustains from contact with vinegar depends entirely on the amount of its exposure to it.
The reason using vinegar is so popular is because it's inexpensive. It also doesn't have any permanent negative long-term effects on the soil, although it does alter its ability to support growth in the short term. The distilled vinegar commonly found in grocery stores is usually a weak concentration (5 %), so it's considered safe for use around children and pets.
Higher concentrations of vinegar (20%) are available at some home or garden centers, but they can cause eye and skin irritation and should be used with extreme caution. I don't know of any "earth-friendly" chemicals that work on weeds without also harming grass and desirable plants.
Surrounding weeds with a coffee can (bottom and top removed) or another type of barrier will prevent the vinegar from drifting onto desirable plants while your spraying. You can "paint" vinegar on individual weeds to avoid damaging grass. To prevent weeds from emerging on your lawn while simultaneously fertilizing it, try to time an application of corn gluten meal to coincide with emerging weeds.
Hormoban will kill weeds but not the surrounding grass and plants. (07/10/2006)
20% vinegar is dangerous - it burns skin and eyes.
See the joint statements from Washington and Oregon State Universities extension service at this web address.
http://www.oregonstate.edu/dept/nursery-weeds/weedspeciespage/acetic_acid_factsheet.pdf - (07/16/2006)
By NW Native Plant Fan
Try using 10% vinegar. It's safer and works better. (09/01/2006)
By Bill C.
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