I have a grass lawn, a vegetable garden, and a strawberry patch. The garden is in a raised bed, but no fabric under the soil or mulch on top. The strawberries were in a nice bed to themselves, but have become choked with weeds and it's our fault because we have slacked. (Remember, I have a toddler to chase ;) ) The grass has not been treated with a weed & feed since we bought the house almost 3 years ago and is looking like it needs some saving as it is also getting choked by weeds.

What's the safest weed killer for each of these to use around my toddler? What ingredients are OK and what should I avoid?

  • 4
    The safest weed killer is ellbow grease... I know it's hard to do with a toddler, but perhaps he'd like to "help"?
    – Stephie
    Aug 16, 2015 at 19:17
  • Are you in the UK or elsewhere?
    – Bamboo
    Aug 16, 2015 at 20:37
  • I am in Upstate New York. Aug 16, 2015 at 23:40

3 Answers 3


Your strawberry and veggie patches are almost done for the year where you live, so it seems to me it would be best to tackle them next spring. For now, I would cut down the weeds as close to the ground as possible, but not worry about getting rid of them altogether.

In the spring, when the strawberries (and weeds) start coming back, you'll be able to hand pull the new weeds much easier than you can now, because they'll be small and easier to pull. And right from the start you should mulch your strawberry bed heavily. Straw is the traditional mulch for a strawberry bed, and you should put it down in a 12 inch layer between the strawberry plants. This will make finding a safe weedkiller a moot point.

In the spring, I'd also till or dig the entire veggie garden under. You mentioned that you have raised beds - if there are sides, you may be stuck doing this by hand. Again, you can mulch between veggie plants to prevent the weeds from growing back when they come up. Hand pull what does come up. The early you get them, the better. If you do need to use a weed killer next year, you could try concentrated vinegar, which is safe and effective. Keep in mind that it will kill any plant you get it on, so you'll need to be sure you get it on the weeds but not your veggies.

It isn't terribly easy to maintain a chemical-free lawn. Acres and acres of the same plant growing in a monoculture is just not natural, so you're working against millennia of evolution. Your safest option is to hand pull the weeds. If there are more weeds than grass, you could smother the lawn or till the lawn under and start from scratch. Next safest would be to spot treat the weeds with the concentrated vinegar I mentioned. Other chemical- free options would be boiling water on the weeds, using a propane weed torch, and Burnout 2 (a citric acid/clove oil product). Any of these will kill the grass along with the weeds, so you'll need to do some work (spot reseeding) to help the grass grow back after the weeds are gone. If you decide to go with a conventional herbicide, your safest bet would be to select one of the broad-leaf herbicides on the market and spot treat them.

To be able to limit the amount of herbicides you have to use going forward, make sure you're using good lawn care practices. Mow your grass long so it is stronger than the weeds. Three inches is a great length. Work to improve the soil in your lawn. Water it deeply about once a week if you aren't getting rain.

  • Great answer! Just out of curiosity: 12 inches of straw? That's taller than most of my strawberry plants?
    – Stephie
    Aug 17, 2015 at 15:21
  • Yes, 12 inches. I know it sounds like a lot, but it works wonderfully. At the start of the season, the mulch will be higher than the plants, but it will become compacted and break down over the course of the season.
    – michelle
    Aug 17, 2015 at 15:47
  • 1
    It's worth going to some lengths to ensure that the straw is weed free.
    – kevinskio
    Aug 17, 2015 at 16:29
  • Would the strawberry plant be able to grow up from the soil through a whole foot of mulch? It seems like there wouldn't be enough sun to reach down that far to encourage the plants upward in the spring. Aug 17, 2015 at 16:50
  • 1
    My advice was aimed at ways to limit exposure. And yes, personally I would keep my children off the lawn for several days and make sure that there had been a good rain or good watering before I let them back on. That said, the label will tell you that the product is safe as soon as it has dried.
    – michelle
    Aug 17, 2015 at 17:15

I've lived with thousands of gardens and not once did I need an herbicide or pesticide. Pulling weeds, especially in a little strawberry patch is not a big deal. There IS NO SAFE pesticide. And I've been a registered, licensed pesticide operator for most of my adult life. Pesticides are bandaids for those people that don't understand their place in the environment. We don't want TOTAL CONTROL. Pulling weeds is easy. Getting weeds pulled or flowers chopped off before seed is spread is critical while weeds are young. When you get answers from gardeners that don't say what you want to hear I am sure it comes off as judgemental. Pesticides are NOT necessary and should be banned. Period. Us humans have got to get a grip and quit trying to control something we don't understand. I grow huge vegetable gardens and couldn't imagine using any pesticides! And eat these vegetables?? No way. I tried NEEM which is great for some ornamentals but not for vegeys. Wouldn't ever eat anything sprayed with NEEM. I grow my own cause I know what farmers are doing and it makes me sick. Especially GMO junk!!

Look up strawberry cultivation...I've got 2 year old plants going crazy and I need to learn about life span, diseases and whether or not to destroy these healthy plants and start anew...or what. I've cultivated huge strawberry fields ON A TRACTOR, fought over spraying with pesticides with owner, won and they had the best harvest ever. Weeds are NO BIG DEAL. My opinion of course. I do know that homeowners and those that have no idea what they are doing are the worst for polluting our soils and water. If pesticides were AT ALL HELPFUL, I would have used them. Like I said, there are far better ways to have a healthy plot of soil and plants with no need of pesticides. Just trying to educate others is all...

We care about you and your family. This site is not just to answer questions but to educate. DON'T NEED PESTICIDES. Period. Need to learn good gardening practices, instead.

  • 1
    And landscape fabric was meant for use beneath gravel and NEVER for weeds. This is the worst practice I've ever seen and the first thing I rip up out of gardens!! If you don't understand the importance of soils, soil organisms and plants...to put a barrier between the soil and organic matter starves your soil organisms that are CRITICAL for a healthy soil and plants. Please don't use any fabric/plastic for weeds...you'll regret it!
    – stormy
    Aug 18, 2015 at 0:29
  • I've been pulling out scraps of deteriorated landscape fabric for TWO YEARS in my yard. The previous owner used it as a weed barrier and it does absolutely nothing productive. All the weeds grow right through it.
    – William S.
    Aug 18, 2015 at 23:10
  • Good for you...it is an awful lot of work to get rid of that stuff...I charged big bucks to do that work. You are doing the absolute right thing!!
    – stormy
    Aug 19, 2015 at 18:09

Your toddler will need a functioning planet to be part of when he's old. To provide that live with, not on or from, your ecosystem and bioregion. Specifically for your questions, the plants you identify as weeds may be helping you out by providing habitat for beneficials, structure for the soil, and other ecosystem services, so think before you mulch. Pick out some companion plants - strawberries will fill in well under many other natives

Commercial strawberries are hybrids. Consider using Fragaria virginiana, native to North America or Fragaria vesca, native to the Northern Hemisphere.

Large lawns are seldom useful to people and planet. Start an edible forest garden of native plants and you'll have a lifetime of entertainment, education, and nourishment for you and your children.

Read One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka for inspiration (http://www.onestrawrevolution.net/).

  • 4
    Thank you for the little speech, but this doesn't come close to answering my question and instead comes off as judgmental. Aug 17, 2015 at 13:58
  • I'm sorry you were offended, I meant no offense.
    – ggpauly
    Aug 18, 2015 at 15:59

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