Some bittersweet news, purge-happy MNN readers: This will be the final post in my special “Spring purge” series. I hope that you’ve learned a few new things — and practiced some household purging/replacing — as I’ve reviewed purge-worthy, environmentally dubious household staples over the past few weeks.

Let’s take a quick look back at what’s been on the chopping block so far, shall we? I‘ve recommended a household purge of antibacterial cleaning products containing the chemical triclosan, aerosol air fresheners that can compromise your health through lowered air quality, toxic oven cleaners and toilet bowl cleaners, caustic drain openers, chemical roach killers, and a partial purge of the common paper towel roll. Since these “Spring purge” posts are all about eco-abolition, I thought it would be only appropriate to end with, umm, the eradication of an eradicator: harsh chemical garden herbicides.

No one, from finicky gardeners to more casual backyard greenthumbs, enjoys seeing plant growth where it isn’t wanted. There are laborious yet effective manual ways to eliminate a scourge of weeds — hand-pulling, torching, or uprooting with a hoe — but those who are serious about weed elimination often turn to chemical herbicides. And while there are many chemical weed whackers on the market, I’m going to focus on one: Roundup.

Roundup’s active ingredient is the Monsanto-produced broad-spectrum herbicide, glyphosate. And no, I’m not singling out Roundup because Monsanto is behind it. I’m singling it out because it’s so ubiquitous. Glyphosate, touted by Monsanto as being only acutely toxic and safe for the environment, is the most widely used pesticide in the entire world; the EPA estimates that between 5 to 8 million pounds of the stuff is used in home lawn/garden applications each year in the US alone. Across the pond, the EU classifies Roundup as being “dangerous to the environment.”

Rather than spell out the specific environmental and health dangers of the active ingredients — and more controversially, inert ingredients — of Roundup, I’ll let a few headlines do the talking:

Lawn Care Chemical’s Deadly Secret (Rodale)

U.S. Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds (NY Times)

Monsanto's Toxic Herbicide Glyphosate: A Review of its Health and Environmental Effects (Organic Consumers Association)

I’m not going to dwell too long on Roundup since the whole Monsanto-is-evil topic could warrant a novel and the "how safe is it really?" story of Roundup is far too complicated for a single post. Before I move on to suggestions for truly safer herbicides, I should point out that there are herbicides proven to be more toxic than glyphosate, atrazine being one of them. And to be honest, the Roundup "issue" is decidedly more political than environmental. So, please, before you go on purging and replacing herbicides, do your homework.

Below are a few eco-friendly herbicides that can be used to rid your outdoor space of pesky weeds. Is there one that I forgot? Are there any preventative measures that you take to make herbicides unnecessary? Share away in the comments section!

• Spray the affected area with a homemade solution of vinegar diluted with water. Or just use straight-up vinegar. Some choose to also add dish detergent, lemon juice, or table salt. Special vinegar with stronger acidity (%5+) can be purchased at garden centers.

• Pour boiling water on unwanted plant growth.

• Smother patches of weeds with layers of old newspapers.

• Apply corn gluten meal to weeds. It won't kill them but acts as a preemergent natural herbicide that prevents unwanted plants from developing seeds.

• Invest in an eco-friendly commercial herbicide. Popular brands include Weed-a-Tak, Weed Pharm, Perfectly Natural, BurnOut, and Nature's Avenger. Do some looking around at your local gardening center. Clean Air Gardening and Planet Natural also offer a wide selection of eco-safe herbicides.

• Consider a product like Clear Choice that uses dramatically less active synthetic herbicides like 2, 4-D through advanced microtechnology. It's not the most "natural" choice but a fine option for those who are having trouble making the full leap away from traditional gardening chemicals.

MNN homepage photo: nico_blue/iStockphoto

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

The spring purge: Chemical herbicides
Don't forget to hit up the garden shed and consider replacing your stash of harsh chemical weed killers.