Skip to main Content

Jeff Lowenfels: More reason than ever to avoid RoundUp

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published April 3, 2015

You would have to be without Internet, telephone, telegraph, newspapers, radio, TV and friends not to have picked up on the most recent controversy regarding the chemical glyphosate. When it came out some 25 years ago, glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, was hailed the weed killer to end all need for other weed killers. In no uncertain terms, we were told it had a ridiculously short half-life in the soil, meaning it disappeared and that it was perfectly safe to use around pets and animals, not to mention people. GMOs were specifically developed because glyphosate was so safe.

As a result, glyphosate became incredibly popular, the No. 1 weed killer for agriculture as well as yardening. It is so popular that it now is in all rivers tested in this country and even found in rain drops and in the bloodstream of pregnant mothers. It is so popular that as much as 80 percent of our food is contaminated with the stuff.

Well, last week, the UN's International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate (and, not to let them off either, the insecticides malathion and diazinon) as "probably carcinogenic," on the basis of "limited evidence" of cancer among humans. Immediately, Monsanto, which invented and licensed glyphosate (to Scotts), started its pushback. I am not believing a word they say. I don't think you should either, and it's not because an idiotic advocate for the chemical wouldn't drink it on TV -- even though he said it was safe to do so.

Over the years I have been telling Alaska gardeners not to use the weed killer RoundUp (or any of the other 700-plus products that contain glyphosate now that its patent has run out, including KleenUp, Accord, Pronto, Imitator, Eraser and Rodeo). Once again, you need to be smart and continue not to use it. (I don't care what you think of the United Nations, for goodness' sake; there are dozens of organizations who have equally terrifying things to say about glyphosate.)

Please, stop buying and stop using Roundup. Really, what are you thinking? You are not. This insanity has to stop. Stop it at your yard. (Are you listening, Alaska Railroad?)

There are substitutes for RoundUp. These include vinegar, and citric acids, soaps and oils, iron- or salt-based herbicides and pre-emergents -- not to mention hot water. Do they work on everything? No. Do the substitutes do the job glyphosate does? I am the first to admit that they often take more than one application and sometimes only work for part of the season. However, A.D.I.O.S., the salt-based herbicide, and BurnOut, a clove oil-based herbicide (just to mention two you can buy here in Alaska), are not subjects of reports suggesting they cause cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma or any other illness.

Oh, and don't forget simple mulching to keep weeds down. We are gardeners and yardeners. We are not farmers. We are not trying to keep weeds out of huge, plowed fields on which our livelihoods depend. Mulching is the easiest way to keep all but lawn weeds in check. (A.D.I.O.S., vinegar, iron- or clove oil-based spot sprays are for that chore.)

As it happens, right now the non-readers among us are starting to clean up their yards, raking leaves into piles and then filling black plastic bags they will leave on the curb for the refuse collection. My advice, indeed my own habit, is to go around the night before refuse pick-up and collect as many as you can from yards where no dog lives. Then go back and get some more. You can never have too many leaves to use as mulch. Do it properly and you will never miss glyphosate (if you were so inclined).

Ah, one last extremely important consideration. What do you do with all that RoundUp (and other glyphosate products, and Malathion and Diazinon) in the garden shed? For heaven's sake, don't dump it on the ground thinking you have taken care of the problem. IMHO, this stuff should be taken to hell, but short of that, the Hazardous Waste Collection Center will take it. This facility is located at the Anchorage Regional Landfill, at the intersection of the Glenn Highway and Hiland Road, near Eagle River. Or, you can take it to the Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility located at the Central Transfer Station in Anchorage, at the intersection of East 54th Avenue and Juneau Street, east of the Old Seward Highway.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Last call: Alaska Botanical Garden Spring Seminar is a must-attend event, but there is limited space … lots of it, but it is limited. If you are lucky, you will get one of the remaining spots for the 2015 Alaska Botanical Garden Spring Seminar, which features a stellar talk and book signing by a terrific educator, Jim Fox, on Friday night and a joint talk Saturday on Alaska garden heritage with Ayse Gilbert. Plus garden sales, info tables, lunch and a finishing reception. Hurry to to get tickets. Really, hurry! Sorry if you are too late. We will miss you.

Bears are up: It is time to bring inside all the birdseed on your property. Clean up the feeders. Don't attract bears to your yard this spring.

Dog duty: Time to pick up all of Fido's droppings before they are not at least partly frozen.

Flower seeds to start: Dianthus, stock, lockspar, delphinium, cosmos, snaps, ageratum, seed dahlia, godetia, aster, phlox, celosia, malva, salvia, lupine

Vegetables to start from seed: Peppers, kale, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, head lettuce, cabbage, kale

Herbs: Parsley, shiso

Nurseries: They are open and you should visit now. Early birds get the worm.

Local news matters.

Support independent, local journalism in Alaska.