Epsom Salt: Garden Booster, Weed Killer

When I read The Secret Garden I was a bit disappointed. The title was misleading, if you ask me. (This coming from a guy who named his blog the Smartest Garden?). I didn’t get any gardening tips from it at all!

We all like hearing a good gardening secret that can take our planting a to the next level. Here’s a twofer. Mine is a secret weapon against weeds in your driveway cracks and also a killer booster shot tomatoes and peppers. Epsom salt.

Part 1: Weed Killer

 I like keeping things as green as possible around my family. I try to use the minimum dose of chemicals for the maximum return on my lawn. Same is true for my long concrete driveway and a side gravel driveway. The cracks in the driveway often become planters for unsightly weeds, as does the gravel. Back in the way I’d DDT them with Roundup or the like. That changed when my boys entered the world. Throwing rocks at each other is dangerous enough without adding herbicide on them. Besides Roundup smells like funky Doritos toe jam… I mean, who knows, maybe it is.

My friend Nancy suggested I try recipe she found online that seemed to work well without harsh chemicals. Here it is below:

  • 1 Gallon white vinegar
  • 2 cups multi purpose epsom salt
  • 1/4 cup regular blue Dawn dish soap*

(*Any soap liquid soap will do. Soap helps the solution stick to the weeds. And if you’re worried about Dawn, you shouldn’t be washing your dishes with it.)

Mix the ingredients in a large tank sprayer (I prefer one that can make a two gallon batch), and give those bad weeds a good soaking. You’ll notice results within 24 hours. The weeds will begin to brown and shrivel up. Within 72 hours, they’re practically dust.

Why It Works:

Vinegar will cause the soil pH around the weed to become acid and at the same time deplete the soil of magnesium — an essential element to growing healthy plants. So, Epsom salts is an excellent source of magnesium and helps restore what vinegar takes away. Some gardeners think dish soap has weed-killing properties, so by combining vinegar and this soap makes it work twice as well. Also the soap helps the solution stick to the weeds.

Smart Tip 1: Be sure to label your tank sprayer: “Human-Friendly Weed Killer” and only use it for this recipe. This especially helps if you let your kids spray this particular concoction on the weeds… so the neighbors don’t think you’re bonkers letting your kids use dangerous chemicals. It also helps keep your sprayers straight in case you do use harmful chemicals in other applications.

Smart Tip 2: Don’t spray on a windy day. This is just as harmful to grass and other plants as weeds.

Smart Tip 3: It’s fun to cry out, “Die, weeds! Die!” as you’re spraying this stuff. Very cathartic.

Part 2: Tomato, Pepper, Rose Booster

Epsom salt not only makes a mean weed killer (weeds are mean), it can also be a booster shot for your noble tomatoes, peppers and roses.
What?! Yep, you’re reading this on the internet so you know it’s true! Mix 1/4 teaspoon of Epsom salt to a cup of warm water and using a spray bottle, spray the concoction on your tomato, pepper and rose leaves once every two weeks.

Or add 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt to a gallon of warm water and use tank sprayer to apply the mix once a month substituting the spray for a regular watering. Use 1 tablespoon per gallon of water if you apply Epsom salt spray more often than once a month. Begin foliar spraying when blooms first appear.

From Wikipedia: Foliar feeding is a technique of feeding plants by applying liquid fertilizer directly to their leaves. Plants are able to absorb essential elements through their leaves. The absorption takes place through their stomata and also through their epidermis.

Why it works:

Epsom Salt is basically Magnesium Sulfate two minerals your plants love. Magnesium is believed to bring more flowers and fruit to your garden, more bounty as well as more beauty. Sulfate aides in the production of chlorophyll. It joins with the soil to make key nutrients more effective for plants, including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Sulfate works in conjunction with Magnesium to create a booster shot full of minerals, nourishment and health benefits for your garden.

Side-dressing Technique:

Side-dressing is more than just requesting a monkey bowl of ranch for your french fries at Perkins… To side-dress vegetable plants, you apply fertilizer to the soil on or around the sides of the plant. Work 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt per foot of plant height around the base of each plant at least 4 inches away from plant stems. Rake the salt into the soil and then water. Side-dress plants every six weeks beginning soon after leaves appear and continuing through the end harvest.

Where It’s At:

This is a great price for premium U.S.P Pharmaceutical Grade Epsom Salt on Amazon. You get almost 20 lbs and just about qualify for free shipping (just buy a book and you’re there)!  It’s the best price for the highest quality!


How to Side-Dress Your Vegetable Garden 

Epsom Salt, Tomato, and Pepper Growing

Gardening with Epsom Salt 

Gardening column: Household vinegar a safe, natural weed killer

The Magic Garden, The Square Foot Garden

My Dad’s Magic Garden

“Wow, dad! Where did you get those amazing tomatoes?” That’s a question we’d often ask my dad when we (me and my two sisters) were young. And my dad would always say, “Oh, I just picked them from my garden out back.” We’d laugh and say, no really!

We didn’t really have a garden or much of an “out back”. We lived in a fairly urban neighborhood on a fairly busy intersection. Well, as fairly urban and as fairly busy as Green Bay, Wisconsin gets. We had a very tiny yard, though it sure seemed huge and magical growing up. But there was no garden… that we could see.

So maybe my dad only had access to this invisible garden in our backyard or maybe it was a tomato stand down the street. He always stuck to his story. This garden also produced watermelons, apples, and pineapples on occasion.

Instant Garden, Insanity Garden

Fast forward a couple decades later. It was early July 2007 when my 8 months pregnant wife and I just moved into our first home. It came equipped with a nice 20′ x 40′ row garden with lots of tomatoes, beans and peppers.

We had a bumper crop that year. The next year I kept that garden going and we did pretty well — even adding red potatoes into the rotation.

Our baby girl helped out with the harvest the following year…

Then we had a boy. Followed shortly thereafter by another boy. And as our family grew, our garden started growing more weeds than anything else. We just couldn’t maintain it and our sanity.

And so we had an amazing fenced in garden of weeds, featuring some of the largest dandelions you’ve ever seen. I hope our neighbors mistook them for rare breed of sunflowers.

By fall of 2014 I decided enough was enough. The wooden fencing of the garden was becoming as much of an eyesore as the weeds. I dismantled the fencing, cleared the weeds and planted grass.

Square Foot Garden

Over that winter I read up on the square foot gardening technique that my friend Erik used in our Great Garden Off competition. The basic concept of the square foot garden is to use space more efficiently than traditional methods. Instead of wasted room between rows of crops, the garden area is maximized — you get the most vegetables, fruits and flowers in the smallest amount of growing space. It’s also known as raised bed gardening and uses a square foot grid to divide the crops.

I liked the idea of this garden’s sustainability in my increasing busy world. I wanted the kids to have a more tangible garden than I did growing up. And so this Memorial Day weekend (the official kick off of most Wisconsin gardening), we planted our very first square foot garden.

The “Smartest Garden”

This blog is so-named the “Smartest Garden” not to toot my own corn (actually, I didn’t plant any corn). I’m definitely not the smartest gardener. But the smartest garden is the garden that you plant and that works for you. A garden that fits your lifestyle, enhances your life, and benefits your family. and friends (who doesn’t like it when co-workers bring in extra produce).

Square foot garden
Let’s get it started!

I probably won’t be able to harvest the pineapples like my dad was able to in his garden, but I’m hoping for tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas and cukes. I’ll be passing on any smart gardening tips to you along the way. I hope you’ll do the same for me.