Gardening is a difficult enough skill to pick up without having to worry about all the problems that come with it, like dealing with weeds, pests, animals, and more. Luckily, there’s an easy way to deal with these issues, and it’s available at your local supermarket or gardening store.
Vinegar is becoming an increasingly popular solution to dealing with common garden problems, from weeds to slugs and snails, to ants, to rabbits eating your plants. It’s easy to use, as it usually just needs to be mixed with water or sugar or even soap in different parts to use it effectively (depending on the problem you’re having).
While you can go out and buy specific products for all of your gardening needs, vinegar is a great one-stop solution for many different problems. On top of that, for preppers, vinegar is a great option for dealing with these problems because it’s so easily accessible. If you’re in a disaster situation and have to tend to your garden to feed yourself and your family, vinegar is an excellent way to solve common problems.
Vinegar is produced by fermenting ethanol with acetic acid bacteria to transform it into a liquid that can be anywhere between 5 and 20% acetic acid. Most of the people use vinegar in cooking or pickling, but because it’s such an easy produced and mild acid, it has also been used for cleaning and many medical purposes. In fact, among DIYers and survivalists today, it is still popularly used for these reasons.
There are many different kinds of vinegar, as you may have seen while searching for the correct vinegar to buy when cooking. There’s everything from apple cider vinegar to balsamic vinegar to red wine vinegar. For DIY or survivalist purposes, you will be using distilled white vinegar, and very occasionally apple cider vinegar.
Different types of vinegar have different ingredients and processing methods. Fermenting distilled alcohol (most commonly made from malt or corn) and then diluting it with water produces distilled white vinegar. The final vinegar is typically between 5 and 8% acetic acid in water with a pH of 2.6.
Distilled white vinegar is the one that is usually used for cleaning and gardening.
Using Vinegar in the Garden
Using Vinegar for Weeds
The number one thing you should keep in mind when you’re using vinegar to kill weeds in the garden is that it will typically only kill the green, leafy part above the surface. The root systems, however, will remain unaffected, which simply means that after killing the surface of the weeds, you’ll still need to hand pick the roots out.
The exception to this is if you use vinegar to kill a weed repeatedly in a short period. Over time, the weed will not have enough reserve food to regrow, and will eventually die. Although, if you are looking for a quicker solution, it may be better to use vinegar to destroy the leaves then going in later to finish the job.
Another method to getting the roots is to soak the soil with your vinegar solution; however, this could affect the root systems of the plants that you want to keep. One thing to remember when using vinegar to kill weeds is that vinegar does not discriminate. It will kill surrounding grass and other plants if you are not careful with its application.
The best way to use vinegar to kill weeds is to use a spray bottle from short range and avoid misting any other plants. On the plus side, vinegar is great for destroying weeds that spring up from the cracks of your sidewalk, on the sides of your house, and more. This is because it doesn’t require you to dig in and fully remove the weed yourself, and there is no need to be as careful when spraying it in these areas.
Here’s a quick recipe on how to make an effective weed killer using regular 5% acetic acid white distilled vinegar:
- 1-gallon vinegar
- 1-cup salt (to prevent the weed from growing again)
- 1-tablespoon soap (to make the mixture adhere better to the weeds)
Stir this mixture together thoroughly in a bucket, and then fill a spray bottle to start weeding. Keep in mind with this particular formulation that too much salt sprayed in one area could cause nothing to be able to grow in that soil again. Be judicious in your use of the weed killer, as it could have unintended side effects on the plants you want to keep.
When using the solution, make sure the whole plant is coated and do it on a sunny day so that the mixture and plant can dry out. With this solution, it should only take a few days for your weeds to die.
As a Fungicide
Vinegar can also be used as a fungicide for black spots or mildew on your plants. However, unlike the weed-killing recipe for vinegar, recipes for fungicides use much less vinegar because it can harm the plant. You want to kill the fungus – not your roses!
For this, you’ll want a sprayer that can spray accurately in small areas to do the least amount of damage to your plants. Some quick recipes for fungicides:
Recipe 1 (most plants)
- One gallon of compost tea or green tea
- 2 tablespoons of 5% acetic acid white vinegar
Recipe 2 (best for roses or mildew)
- One gallon of water
- 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
- One gallon of water
- One tablespoon of baking soda
- One tablespoon of horticultural oil
- One tablespoon of 5% acetic acid white vinegar
As you can see, there are some recipes out there for creating great herbicides and fungicides. If you are very careful with your proportions, you shouldn’t have any trouble dealing with pesky annual weeds or the occasional mildew. Just remember to spray accurately!
To Deter Pests and Small Animals
On top of being great for an herbicide or fungicide, vinegar also has many uses in keeping out common pests and animals. Again, most remedies online call only for 5% acetic acid white vinegar, and especially when dealing with small animals, you definitely want to stick to this type.
Here’s a list of pests and animals that vinegar can help with:
- Slugs and snails – You don’t need these pests eating your vegetables and flowers. Spray them directly with vinegar, and they will die pretty quickly.
- Ants – Spray on thresholds to effectively repel ants from any areas you want to be bug-free. You’ll need to reapply fairly frequently for this to work. You can also spray inside the hill itself to do more damage.
- Fruit flies – Mix half a cup of apple cider vinegar with a tablespoon of molasses, a 1/4-cup of sugar, and 1-cup of water. Then add about one inch of the solution to the bottom of a can, water bottle, or another vessel, and place near the area where you have a problem with fruit flies. Replace and clean when needed.
- Cats, rabbits, raccoons, moles, rodents, and many other small animals – Most people will soak something in vinegar for about an hour, such as a corn cob or cotton balls, and then leave these items around the garden area to keep these animals away. You can replace them every couple of weeks. For cats, you can also just spray full-strength vinegar around the areas you don’t want them in.
To Clean and Sanitize Your Garden Tool
The other big use for vinegar is cleaning and sanitizing tools and pots. Again, because it is such an easily made mild acid, vinegar has been used for a long time in cleaning and even in medicine. Its usefulness in these areas remains today.
First and foremost, you can soak your garden tools in a solution that half water and half vinegar to clean and sanitize them for use again. When doing this, you only need to soak the tools for half an hour to an hour before rinsing and then drying them. The vinegar will prevent fungus and other harmful bacteria from contaminating your tools.
If your tools are rusty, you can soak them in full strength vinegar (5% acetic acid white vinegar) overnight to get rid of the rust. The vinegar will dissolve the rust over a period of hours, and once it’s done, you can scrub it off easily. Your tools will look good as new.
To Clean Your Clay Pots
Another item in your garden that vinegar can refresh is a clay pot. If your garden has many clay pots that are starting to look old (no longer the lovely red-brown color they started with), you can use a solution that is one part vinegar to three parts water to soak them for about half an hour before scrubbing them. Once you’ve scrubbed them, they’ll look brand new.
Similarly, you can use vinegar to clear up mineral deposits on the saucers beneath potted plants, on birdbaths, on plastic containers, or on just about anything. So long as you soak the area (either by spraying it down well or by actually leaving it in the vinegar), the acid will break down these deposits, enabling you to scrub it properly whatever it is that needs cleaning. It will depend on what it is; you may need to use full or half strength vinegar.
Vinegar that is above 10% acetic acid is corrosive to the skin and should be handled carefully. The vinegar you buy at the grocery store is usually below 10% acetic acid, but you can get solutions up to 30% by purchasing vinegar from your local gardening store or online.
Of course, if you buy a vinegar solution that’s above 10% acetic acid, you’ll want to use some protection for your eyes and hands when you are using it. Pickling vinegar is a good compromise if you don’t want to deal with the harsher chemical, as it’s about 7% acetic acid. Most of the applications discussed, however, only call for 5% acetic acid vinegar.
If you happen to get vinegar with an acetic acid content above 10% on your hands, then you should just rinse your hands (or any other affected body parts). You want to do so for at least 10 minutes to ensure that all of the acid is gone. If it’s a large spill, immediately remove any clothing you are wearing and shower to rinse it off as quickly as possible.
If vinegar with high acetic acid content gets into your eyes, first immediately remove any contacts, then flush your eyes with water for at least 15 minutes. After this, you should seek medical attention.
Before we get into using vinegar in the garden, let’s go over how to store it so that you can stockpile it for emergency situations. Since it’s so useful for tending a garden and for cleaning, it’s a great option for storing for when SHTF.
Luckily, because vinegar is so acidic, it is easy to store indefinitely without worrying that it will go bad. That’s why it’s so often used for pickling and preserving foods. Some flavored kinds of vinegar, because of the ingredients added, may lose some of their flavors over time, but this period is between five and ten years (and even then, it’s still perfectly safe to consume).
When any vinegar is stored for a long period, you may notice that it becomes cloudy or develops sediment. It is okay and does not mean that the vinegar is unsafe for consumption; however, you may notice altered flavor at this point.
Vinegar is one of the easiest products to store. In fact, the best way to stockpile vinegar is to simply store it in its original, sealed container in a cool, dark area. Like any other chemicals or similar substances, you should strive to store it in an area that does not see many temperature fluctuations.
But at the end of the day, all you really need to do is buy as many jugs of distilled white vinegar as you think you’ll need in a survival situation and store it in your basement somewhere dry.
Some Final Notes
Many people also use vinegar for refreshing plants like rhododendrons and azaleas because these plants prefer a little acidity. By occasionally watering these types of plants with a vinegar solution (a cup of vinegar to a gallon of water), you can help them perk up and look their best. Vinegar can also help preserve cut flowers when added to a vase (one to two tablespoons with a tablespoon of sugar).
No matter what your gardening need is, vinegar is an excellent and easy solution. Especially for those who are interested in preserving their garden in case disaster strikes, vinegar is a perfect acid for dealing with these everyday problems. It is easily stored for when SHTF, and only needs to be mixed with other common household ingredients.
In short, vinegar is one of the most versatile products that you can have in your home or retreat. If you’re someone that prefers to do things in a more natural way (or a more sustainable way for survival situations), then you should consider using vinegar for more of your household and gardening needs.
My name is Teresa Fikes. I am a Homesteader, survivalist, prepper, historian, and writer plus much more all in one package deal. I was raised on a small family farm were I was taught at an early age to survive off the land without the help of modern conveniences. I am a writer by profession and a Homesteader by Blood, Sweat, and Tears.