Weed Burner

March 13, 2006 · Filed Under Garden 

Weed Burner

For an update on this article see: Weed Burner, Part 2

Until chemicals began being used around the 1950s, weed burners were an important means of controlling weeds in agriculture, but today have almost been forgotten. Above is a picture of the weed burner I use.

Even though weed burners have not been widely used for a while now, the underlying technology of gas burners has improved dramatically in that time. Modern gas burners are much hotter and more efficient.

The weed burner shown above is one of the smallest models that will connect to a propane bottle, and the flame is shaped in a point. They can also be purchased in even smaller models that use a canister of gas similar to what a camping stove uses. Flames can be shaped in a point for use close to crops or wide intended to be used to cover large areas quickly. Sizes range up to tractor size that burn several kilos of propane per hour.

In Europe, some organic farms have been using weed burners where the flame heats a ceramic plate, which in turn burns the weeds. This is the so called infra red weed burner. The advantage of this is you don’t have an exposed flame, and the risk of starting a fire is less.

Okay, moving from farms back to gardening. There are circumstances in which it can’t be used. It is an exposed flame, and you can’t use it in a dry climate or around flammable materials. This makes it hard to use at the same time you use mulch, because most mulch is flammable. It also does not work against established weeds, as the only thing it does is burn the leaves off which just grow back again.

What is it good for? It works very well against weeds up to and including the cotyledon stage. For example if in the spring, your garden gets dusted by seed from dandelions or other weeds and they start sprouting, they can all be quickly destroyed with a weed burner. It will also destroy unsprouted seeds. If you have some compost that has been contaminated with weed seed, it can be spread out to a thickness of about 1 cm, and burned with the weed burner. Or you can just pass the flame over the top your compost pile to kill any seeds that may be there.

It is very easy to cover a large area quickly. My weed burner will cover about 100m2 (1000 ft2) in about a half hour, but there are circumstances when it takes longer like the ground is frozen or cold or there is a special problem that is being addressed with it.

The weed burner can be helpful right after plowing or rototilling the ground, because sometimes seeds are exposed and burning the pieces of exposed roots can help weeds from re-establishing themselves in the ground.

If you have a patch of established weeds, that you don’t have time to take care of before they go to seed, the weed burner can be used to slow their growth for a few days by burning the tops of them off. Of course this can also make them more difficult to dig them up when you finally get around to it.

In the last few weeks I have been using the flame to burn some things in the garden that would otherwise be more difficult to remove, like patches of dried out grassy weeds.

My garden is very large, about 1000m2 (10,000 ft2), and I plan to expand it in the coming years. The ground is also hard clay. Both of these things make it difficult to remove weeds under any circumstances, and in general I have a major problem with weeds. I can imagine if these things were not true, a weed burner would be less useful.

Having said all of this, I am really happy with it. It has become one of my favorite gardening tools. There is a reason why chemical weed killers became more popular, they do work much better, and this tool is certainly not going to solve all of your weed problems. It is however a great tool to use together with other organic methods for controlling weeds.

Comments

12 Responses to “Weed Burner”

  1. Reading Dirt on March 26th, 2006 15:52

    A flaming stick o’ death! Perfect! I’ve got to get one of those for the gravel areas and the concrete.

  2. Rosemary on March 29th, 2006 13:26

    I am dammed by weeds between my bricks. I even dug up all the bricks and moved them closer then poured stone dust between. I have used roundup, kosher salt, bleach and dug up with a screwdriver and sharp knife, but they are treacherous. I am thinking of getting a weed burner. I only need for each side of front of house. 10 x 10 and 15 x 15. Is it worth it and which prod do you recommend Thanks

  3. Patrick on March 31st, 2006 5:25

    Hi Rosemary — I’m annoyed by those weeds too. No, I personally wouldn’t use a weed burner for this. A weed burner will only burn off the tops of the weeds, and the roots will survive and keep growing. In addition, unless you have a very powerful weed burner, it will take longer and be more trouble to burn off the tops, than to just use a scraping tool. I don’t have any suggestions, other than the things you mention.

    I like using a weed burner for the things I mention in this post, but I think the marketing that often goes along with the weed burners is sometimes misleading. I have tried to use it to melt snow, but have had similar results. Unless you have a very powerful weed burner, snow just takes too long to melt, and other ways to remove it are easier.

    These are just my experiences, and if anyone else reading this has other opinions, I hope you will add your own comments here!

  4. James Young on March 7th, 2007 17:36

    I purchased on of these weed burners last fall. I will give it a good workout this year 2007. I plan of using it not as a weed remover, but as a sterilizer.

    Hollyhock rust has been plaguing me for the last three years. I burnt the tops off he hollyhocks, and flamed the ground around the plants in October 2006. We had a wet and warm early winter and the hollyhocks grew a few leaves and there was no sign of the rust. This I contrasted with last year when rust was always present.

    I suspect the tool is a better sterilizer and seed kller in certain areas. I saw a large tractor driven burner in use in the UK. They run it over the fields in the fall.

    Anyway I will experiment and see if it eliminates fungus and stimulates growth.

    We lived on a farm when I was as child and we always burned the grass off in large areas when conditions were right in the spring or fall, and the growth of the new grass was truly astonishing.It is worth while mentioning that fire was and is natures way of rejuvinating in many cases.

    At first look the weed burner has a lot of merit, and I will truly experiment this summer in the appropiate situation.

    Durgan.

  5. John W. Bruton on December 24th, 2008 19:10

    I have had a weed burner for many years. I use it about twice a year to get rid of the weeds that sprout up in my graveled areas. After burning I spray weed killer. I have the best looking parking area in town. Also, this is REALLY a manly implement and makes a perfect Fathers Day gift.

  6. anne on December 26th, 2008 21:33

    Hey Patrick,
    flamers work like a charm in carrots; because they take so long germinate, other weeds pop up in the row before the carrot emmerges. Walking along the path with the tank in a backpack I like to torch the row at about 9 days. a few days later the carrots emmerge in a nice clean row. In my experience the flamer doesn’t cook and kill the seeds at all, just the sprouted seedlings. I had a friend who had a unit with 4 torches on a tool bar on his tractor…it was a bit too “manly” for him as he set the pasture next door on fire!

  7. Patrick on December 27th, 2008 0:36

    Hi Anne,

    Wow, this is really a post from the archives! If you google on ‘weed burners’ (with an s), for some reason this post is one of the first few hits. It’s one of the first posts that made my blog well known. Sometimes when you write about something, you don’t know it’s going to go down in history.

    Thanks for the tips with the carrots! I’ll have to try it.

    Yes, burning down the neighbors pasture is always an issue! I’m always a bit nervous about this…

    I still use and love my weed burner. I recently bought an upgraded model.

  8. anne on December 30th, 2008 16:04

    Yes, let us hope that means a good idea is never burnt away.

  9. Hamish on September 28th, 2009 6:34

    With regard to killing weeds between bricks in a path – try pouring boiling water on them from your kettle. Works pretty well, it is cheap the buy a couple of cordless kettles (one can be heating up while you use the other), and it is kind to the enviroment.

  10. Patrick on September 28th, 2009 11:30

    Hi Hamish,

    That’s a great suggestion, thanks for visiting and leaving a comment!

  11. Trevor Maddox on December 16th, 2009 18:56

    So where do I buy one of these burners and how much do they cost?

  12. Patrick on December 16th, 2009 20:52

    Hi Trevor,

    My computer says you’re located in France, and your email address is in the UK. Since I live in Holland, and purchased mine locally, it’s hard for me to advise you where to buy one.

    I am familiar with the Red Dragon products:

    http://www.flameengineering.com/Vapor_Torch_Kits.html

    and find them of good quality. Note many of their high end torches are very big! It’s not necessary to buy the larger ones in order to get something suitable for weeds. 50,000-200,000 btu is enough for most people.

    I think this company will ship their Red Dragon products abroad, but you need to check with them to be sure.

**************

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