More homeowners are buying a propane weed torch to take out pesky weeds without herbicides. Do the Weed Dragon and other weed burners work as well as the manufacturers claim?
A weed burner works by using a propane flame to heat the moisture in the weed’s leaves and stems until the plant literally boils to death. The parts consist of a tubular wand with the flamer at the end, and a fitting to attach to a propane tank. High-end models have a backpack or cart for a larger propane tank, a hose to attach to the wand, and a bell-shaped fitting for the business end of the torch.
The cheap weed burners are just a length of metal tubing shaped like a “J” with a fitting for a 1-pound propane tank and a handle. Typically sold as a “weed burner/ice melter” combination, the manufacturers don’t mention these units’ BTU rating for a reason: they’re not powerful enough to do any serious weeding with. They also rip through those little disposable propane tanks like a hot knife through butter, which isn’t a good use of your money.
To really do any serious weeding, you need a weed torch rated at a minimum of 100,000 BTU. The leading brand for these units is Red Dragon, but users report that the generic knock-offs work reasonably well. If you buy a cheap weed torch, inspect it carefully, because equipment failure around propane and fire can have tragic consequences. If you’re buying online, you’re better off sticking to the name brand, which is priced reasonably and available through a variety of online stores.
There are two ways to fuel a good weed torch. You can use a standard 20-pound propane tank attached to a cart or dolly, or you can get a 10-pound tank and wear it in a backpack sold by Weed Dragon. Either way, you’re going to need a hose to connect the wand to the tank. The standard six-foot hose that comes with the unit is great for the backpack, but for the dolly setup it’s just a pain in the rear, as you’ll be constantly moving the tank. Get at least a 10-foot hose so you can move around freely and focus on killing weeds.
Contrary to what you might have read, burning the weed down to ash is the wrong way to use a weed torch. The right way is to direct a split second of heat at the weed so that it wilts, bleeding moisture out of the entire root structure. This only really works on weeds that are less than four inches tall. If you have an unsightly tangle in your back yard, you’re better off mowing it with a string trimmer or other clipper device and getting after it with the flamer next spring when the shoots are new.
Important safety precautions with a weed burner include keeping a fire extinguisher and/or garden hose close by in case things get out of hand, and not working during periods of drought when it’s easy to start grass fires. If you’re working around desirable plants and shrubs, be careful using the torch, as it’s easy to kill the wrong plants if you don’t keep a safe distance. And do not under any circumstances use a torch on poisonous plants such as poison ivy, because the burning vapors can get into your lungs.
Follow these precautions and you’ll be the master weed killer in your neighborhood with your weed torch—minus toxic herbicides and loud, cranky string trimmers.
*Please note the link above directs to amazon as I have found they offer great deals on weed torches.