The best weed torch
For a while, weed torches went out of favor. Today, with more and more people looking for natural herbicide-free methods for weed control, they're popular again. You have plenty of choices, from lightweight spot weeders to high-powered heavyweights for landscape and municipal contractors.
Our shopping guide is designed to give you all the information you need to find the right model for your garden. Our top pick from Red Dragon is an excellent all-around choice from a top brand and well worth a closer look.
The benefits of a weed torch
Although chemical treatments can be effective, we're increasingly cautious about what gets sprayed on our fruits and vegetables or makes its way through the soil and eventually into our water supply.
Weed torches kill using heat, and treatment begins to take effect just as quickly as with herbicides. It's completely natural with no harmful by-products. The tiny amount of carbon monoxide generated is perfectly safe outdoors and has no environmental impact.
The other popular method of weed control -- a string trimmer or weed wacker -- is not only less effective at actually killing weeds, it doesn't have the precision you need around vegetables and flowers.
Considerations when choosing weed torches
Most weed torches, regardless of physical size, produce a flame that's around 2,000°F or more. The difference is in the volume of flame they're capable of producing. Manufacturers usually rate their tools in BTU (British Thermal Units). Small, light, and accurate weed torches run around 20,000 to 25,000 BTU. General-purpose home and semi-pro models rise to 100,000 BTU, and heavy-duty models can be 500,000 BTU.
Depending on output, you need a suitable propane tank. To keep weight to a minimum, spot weeders usually take a compact, one-pound cylinder. That amount of gas won't last long on larger weed torches, so 20-pound tanks or larger are used. Neither are supplied with the torch, so that's something you need to source locally. If you're moving around a lot with a 20-pound tank, you might want to get a wheeled dolly to make life easier.
Gas flow safety
These larger models usually have a regulator to keep the gas flow consistent so performance doesn't drop as the tank empties. It's also a safety feature that stops you from trying to use a bigger flame than the torch is designed to handle. They won't work without it. On other models, a sensor operates a safety cut-off valve if flow is too high.
Lighting is accomplished by using either a spark igniter or push-button starter. Never use matches -- you risk burning your hand. Small models are either on or off, but some have variable control. On larger models a squeeze valve can be incorporated in the handle. This allows the weed torch to idle on a very low flame until full flow is released when the trigger is squeezed. On models running at 100,000 BTU or more, this can result in considerable gas savings.
A few weed torches offer interchangeable bells -- flame nozzles -- which allows you to increase or decrease precision.
Weed torch prices
While you can get small, inexpensive weed torches for under $30, spend around $10 more to ensure quality. Mid-range models that handle general purpose weed control cost between $40 and $65. High-quality models used by landscaping professionals can run up to around $100.
Q. Do I need to burn weeds outright?
A. It's a common misunderstanding. What you're actually doing is collapsing the plant's cell structure by boiling the sap. With a torch that generates 2,000°F, it usually takes less than a second. Results aren't immediate, but the leaves dull and wilt within a couple of hours.
Q. Does a weed torch work on bindweed, ground ivy, and dandelions?
A. These are perennial weeds, a tough and persistent bunch that often come back. However, treat them several times and you eventually starve the roots. It's more work, but avoids the need for chemicals.
Weed torches we recommend
Best of the best: Red Dragon VT 2-23 C Weed Dragon
Our take: Immensely powerful torch for large scale weed control.
What we like: Excellent performance from market-leading brand. Regulator control for additional safety. Spark lighter included. Great for melting ice and snow, too.
What we dislike: Not much. High output takes a while to master. Painted nozzle discolors.
Best bang for the buck: Red Dragon VT1-32 C Mini Weed Dragon
Our take: Great value precision model ideal for urban gardens.
What we like: Small enough to be comfortable, powerful enough to get the job done quickly and efficiently. Terrific quality, made of steel for long-term durability.
What we dislike: Fiddly flow control can make it difficult to keep lit.
Choice 3: Bernzomatic JT850 Weed Torch
Our take: Small, highly maneuverable device for the smaller yard, paths, and drives.
What we like: Lightweight and slender, easy to handle. Self ignition. Great for vegetable gardens, flower borders, and anywhere else where precision is needed.
What we dislike: Goes out more often than it should.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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