"Imagine never having to weed again. It’s every gardener, landowner or property manager’s dream. When people read on an herbicide label that soil sterilants kill all unwanted plants, they think they have found the answer to their weed problems. It is important to understand how these products work and what problems can result from their use. 

Soil sterilant herbicides are “total kill” products that last in the soil for long periods, sometimes for 10 or more years, particularly in arid environments. They have the potential to unintentionally cause significant damage to desirable plants unlike preemergence herbicides, which only affect sprouting seeds, soil sterilants are designed to kill existing vegetation.

While these products may kill the weeds you don’t want, they may also kill your favorite shade tree if its roots are currently growing in the area where you have applied the herbicide, or they may grow into those areas while the product is still active.

Soil sterilants are meant for use in non- vegetated areas, such as railroad rights- of- way, industrial sites, parking lots and roadways, or where undesirable plants could cause damage, present fire hazards or impede work crews.

They are not designed for home use around gardens and landscapes. 

In addition to their long lifetimes, some soil sterilants are also very water-soluble. They can move downward or laterally with rain or irrigation water through soil to the roots of desirable trees, shrubs and other plants, especially when applied on an incline or slope. Since roots of trees may extend horizontally three to four times the width of the tree or plant canopy, it may not be obvious where they are growing. The result can be death or serious injury to desirable plants even though they are located a distance from the original application site. There are many stories of chemical applications killing neighbors’ trees, shrubs and lawn. Even rinsing a sprayer or washing off equipment near desirable plants can damage or kill those plants."

Modified and summarized from

University of Nevada Cooperative Extention

"What to Consider Before Using Soil Sterilant or “Bare-ground” Herbicides," by JoAnne Skelly, Extension Educator Carson City / Storey County Susan Donaldson, Water Quality Education Specialist