Kill It With Fire: Fun With a Garden Flamethrower

Garden flamethrower in action, with cartoon adjustments
My Weed Dragon. Image may have been altered, perhaps, maybe. Image by me.

The day I bought it, I waited for my husband to get home just so when he asked me how my day had gone I could tell him with an innocent smile. But he came home already deep into a phone conversation with his best friend, a fellow frustrated tabletop-RPG geek. Since neither of them have time to play, they spend hours on the phone making up characters, situations, and strategies for games they will never actually get around to instead. An hour or so later I realized I would have to get my new toy into the shed before it rained or the sun went down, whether or not I could share it first.

Then he noticed. “Hang on,” he said to his friend, “why is my wife carrying a propane tank up the hill?”

“I don’t know,” his friend answered, “but now I want to know why your wife has a propane tank, too.”

“It’s for my new flamethrower!” I called back cheerfully.

“She says it’s… what?! She says it’s for her flamethrower.”

“I’d better let you go,” said his friend, “because I want you to call me back later and explain why she has a flamethrower.”

My reasons were perfectly legitimate. My flamethrower is more accurately called a garden torch, this Weed Dragon, and I was using it to weed the patio. We have a brick patio all around the house that’s constantly in danger of being engulfed in vegetation. I could pry apart each brick and remove the plants by hand, so that by the time I finish they’ve already grown back at the end I started on. I could spray it down with extended control Round-Up, which will leak onto the plants I like, seep into the groundwater, and get tracked inside on everyone’s shoes. But now I have another choice: I can kill it with fire!l

Garden torches work not necessarily by burning weeds away, but by superheating the plants so their cells burst. Which sounds even more mad-sciencey than burning them. And face it, it’s fun to wave that torch around, cackling gleefully as your invasive green enemies boil to death. But the irony is that you’re being so much less evil than your tidy, genteel neighbors with their proper spray bottles of herbicide.

Torch a weed, it shrivels away. Boom, done.

Spray it with herbicide, the poison hangs out even after the weed is gone. It leaches through the dirt. It sickens or kills the other plants or wildlife around the area. It tracks into homes and builds up in humans and pets. That’s just gross. But depending on the extent of your weed problem or the pickiness of your neighborhood tidiness quality committee, many people see it as a necessary evil.

Suddenly your cackling mad flamethrowing doesn’t seem quite so unhinged.

My Weed Dragon is great for large areas like my patio, but it’s a little big for spot weeding. People without large brick patios might be better off with something a little smaller, like the Mini Dragon this same company produces. Of course, they also have a bigger version for more industrial locations, but it’s possible that may be going overboard in your own yard.

Unfortunately, garden flamethrowers—I mean torches—are not for everyone, regardless of size. There are some climates in which they are just too dangerous. Sorry, wildfire-prone California, you’re out. But I, on the other hand, live in a town with more rainy than sunny days each year. Occasionally a dry twig here or there will spark up and burn away, but mostly, everything is far too wet. And that’s actually the best way to use the torch. Since it works by boiling the innards of plants, it helps if they’re hydrated enough to boil in the first place—and anything you don’t point the flame directly at is not going to catch.

Sure, it’s dangerous to use an open flame around small children, but it’s dangerous to use herbicides around small children even when you’re not actively using them. You can put that garden flamethrower safely out of reach when you’re done with it, and let your kids play around the place you just torched without fear. You can put that herbicide bottle safely out of reach, but the place you just sprayed isn’t safe anymore, either.

There’s something psychological about fire that gives you a little rush of danger. You don’t get that same rush from gardening with chemicals, and yet! A garden flamethrower lets you act more responsibly while feeling like you’re acting more recklessly. My husband is not the yardwork guy in the family, but even he couldn’t resist the lure of the flame. Maybe a garden flamethrower will make yardwork more fun for you, too.