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Role of 20 Mule Team Borax in Organic Gardening

pack mule image by John Sfondilias from

Borax has been used for centuries in ceramics and in metal smithing. Before its discovery in North America, borax was imported from Tibet and Italy. Borax is a naturally-occurring mineral that contains sodium, boron, hydrogen and oxygen. It is a common ingredient in some cleaning products and has often been used in laundry detergent. In addition to its cleaning products, as a naturally-occurring mineral it has a place in organic gardening.

History of 20 Mule Team Borax

The 20 Mule Team brand borax originated in the late 19th century. William T. Coleman discovered large deposits of borax in Death Valley. Coleman established the Harmony Borax Works in Death Valley. One of the issues of mining borax in Death Valley was getting the borax from the mine to the marketplace. Coleman's superintendent began hitching two teams of 10 mules together. These 20-mule teams pulled specially constructed wagons that carried 10 tons of ore to the nearest rail station. From these 20-mule teams came the name for the consumer product. The 20 Mule Team brand is now owned by the Dial corporation.


20 Mule Team borax can make a good insecticide for some types of insects, especially ants. To make a natural insecticide, mix the borax either with sugar or peanut butter. Ants will take the tainted sugar or peanut butter back to the nest, resulting in the poisoning of the entire next. When trying to control aphids, spreading honey and borax on the base of aphid-infested plants will help keep the ants at bay while you release ladybugs on the plants to deal with the aphids. Some varieties of ants will attack ladybugs, driving them off or killing them.


Borax can work well as an herbicide. According to Brisbane Local Food, spraying a mixture of borax and water on plants that you don't want will eventually result in their death. It is particularly effective with the weed creeping Charlie. If you are using borax as an organic herbicide in a lawn, fertilize once the weeds are dead to encourage the grass to grow over the dead patches.


Although borax is useful as an herbicide, sunflowers are one of the few plants that seem to benefit from the addition of borax to soil. According to Garden Wise, adding borax to your sunflowers in mid-summer can help improve bloom size and number. To avoid poisoning the sunflowers, limit the solution to 1/2 tsp. of borax per gallon of water.


Borax can be an eye and mucus membrane irritant. Avoid breathing the dust. It can also be toxic to pets and children. Don't use borax-based pesticides in places where they could be ingested by children or animals. In some cases, borax can irritate skin. When using borax as an herbicide, it can sometimes spread past the intended plant and kill nearby plants. Be careful when applying the herbicide.

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