BERTAUSKI COLUMN: Follow tips to safely rid gardens of weeds
Rain brings green grass and flowers. It also brings muddy yards and weedy beds. There are numerous ways to get rid of weeds, including herbicides. Here are some tips:
Pulling weeds is usually punishment for tardy employees or misguided youths. For some, it's a meditative practice. Rarely does a gardener pull one weed without ending up on hands and knees an hour later. If you own knee pads or a weed bench, you enjoy it on some level.
Damp soil makes it easier to unearth the roots. Hand-pulling is most effective on annual weeds with shallow root systems. Annual weeds such as chamberbitter spread primarily by seed. Perennials are more difficult to control with hand-pulling because they will grow back from underground parts.
Winged weeder tools help pop out tap roots such as dandelions. However, nutsedge and Florida betony tubers are difficult to uproot, and new growth will continue to sprout when the parent plant is pulled. Spreading weeds such as dollarweed can only be temporarily pulled since they will rapidly grow back from rhizomes. In fact, rototilling dollarweed could make the problem worse.
Handheld propane flamers can be used to destroy small annual weeds of 4 inches or less. As little as one second of exposure to fire causes the foliar cells to boil and burst. Results are seen within minutes.
While this is a chemical-free method, there are dangers to observe. Avoid flaming poison ivy since the smoke can be toxic. Also avoid flammable mulch and nearby desirable plants. Flaming weeds sounds like fun but would not be the type of yard work for a child.
Sometimes, herbicides are simply the best option for weed control, especially in lawns. Post-emergent herbicides are weed killers. As with any pesticide, always read the label for directions and precautions.
Post-emergent herbicides are more effective on small, actively growing weeds. Taller, mature weeds have thicker leaf cuticles. Besides, if a big weed dies, you will have a big dead weed in your yard. You may as well pull it.
Ready-to-use (RTU) formulations are premixed herbicides in a disposable sprayer. Handheld bottles are for small applications, but RTU jugs fitted with a small pump and nozzle are more suitable around the yard. Concentrated products have to be mixed in a backpack sprayer.
Nonselective herbicides such as Round-up kill just about everything. Round-up is systemic and slowly translocates to underground parts for effective control of perennials. Reward is a contact herbicide that rapidly burns down foliage without being absorbed. Some products, such as Round-up QuickPRO, contain both systemic and contact herbicides for quicker results.
Selective herbicides target only a certain group of weeds. Broadleaf weeds include anything with a broadleaf such as dollarweed, Florida betony and clover. Flowers, trees and shrubs also are broadleafs. Many products contain more than one kind of selective herbicide to broaden the range of control. Trimec and Weed-B-Gone contain three selective post-emergent herbicides while Speedzone contains four. When used properly, these products can be applied to lawns to kill weeds without damaging turf.
Grassy selective herbicides kill only grassy weeds such as bahia or bermudagrass and don't affect broadleaf plants. Vantage is a unique herbicide that will kill bahia without affecting centipedegrass. Nutsedge and kyllinga weeds look like grasses but require different herbicides to control. Image or Manage can be applied to lawns and flowerbeds for sedge control.
There are organic post-emergent herbicides that are much safer options for the applicator and around sensitive areas such as gardens. They will require more frequent applications but still can work. Most of them are nonselective, so they are limited to use in flowerbeds. Herbicidal soaps (Safer, M-pede), essential oils (Weed Zap, Nature's Avenger) and herbicidal vinegar (20 percent acetic acid) can be used effectively on annual weeds. Scythe is a very effective nonselective herbicide. While it is a natural product, it is not considered organic.
Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.