SKIP RICHTER: Read the label before spraying weeds – Bryan-College Station Eagle


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‘Tis an unweeded garden, that grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature possess it merely.”— Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2Ask a professor for the definition of a weed, and you’ll hear something along the lines of “a plant out of place.” Ask a gardener and the most common reply will likely include a few choice four-letter words. One writer put it this way, “Love of flowers and vegetables is not enough to make a good gardener. He must also hate weeds.”Weeds show up uninvited to overtake our idyllic plans for a picture perfect garden. They steal water and nutrients, shade out our vegetables and flowers, and harbor pests and viruses. They humiliate us by turning our beautiful gardens into a weedy mess.Why can’t our veggies and flowers grow like weeds instead of being pamper dependent prima donnas? As one gardener stated, “There’s only one sure way to tell the weeds from the vegetables. If you see anything growing, pull it up. If it comes back, it was a weed.”
Now I realize that the mention of weeds can cause an increase in blood pressure, stomach acid and vociferous rants in a gardener, but there is no need for such a response. There is a kinder, gentler way of looking at these disgusting, insidious, abhorrent, infernal little botanical terrorists.Weeds are simply a part of the natural world. They love disturbed sites (like gardens) and are nature’s way of restoring a cover of protective vegetation over bare soil. Some produce blooms that support pollinators and other beneficial insects. Most help build soil by adding organic matter and bringing nutrients to the surface, while a few can convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can access.I suspect most readers could care less about the benefits of weeds and want to know how to kill them instead. In other words, “What spray can I use?”A blanket of mulchThe most basic technique for minimizing weed problems in the garden is to cover the soil surface with mulch spread 3-4” deep. Weed seeds need light to successfully germinate and establish plants. Block the light and prevent them from reaching the surface and the majority will be defeated. Last August I wrote about using newspaper under a more aesthetic mulch, so you may want to check that out in the online archives.Herbicide spraysThere are many products available in local garden centers for preventing weeds before the seeds sprout and for killing already growing weeds. Preemergence products prevent them before they appear, while post emergence products kill existing weeds.Before purchasing a product read the label carefully to determine if the product can be used in the vegetable garden, flower beds or wherever it is to be applied. For example, most preemergence products are not labeled for vegetable garden use.Post emergence products for home garden and landscape use include ingredients such as glyphosate, which kills both grassy and broadleaf weeds and sethoxydim or fluazifop, which kill grassy weeds.When a few weeds are among your desirable plants and a post emergence product that might damage the plants is needed, a wiper type product, either store bought or homemade, may be used to carefully apply the product without getting it on your garden plants.It is critical to read the label to know whether the product is cleared for use in the area you wish to apply it. Proper mixing and careful application procedures should be followed to avoid damage to your garden plants or to the environment.‘Natural’ spraysThere are also a few products that are derived from natural substances that are labeled for managing existing weeds, some of which may be labeled for organic gardening. Ingredients for post emergence control include ammoniated soap of fatty acids, acetic acid, d-limonene, citric acid, pelargonic acid, ammoniated nonanoate and maleic hydrazide, the latter of which also has some root development inhibiting effects which may increase effectiveness for some weeds.These products basically “burn” the foliage and tender stem tissues they contact. Annual weeds can be killed if the weeds are still young. Perennial weeds will usually regrow from their base or roots. Repeated applications can eventually severely weaken or kill a perennial weed if it never gets a chance to regrow and continues to use stored energy to reestablish a top.Herbicidal soap and vinegar products work best when used on a hot sunny day. Like any pesticide, it is critical to follow the label carefully and not assume that they are safe to use just because they are derived from natural substances. Commercial concentrations of acetic acid (vinegar), for example, can burn skin and cause permanent eye damage, even blindness.Weeds are a part of gardening but can be largely managed by preventing them from establishing and controlling them early in their development. Mulching and judicious spraying can help you get the upper hand, and to make more time for the aspects of gardening you enjoy best.Robert “Skip” Richter is the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension horticulture agent for Brazos County. For local gardening information and events, visit Gardening questions? Call Skip at 823-0129 or email [email protected]

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