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Weed Management Techniques

Since weeds are so prevalent in many areas of the landscape, management techniques are necessary to maintain order.

Weed management is most successful when it involves an integrated approach using a variety of methods. The common methods used to manage weeds include prevention and cultural, mechanical, biological, and chemical means.

Prevention

Preventative methods are used to stop the spread of weeds. Preventing the introduction of weeds is usually easier than controlling them after establishment. Preventative practices include cleaning tillage and harvesting equipment of weed seeds and vegetative structures; planting certified, weed-free crop seed; and controlling weeds in barnyards, around structures, and along fencerows, roadways, and ditch banks.

Cultural

Cultural and crop management techniques provide a healthy crop to best compete with weeds. Crop competition can be an inexpensive and effective aid to weed management if used to its fullest advantage. Examples of cultural techniques include following soil test recommendations for fertilizer and lime; selecting the best crop varieties; planting dense crop populations at the proper timing; scouting fields regularly for weeds, insects, and diseases and controlling them when necessary; and including crop rotations in the system. Composting, ensiling, or feeding weeds or weed-infested crops to livestock can destroy the viability of weed seeds. The heat and/or digestive acids break down the majority of weed seeds. However, some seeds pass through livestock unharmed and can germinate if spread back onto the land.

Weed Prevention

Preventing weed spread includes controlling weeds around barns and along fences, roads, ditches, and woodlands.

Mechanical

Mechanical or physical techniques either destroy weeds or make the environment less favorable for seed germination and weed survival. These techniques include hand-pulling, hoeing, mowing, plowing, disking, cultivating, and digging. Mulching (straw, wood chips, gravel, plastic, etc.) can also be considered a mechanical control means since it uses a physical barrier to block light and impede weed growth.

Tine Weeder

Tine weeders and cultivators can be used to control weed seedlings.

Biological

Biological weed control involves the use of other living organisms, such as insects, diseases, or livestock, for the management of certain weeds. In theory, biological control is well suited for an integrated weed management program. However, the limitations of biological control are that it is a long-term under- taking, its effects are neither immediate nor always adequate, only certain weeds are potential candidates, and the rate of failure for past biological control efforts has been fairly high. There have been a few success stories of weed species being managed with insect or disease biocontrol agents. Herbivores such as sheep and goats can provide successful control of some common pasture weeds. Research continues in this area of weed management.

Chemical

Herbicides can be defined as crop- protecting chemicals used to kill weedy plants or interrupt normal plant growth. Herbicides provide a convenient, economical, and effective way to help manage weeds. They allow fields to be planted with less tillage, allow earlier planting dates, and provide additional time to perform the other tasks that farm or personal life require. Due to reduced tillage, soil erosion has been reduced from about 3.5 billion tons in 1938 to one billion tons in 1997, thus reducing soil from entering waterways and decreasing the quality of the nation’s surface water. Without herbicide use, no-till agriculture becomes impossible. However, herbicide use also carries risks that include environmental, ecological, and human health effects. It is important to understand both the benefits and disadvantages associated with chemical weed control before selecting the appropriate control.

Herbicides may not be a necessity on some farms or landscape settings, but without the use of chemical weed control, mechanical and cultural control methods become that much more important. There are many kinds of herbicides from which to choose. Many factors determine when, where, and how a particular herbicide can be used most effectively. Understanding some of these factors enables you to use herbicides to their maximum advantage.