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Weed management starts now before things get out of control

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By Staff

Managing weeds throughout the growing season doesn’t have to be a losing battle if you start early and follow a few simple rules. For now the weed problem consists primarily of a handful of cool season weeds including cress, chickweed, henbit and wild onion. Soon wild violets, ground ivy, dandelions and clover will become more noticeable before our warm season weeds begin to emerge or germinate.

Sometimes these weeds go largely unnoticed until the problem is daunting. If we take notice and action during the early stages of their development we can control them better and thus reduce their ability to return.

At this point our control options include old-fashioned hand-picking and digging, the use of preemergent and post-emergent herbicides, and some “organic” measure that may employ fire, vinegar or salt. First, let’s understand with what we are dealing.

Chickweed germinates from late fall to early spring so doing a little hand weeding throughout the winter is not a bad idea. An application of a preemergent in the early spring is a good idea if you struggle with chickweed. I use organic corn-gluten products to prevent germination in areas where the weed persists as a problem. Chickweed is typically found in moist, shady spots, has a fleshy texture and small white flowers. Try not to let the flowers go to seed because when they do they release hundreds of tiny seeds ... thus its persistence nature. Control chickweed during active growth with a total kill herbicide or pulling and treat with a preemergent just as temperatures begin to warm in the spring and cool in the fall to prevent seed germination.

Cress has the same ability to spread tiny seed as chickweed. Cress appears as a rosette of lobed foliage. It is easy to pull so do so before it sends up its bloom and spreads its seed. This year we will try using salt (such as you would provide to livestock) to control emerging weeds in the spring asparagus bed — a tip from my friend Rebekah Fiedler in Rome, Ind. It makes sense because salt is a desiccant so it should suck all the moisture from the emerging seedlings at the surface of the soil without damaging newly emerging spears.

Wild violets can quickly become a hard to manage perennial problem. Violets spread by seed and root. The dense, fibrous roots are steadfast and break away from the plant if you try to pull them by hand. Instead use a trowel (after a good rain) to lift them out of cultivated areas. If you can’t dig them as soon as you see them, pinch off the flowers so they won’t go to seed (which works to a certain degree because wild violets can also produce seed without obvious flowering). Spot treating with a product that has dicamba, 2, 4-D and trichlopyr also proves effective but always use chemical applications responsibly, if at all. Chemical lawn care products are one of the greatest sources of water pollution. Violets are a cool season perennial so they actively grow in the spring and fall, therefore treatments will be most effective at these times.

Like the violet, your best defense against wild onions is to dig them as soon as you see them. Wild onions spread by seed and underground bulb. There are some chemical controls that control wild onion but application is tricky because liquid does not stick well to the waxy foliage. Dig deep to remove them from cultivated areas. In the lawn, persistent spot treatment for several years will be necessary as the bulbs sprout at different times as they mature.

Henbit can cover an area like a layer of mulch. In fact, that’s what we have under the crab apples right now. This year we are going to employ a new tactic. I got a Red Dragon flame weeder — a propane trigger flame-thrower device — for Christmas. The idea is a chemical free way to get rid of weeds by burning them. I’ll let you know how it goes.