Chemical weed killers, when used properly, can be an effective component of an Integrated Pest Management program. Weed control with herbicides can be part of a larger lawn care program designed to encourage turf health and vigor and keep weeds to a minimum. Choosing the appropriate herbicide for your weed control needs can be a daunting task when faced with the sheer volume of products available at your local garden center or box store.
How Do Herbicides Work?
Herbicides can act upon a weed in two different ways.
- Pre-emergent herbicides act upon weed seeds and seedlings or form a barrier in the soil to prevent weed seed germination or growth. Pre-emergents are usually applied in the spring to prevent crabgrass seeds from establishing when the soil temperatures begin to warm up. A properly timed treatment can provide control for several months. Products like Dimension (ai-dithiopyr) and Pre-M (ai-pendimethalin) work at suppressing all seeds in the soil, so any re-seeding projects are out of the question for a few weeks. Tupersan (ai-siduron) is notable as a pre-emergent herbicide with the ability to suppress crabgrass and still be used in conjunction with grass seed.
- Post-emergent herbicides work on actively growing weeds and can be further broken down into selective or non-selective categories.
- Selective herbicides can be applied to a lawn and target weeds while having little effect on grass. Products containing the active ingredient 2,4-D, and MCPP are commonly used to control a wide variety of broadleaf weeds. Grassy weeds and grass-like weeds can be harder to selectively target with herbicides. Products containing the fenoxaprop ethyl, dithiopyr, or quinclorac can be used for post-emergent crabgrass control. Some products may require repeated applications for effective control. Nutsedge is a particularly stubborn weed to eradicate in the lawn. The relatively new product Sedge Hammer (ai- halosulfuron), formerly known as Manage, is the only herbicide to successfully target both yellow and purple nutsedge.
- Non-selective herbicides kill everything they come in contact with, including the lawn. Extra care must always be taken when handling non-selective herbicides to prevent spillage or accidents. The most popular non-selective herbicide is probably Round-Up (ai-glyphosate). Its new formulation Quick Pro adds the active ingredient diquat dibromide for fast-acting results within 24 hours. Non-selective herbicides tend to be used very sparingly in a lawn unless applied meticulously to individual weeds or wiping out an entire lawn due to be renovated.
How Are They Applied?
Herbicides are commonly applied in granular and liquid form. Granular herbicides are easily applied with a common push-type spreader and can come blended with a fertilizer. The downside of granular applications is that they must be broadcast over a large area, applying chemical in places that may not need it. Pre-emergent crabgrass control and "weed and feed" products are common granular forms of herbicide. Liquid herbicides are diluted with water and sprayed onto the plant with a hand-held or backpack sprayer. Spot spraying broadleaf weeds, like plantain or chickweed with a selective post-emergent herbicide, is effective and saves the lawn from excessive chemicals
The number of products available to the home owner can be overwhelming but a little research can go a long way in helping to determine the best product to suit the need. Some products are shown to have lower toxicity levels for pets, wildlife, and pollinators while others indicate better control of certain types of weeds.
If you are opposed to chemical herbicides, an organic program may be right for you. You may have a a few more weeds, but ultimately it is the safest lawn care regimen. If you are unopposed to chemical herbicides and want it done safely and correctly, hire licensed professionals to do any herbicide applications. Contamination occurs most often when products are incorrectly used by homeowners.
- Herbicide safety is always up for debate and it can be unsettling using such toxic chemicals so close to pets and children. Regulations require only the active ingredient be listed on the label, while many of the other inert chemicals may also be harmful to our health. Municipalities have severely restricted or outlawed some herbicides and long-term exposure to herbicides is definitely a health risk. Leaching and contamination of groundwater are also problems associated with herbicide use.
- If you take on the task yourself, read the label and follow the instructions to the letter. Wear appropriate personal protective equipment and avoid broadcast applications unless absolutely necessary. Avoid natural water sources and spray blooming plants (dandelion and clover) in the evening when day time foragers, such as honeybees, are less likely to visit the blooms. Applying herbicides smartly can significantly reduce the risk associated with their use.
What Is Integrated Pest Management (IPM)? University of California Statewide IPM Program.
Are Organic Fertilizers Safer for My Garden? University of New Hampshire Extension.
Damalas, Christos A. and Ilias G. Eleftherohorinos. Pesticide Exposure, Safety Issues, and Risk Assessment Indicators. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 8, no. 5, 2011, pp. 1402–1419., doi:10.3390/ijerph8051402
Basic Information About Pesticide Ingredients. Environmental Protection Agency.