Working in Extension I communicate with many turfgrass managers about their weed control programs. I get to travel to all different types of facilities that deal with many different problematic weeds. But one question that keeps surfacing and becomes more common year after year is, how to control weeds on a low budget or with a minimal budget?

What is low budget weed control? Low budget weed control is a relative phrase. We all work at different facilities with different goals, objectives, responsibilities, expectations and most definitely different budgets. Therefore, “low budget” to a turfgrass manager that has a large financial budget is different then the turfgrass manager that hardly has a budget. Is it really low-budget weed control we are looking for, or is it how can we control weeds to our expectations and reduce how much it costs? As I thought about this issue more and more there were a couple common themes that came to mind, regardless of the size of budget. 

Don’t forget the basics

How many times have you heard, “The best weed control is a healthy growing turf”? I bet I have said it thousands of times. I get tired of saying it but the reality is we must do right by your turfgrass first. I am guilty of getting caught up in weed control and forgetting the basics of turfgrass management. As a turfgrass manager, we are growing turfgrass in stressful environments so we must do the basics to grow a healthy turfgrass before we try and find the “silver bullet” to kill the weeds that are invading our turf.

Another way to look at it is when we grow a healthy turfgrass we put less pressure on our herbicides to do their job. We don’t want our herbicides to fail; we want them to work. If we apply an herbicide and it doesn’t control the weeds when it should have, then we have wasted part of our budget in labor and chemical. Ultimately, start with the correct mowing, fertility, cultivation and watering practices.

“Ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”

That is a quote is from Benjamin Franklin. Dr. Scott McElroy at Auburn University used to have a slide in his weed control presentations with this quote. It can really apply to preemergent herbicides. Many times our preemergent herbicide options are less expensive then postemergent herbicides but not all preemergent herbicides are created equal. Do your homework and know which preemergence herbicides work best for the weeds you have. For more information on preemergence herbicides check out the “Weed Control for Turfgrass Professionals,” from Purdue University, which is available online at turf.purdue.edu/weed.

Combination products

A trend that has been going on for a while now in the herbicide world is combination products. You are seeing products on the shelf now that contain multiple active ingredients for control of grassy, sedges and broadleaf weeds. These products are nice because they have a broad spectrum, but then you look at the price tag. Many times these formulations are more expensive because of the multiple active ingredients for the broad spectrum of weeds on the label. What if you don’t have all of the weeds on the label? Then you are applying herbicides that aren’t needed, ultimately wasting money.  Sometimes these combination products are cheaper then if you mixed the combination yourself. Always make sure that when you apply you have the minimum effective dose to kill the weeds present. For example, you need 0.75 lbs. of quinclorac per acre for effective control of crabgrass. Also, sometimes the combination products have a lower percentage active ingredient and don’t result in control but only suppression. Vise versa, some of these combination products have increased control compared to the individual active ingredients alone.

Think about it this way. A 2-liter soda at the grocery store is $1 and a 20 fl. oz. soda at the convenience store is $1.50. Are you paying for the convenience or does that 20-oz. bottle taste better?

Seed, seed, seed and herbicide use

Sports turf managers are consistently seeding thin areas to recover cool-season turfgrass. Thin areas can lead to weed invasions therefore seeding may be conducted throughout the year. In heavy use areas multiple fall seeding dates and even spring seeding are conducted to reclaim areas due to high traffic. Seeding multiple times can be problematic if fields are used throughout the season, but that can be used to the turfgrass manager’s advantage. Seeding during times of field use allows athletes to ‘cleat’ in the seed. Ultimately, going back to the basics of seeding cool-season turfgrass throughout the year shifts the competitive advantage from weeds to the desired turfgrass species.

As much as one seeds there still might be a need for herbicide applications. If an herbicide application is warranted, understand how that application is going to limit seeding in the future. There are always exceptions but preemergence herbicides are not selective between the weed seed and desired turfgrass seed. For example, Siduron can be used during seeding but pay close attention to the label of tolerant species and application timing. Also, don’t use preemergence herbicides within 3 growing months before sprigging bermudagrass. These preemergent herbicides will also inhibit the establishment of sprigs unless you use Ronstar (oxidiazon). If you think that you will need to be seeding, sodding or sprigging, postemergence herbicides maybe warranted to control weeds. Postemergent herbicides are also going to have restrictions on reseeding and when can be applied after seeding. Before planting, the label will specify how soon you can plant. After planting, the label will specify how soon you can apply. This could be days, weeks, months, number of mowings or growth stage of the turfgrass.

These are just some tips to consider when developing a low-budget weed control program. All of us have difference expectations and a financial budget to achieve our goals; therefore, the biggest bang for your buck is a great starting place. Doing right by your turf, considerations of combination products, preemergence herbicides and seeding are just a couple places to start. 

I am not sure from whom this quote comes but it has stuck with me for a long time: “If you put 100% effort into a task, you should get 100% benefit. If you put 20% effort into a task and expect 80% benefit, then you can do five tasks at 20% and get 400% benefit.”  Can we put 20% effort or budget on multiple aspects of our weed control program and get 400% benefit or do we just put 100% effort or budget on only one aspect of our weed control program for only 100% benefit? 

Jared A. Hoyle, PhD, is Associate Professor and Extension Turfgrass Specialist, and Director of the Rocky Ford Turfgrass Research Center, at Kansas State University. Check out the KSU Turfgrass Information Pages, ksu.edu/turf and Turfgrass blog, blogs.ksu.edu/turf.

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