Prevention Beats a Cure for Weeds

Herbicides can work. So can mowing. But the best weed control strategy, says growers, is to keep them from coming up in the first place.

By Becky Mills

Weed control can be a sort of Catch 22, says Bill Littler, a hay grower from Troy, Idaho. “We might use some chemicals but with timothy grass, it is touchy. It is very susceptible to most chemicals. The best thing is to get a very good stand of timothy.”

Littler says fall seeding works best for getting a clean field of timothy, but he is also successful with planting behind a spring crop of wheat or barley.

In Coppell, Texas, Ronnie Smith also swears by the prevention route of weed control. “If you have a good hay program, you won’t have a weed problem.” However, drought has made it more difficult to keep weeds out of his 180 acres of Coastal bermudagrass hay fields. He is a firm believer in rotational grazing, but says drought makes that more difficult, too, since the grass doesn’t re-grow after he moves the cattle.

When he does have weeds, they are normally ragweed, dove weed and yellow bitter root. He makes eradication a priority. “I do a weed inventory in the spring then spray if needed.” He adds, “if you can only afford to fertilize or spray, then spray first. You’ll get a 30 to 40% increase in production if you get rid of the weeds. Then you’ll let the sunlight in and the weeds are not competing with the grass for moisture.”

In his area, Smith says the prime time to spray is May or early June, and he uses a mix of 2,4-D and picloram. “After that it gets too hot and the weeds get too big. If you can’t spray before then, you’re better off mowing. But make sure you mow before they bloom.”

He also emphasizes, “the most important thing is the weeds have to be actively growing to be able to absorb the chemical and get the kill you want. That is what is so hard about controlling weeds during a drought.”

Smith also says, “fertility plays a big role in weed control. I fertilize once, normally in the spring.” He typically uses a liquid fertilizer and will add an herbicide if needed.

“The down side of spraying is you kill legumes,” he notes. “So I don’t spray unless I have to and if the benefits of spraying outweigh killing the clover and legumes.”

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