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One ingredient is key for successful weed control

Quackgrass is a heavily rooted perennial. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

Classic humor bears repeating. How can you tell if a newly emerging, unidentified plant in your flower garden is a weed or your new high-priced perennial? Simply give it a tug. If it pulls out easily, it was the high-priced perennial. If it won't pull, it's a weed.

If you check Scripture, God never said, "Let there be weeds." The definition of a weed is "any plant out of place." Did you know dandelion, quackgrass, purslane and most of the "plants out of place" that we battle weren't originally here, but were instead imported into the United States?

Based on the unusually high volume of weed-related letters in the mailbag, I'm officially dubbing 2018 the Year of the Weed.

Many gardeners would like a spray of some sort to just make weeds go away, but the key ingredient to all weed control is knowledge. Without background basics, weed control can be ineffective or even dangerous, in the case of weed-killing herbicides applied randomly.

Following are weed-control basics that can help conquer weeds around the yard and garden.

• Perennial weeds have underground structures or roots that let them survive winter and live indefinitely year-to-year. Annual weeds live for one growing season and are killed during winter after perpetuating themselves by dropping seed for the next growing season. Knowing which type you're fighting is important.

• With perennial weeds, you're battling an established, winter-hardy plant. With annual weeds, you're battling temporary, soon-to-winterkill plants, but especially their seeds that will populate the soil for future growth.

• Most weed battles in vegetable gardens are with annual types, unless perennials like thistle and quackgrass have become established. Hoeing, cultivating, hand-pulling and mulching are the preferred weed controls in vegetable gardens.

• Annual weeds in flower gardens can be minimized using products, like Preen, applied before weeds appear to kill seeds as they sprout. Perennial weeds amongst perennial flowers are the more difficult situation, as Preen doesn't prevent such weeds from growing from established root systems. Digging, hoeing, pulling, smothering with mulch or precision spot-spraying with herbicide can reduce perennial and annual weeds.

• Herbicides are products that kill plants. We think of them as weed killers, but if they contact or drift onto susceptible "good" plants, damage or death can occur.

• Know the terms "broadleaf weed" versus "grassy weed." Dandelion, thistle and purslane are broadleaf weeds. Quackgrass, crabgrass and pigeon grass (foxtail) are grassy weeds.

• Herbicides fall into three groups. Some kill only broadleaf plants (like 2,4-D as found in Weed-B-Gon), some kill only grassy plants (like quinclorac and fluazifop as found in Grass-B-Gon) and some kill nearly any plant (like glyphosate, the ingredient in original Roundup).

• Recognize the difference between quackgrass and crabgrass, as their control is drastically different. Quackgrass is a perennial, and there are currently no available selective ways to eliminate this wide-bladed grass from lawns. Crabgrass is an annual that can be eliminated with timely early spring crabgrass preventer products, or with post-germination crabgrass killers applied when crabgrass seedlings are young.

• The most successful month to apply herbicides for weed control in lawns and landscapes is September as weeds begin transporting materials downward in preparation for winter.

• Successful alternatives to chemical weed control include smothering with mulch-covered fabric, newspaper or cardboard, hand-digging, pulling, hoeing and cultivating.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.

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