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Get Out of the Weeds – Use the Right Tool for the Job

As our minds turn to gardening and hopes of warmer weather, we might think about weed control. There are many choices of herbicides at the store – but which one is right for your weed problem? The April 7th 2022 Sustainable, Secure Food Blog explains that while there is no one-size fits all solution, there are ways to chose the right solution for the right problem.

According to blogger Timothy Durham, hand pulling weeds can be a prudent solution. This is especially true if your weeds are few and far between. “But herbicides can be a gamechanger, if you ‘use the right tool for the job.’ Herbicides are designed to chemically manage weeds: devious, out of place plants that sabotage our fragile green thumbs.”

Unfortunately, there is no “Swiss Army Knife” of herbicides. They’re as diverse as a mechanic’s toolkit. Avoid the temptation to pluck anything from the shelf and apply it indiscriminately. Selection must be intentional – a careful alignment of herbicide properties with the weed(s) in question.

Fortunately, herbicides are grouped in straightforward ways, often in very black and white pairings. It’s important to understand how these branch points guide the decision-making process, so an appropriate choice can be made.

Pre-emergent herbicides are a pre-emptive strike. When applied and watered into the soil, they create an inhibitory chemical barrier around ungerminated weed seeds, preventing sprouting. Established plants are spared because most of their roots lie outside this shallow barricade.

Obviously, pre-emergent herbicides must be applied in anticipation of a problem. It’s also a solid option for newly prepared beds. If weeds are already growing, you’ve missed the window of opportunity. As an alternative to pre-emergent herbicides, consider growing cover crops in your garden, yet another valuable tool to keep weeds at bay.

Post-emergent herbicides are reactive, requiring a newly germinated (or established) weed.

Another comparison of herbicides is to look at Selective (Narrow Spectrum) vs. Non-Selective (Broad Spectrum). This pairing is a subset of the above. Does the situation call for a delicate surgeon’s scalpel (that only targets certain weeds), or a blunt force clubbing (an indiscriminate herbicide)? If you’re looking to perform a “reboot” in the garden and start from scratch, broad-spectrum herbicides are your best bet. Otherwise, you’re probably in the market for some selectivity based on the weeds present.

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