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Weed War, by Hopkins County Master Gardener Ronnie Wilson

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By Ronnie Wilson, Hopkins County Master Gardener

Now that spring is here and both the desirable and undesirable plants are growing again, it is time to begin the never-ending battle with weeds. 

It is a shame that the frigid February temperatures only seemed to harm our “good” plants, and left the “bad” ones undamaged. 

In order to begin combat with these weeds, it is first necessary to identify what type of weed is invading your landscape so that the proper control can be used.

Weeds are grouped into 3 categories — Broadleaf, Grasses, and Sedges. Each group has different structure as well as growing habits. Broadleaf weeds can be identified by looking closely at the stems, which are solid, can vary in shape, and are often branched. 

The leaves of these plants will vary in number, are wider than grassy weeds, and will have leaves at various points on the stems. Examples of broadleaf weeds include henbit, chickweed, dandelion, clover, thistle, dollarweed, and curly dock.  

The group of grassy weeds have hollow stems that can be round or flat. Leaves of this type of weed are usually grouped by twos, and they will alternate from one side of the stem sides. 

Common grassy weeds include crabgrass, Dallisgrass, rye grass, sandbur, Johnson grass, and the insanely hard to control Bermuda grass. 

mario villarino
Hopkins County Master Gardeners planting a tree in memory of Robert “Bob” Suson, February 2021.

Sedges may be the easiest to identify as their stems are solid, have a triangular shape, and the waxy leaves are clustered in a group of three, growing from the same point on the stem. Sedges grow and spread from underground rhizomes or tubers, and do best in excessively moist areas. Purple and yellow nut sedge and green kyllinga are common sedge “weeds.”

There are numerous controls for weeds on the market, and a trip to the local garden center can be extremely confusing. Some products prohibit weed seeds from germinating (pre-emergents), some disrupt the cell membranes of the plant (MSMA, DSMA), while others prevent the amino acids necessary for plant life (glyphosate). 

All herbicides are labeled with the active ingredients, a list of the weeds controlled, and with instructions for use. These directions must be followed exactly for best results. Blindly spraying “weed killer” in your landscape not only wastes money, but doing so can kill desirable plants, grass, and even trees. 

If in doubt about which herbicide to use, ask for help at your garden center, or visit the A&M Extension website:  https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu

Joan Brennan, Hopkins County Master Gardener and current president, visited with Pip Bickford with Carriage House Minor in Sulphur Springs as they evaluate the impact of sustained cold weather earlier on the year in landscaped areas of the facility. New plant selections and landscape plans are on the way to re-establish a needed spot for residents.

All pre-emergent products must be applied several months before the seeds begin to germinate, and have no effect on any weed you can see.  Two brands of this type are Dimension (for grassy weeds), and Gallery (for broadleaf weeds).

Post-emergent herbicides include those products containing DMSA or MSMA for grassy weeds, while 2,4-D is effective for broadleaf weed control. For sedges, product brand names Sledgehammer or Image are useful. 

The very popular herbicides Round Up and Finale are non-selective herbicides, meaning these products kill all types of plants.  Although these glyphosate based herbicides are very effective, gardeners should be extremely careful where they are used, as desirable plants can be killed by only a few drops.

And lastly, there is always the tried and true, old fashioned methods of weed control — hand pulling and using a hoe. With this method, there is no need to identify your weed adversary, just attack until the weeds’ roots are reaching for the sky! 

Cheap and 100% effective, the old ways also have the benefit of giving you more time in the garden, as well as being a source of outdoor exercise! 

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Author: Ross LaBenske

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