The ground is thawing, birds are chirping, and gardeners are hittin’ the flower beds. Little green guys push through the dirt surface; some are keepers and some have to go, but how? Is pulling unwanted weeds really the way to go, or will pulling them be a waste of time and simply increase the infestation?
Understanding the weed’s growth cycle is important to understand how the weeds will respond to hand-pulling pressure. Annual plants complete their growth cycle in one year. Biennials complete their growth cycle in two years. The first year, the biennial plant produces a rosette and grows a tap root for energy reserves. The second year, the plant bolts into a large plant with many seeds. Pulling annual and biennial weeds can be effective if they are pulled before the plants go to seed. It is best to pull biennial weeds in their first year of growth. Removing the plant in the first year means less plant to remove and a better chance at fully removing the long tap root.
Annual and biennial weeds can still be removed after they have gone to seed, but it is best to promptly put them in a garbage bag to reduce the chance of spreading seeds. If the weeds have been sprayed with herbicide, it’s still a good idea to secure them in garbage bag before disposing of the “dead” weeds. Although herbicide is usually a very effective control method, some especially pesky weeds may still have viable seeds even after being treated with herbicide.
When it comes to hand-pulling, perennials respond best to a different control method or combination of methods. Perennials are plants that live more than two years. They store nutrients in their roots and re-grow each year from the roots or seed. Hand-pulling is not as successful because perennials are often stimulated from root or stem disturbances. By hand-pulling, perennial weeds may be encouraged to grow bigger and stronger than before.
The best time to control perennials is in the spring or early summer when they are actively growing, or in the fall right after the first hard freeze. Frost tells the perennials to start moving the nutrients from the plant parts into the root system to save up for next year. By timing treatment at this time, the plant will take the herbicide into the root zone where it is most effective at controlling the weed.
In addition to hand-pulling and chemical treatments, biological (insects and pathogens) and cultural (grazing, planting, inter-seeding) treatments can be effective control methods. Often times a combination of these methods, an integrated approach, is the most effective.
To help identify your weeds as annual, biennial, or perennial, or to create a management plan, contact Carbon County Weed and Pest. Remember to always read herbicide labels for the appropriate time of year for application and important safety information!