The best defense is a good offense

My weed science professor in college once told the class that according to one estimate, controlling weeds consumed more human energy and time worldwide than any other single activity. The interesting thing was that when he said this, nobody in the class gasped in amazement, argued or asked for proof. No one doubted it. To anyone who has to deal with weeds, it's not a difficult fact to accept. Weeds just never seem to end.

To be sure, chemical controls have made us much more efficient at weed control. However, strategies for controlling weeds, whatever tactics they employ, occupy much of our attention and probably always will. Recognizing this, we focus this issue on our ever-present foe, weeds.

This month's cover feature, written by Kansas State University's Dr. Matt Fagerness, takes you back to the basic concepts of weed-control strategizing … identifying weeds, learning their life cycles and choosing the most appropriate cultural and chemical controls.

A cultural “control” that few people even think about (in those terms) is simply good turf management. The healthier the turf, the harder it is for weeds to gain a foothold. You might say that the best defense is a good offense. (It's the season for football playoffs, so I couldn't resist just one sports metaphor.) Some turf just never seems to have a serious weed problem, and this often is the reason.

Weeds, like turf, need light, water, nutrients and physical space to survive. A thick turf deprives them of this. As the University of Georgia's Dr. Clint Waltz explains in “Broadleaf weed warfare” on page 20, people often blame weeds for weak, thin turf. In fact, the opposite is more often true — weeds invade because thin turf allows them the opportunity. It's ironic that those calling for fewer chemical inputs in turf maintenance often ignore the reality that the resulting declining turf quality will eventually require more chemical inputs.

The same principle operates in landscape beds. Mulching beds provides several benefits, not the least of which is weed suppression. The mulch deprives weed seedlings of light, much as a thick turf does.

Regardless, when you do have a serious weed infestation, you usually rely on chemicals to do the job. This issue contains the first of our annual series of Chemical Updates, covering turfgrass herbicides (see page 22). It's a unique reference, covering nearly all turf herbicides and weeds in a format that allows you to easily find the chemical solutions to your weed problems.

Is it too early to be thinking about insect control? Not at all. Dr. Rick Brandenburg of North Carolina State University discusses tracking pest development with degree-days in “How to: forecast pest problems,” starting on page 42. Using degree-days, you can know when to start looking … and when it would be pointless.

Finally, a topic on everyone's mind right now: the economy. These aren't the best of times, but there are ways to cope, even thrive, when the economy isn't doing so well. Green industry consultant James Huston tells you how to sustain a healthy business in a down economy.

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