It’s a never ending war… the battle against weeds. Sadly the weeds we are trying to kill are not the only ones who suffer damage and have to pay the price. Find out what you can do in order to make sure it is the weeds that are suffering and not your tasty vegetables.
Weeds are nothing more than a plant out of place. Other people may have more choice words for these pests, but we all try to control them the best that we can. In the vegetable garden, weeds seem to grow twice as fast as in the neighbor’s yard. There are several methods that you can use to help control the pesky weeds before they become a major problem. The simplest method that requires the least amount of equipment is hand pulling. This works best on the weeds before they reach full maturity. To make it easier on you, water the area before you try to pull up the weeds. The mud makes pulling easier and allows you to get a bigger portion of the root with each tug. Solarization of the garden is another non-chemical method you can try. Place clear plastic over the area where the weeds are an issue and secure the edges. Allow the weeds to ‘bake’ under the plastic for 45 days in the peak of the summer season, which means you miss out on this years’ gardening season.
Herbicides are another option for controlling weeds. Preemergence herbicides work best to help control pesky annual weeds. These herbicides will also keep garden seeds from sprouting and shouldn’t be used in areas where plants are direct seeded in the garden. Preemergence herbicides, like Preen, are best if they are used in areas that will be transplanted into, the plants have already sprouted and the herbicide won’t affect the transplants. If grasses in the garden are an issue, a product specifically designed to control grass, like Over-The-Top, or a glyphosate product, like Round-Up, can help. Apply the products only to the weeds themselves, not the garden plants. Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide and will damage whatever plant material it is applied to. Be sure to read and follow all label instructions prior to applying the herbicides. Make sure they are labeled for use on the weeds that you have and that they are labeled for use in the garden.
Use caution when using certain types of herbicides around the garden. Some broadleaf weed herbicides such as 2,4-D are volatile, especially during hot weather, and may drift across the yard or even from adjacent yards in concentrations sufficient to cause injury. If possible, avoid applying this herbicide for weed control during summer months to escape injury to non-target plants. Tomatoes are one of the more sensitive plants to 2,4-D injury. Herbicide drift on tomatoes appears as leaves that are cupped, thickened, distorted or leathery, and which develop an uncharacteristic fan shape. The youngest foliage is often the most sensitive to the drift and will show the symptoms before the older foliage. If herbicide is suspected, inspect other plants in the area. Herbicide injury will typically be found on more than one plant. Other herbicide-sensitive plants include potato, pepper, grape and redbud and they will also show twisting or distortion. Whether or not long term injury will occur is difficult to evaluate. There is no way to know how much herbicide the plant received. We cannot recommend that affected produce from vegetables is safe to eat if it was exposed to herbicide drift. This is especially true for those vegetables that were on the plant at the time of the exposure.
With a little bit of caution now you really can have it all. You can control weeds in the garden, have your tomatoes and eat them too.
Elizabeth Killinger is the Horticulture Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension in Hall County. For more information contact Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org, her blog at https://huskerhort.com/, or HuskerHort on Facebook and Twitter.