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Herbicide Knowledge Required to Control Weeds

One of the most laborsome chores for landowners and homeowners is controlling weeds and brush.  The constant mowing, trimming, pulling, and spraying of unwanted vegetation is a constant and aggravating battle during the peak spring and summer months.  The frustration only increases when the nuisance plants just re-grow, come right back, and all that work was for no avail.   When nothing else will grow, one can bet the weeds sure will.

Herbicides are usually the method of choice to provide longterm or permanent weed control. To add fuel to the fire of frustration is when herbicides don’t seem to work or provide long lasting control.  Herbicides can be expensive and time consuming to apply,  so they better work.  A better understating of how herbicides work and plants react might be in order.

Herbicide Facts

Here’s a reality check for landowners and homeowners using herbicides.  You are not going to see pesky plants melt and cry out before your eyes as if you poured water on the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz.  One has to have realistic expectations. Herbicides today just don’t work that way.

Herbicides are effective because they hinder or stop processes in a plant that are essential for life.  This is referred to as the mode of action. They might regulate growth, effect photosynthesis, block enzymes, etc. The effect of the herbicide can be slow or fast, depending on the mode of action or plant species.

For example, glyphosate, commonly sold as Round-up, once applied to a plant, translocates through the leaves.  It then inhibits amino acids blocking a specific plant enzyme. This process can take a while to occur thus is why weeds may not show signs of yellowing or death for a week or so.

The very popular broadleaf herbicide 2-4-D kills plants by mimicking a plant hormone that is important for growth. It actually overloads the plant with hormones that causes the weed to grow itself to death.  This type of mode of action is rapid and thus has quick visible results as seen in the leaf curling, yellowing, and then death.

The timing of the herbicide application is also very critical and can vary with weed species.  This can ultimately be the difference between success or failure – joy or frustration.  As a general rule, annual weeds are best controlled with herbicides when they are small and actively growing. For biennial weeds, apply herbicides when they are in the rosette stage of growth.  Established perennials and woody brush are most vulnerable in the bud to bloom stage, which often occurs in the early fall when food reserves are moving into the roots.

Brush is defined as woody shrubs, vines or trees that are undesirable in a specific location.  If you haven’t had much success controlling certain brush thus far, then your window of opportunity could be this fall.  Some brush species are harder to control than others. Plant size often dictates which application technique is required to achieve adequate control.  One may need to consider both foliar and cut stump applications. With plants storing food reserves, this means the fall season is a great time to tackle and spray some of those hard to kill plants like kudzu, privet, poison ivy, or sweetgum.

Buyer Beware

Lastly, do your homework on what herbicides are labeled for use on specific plants and locations.  There are lots to choose from, both homeowner and commercial products, so knowing which to buy and use can be quite confusing.  You must read the label and know what the product contains.  Don’t go by brand names or trust fancy phrases and images as many products are honestly marketed for consumer confusion.  Look for the active ingredient on the label in small print and be educated on what that is and really does. Herbicides can also be very expensive as well as an costly mistake on your lawn or garden if you buy the wrong thing.

Success is knowing these facts and using it your benefit and to the demise of the weed.

by Shane Harris 

The Christmas Tree Debate – Real vs Artificial

Christmas tree in snowy night

The Christmas holiday season is here again and the time has come to put up a Christmas tree.  One question that is raised each year is whether to get a real Christmas tree or use an artificial version. The ultimate goal is to have a beautiful Christmas tree for everyone to enjoy, but deciding which type to use usually comes down to personal preference. It is an important decision that has to be made, yet it can be a difficult one.  It is debatable on whether a real or artificial tree makes the best Christmas tree; there are pros and cons of each type.  Let’s look at the positives and negatives of each type and then you can make an informative decision.

Artificial Christmas trees have been around for many years and are now more common than ever.  The major advantage of using a fake tree is convenience.  It can be used year after year, doesn’t create much of a mess, and doesn’t have to be watered and maintained.  Many of the newer artificial trees look very realistic, now come with built in lights, come in array of seasonal colors, and are partly decorated.  Once the holiday season is over, you can just pack it up and store it until next year.

One disadvantage of artificial Christmas trees is that they can be sort of expensive, although in the long run they do pay for themselves.  The biggest flaw of artificial trees is they are indeed fake – some are cheap, look pathetic, and are an embarrassment.  Artificial trees do not have the same effect as real trees in regards to natural fragrance and appearance.  Most are made of plastic and metals with many not even coming close to looking like real trees.  A pole with green arms sticking out just doesn’t quite work, nor does it put you in the holiday spirit.  Another negative is that one also has to have the space to store it year after year.

Selecting a real living tree for a Christmas tree has been a tradition for centuries. They are many positives of using a real one.  First, the beauty of a real Christmas tree is simply spectacular. There are many species to choose from, they offer a natural pleasing fragrance, and they come in a variety of textures, sizes, and shapes.  There is something that can be said about the experience of going to the tree farm or nursery and picking out your very own Christmas tree.  It can be made into a special family event.  Real trees are also biodegradable and can be recycled into mulch or as a fish reef after the holidays.

Real Christmas trees do, however, have some negatives.  Purchasing a good looking, better quality tree will cost you several dollars.  They aren’t cheap unless you want a cheap looking tree. The cost you put into a real tree or two can sometimes be about the same cost of an artificial one. Another disadvantage is they have to be watered regularly to keep them looking good and to prevent them from drying out.  They can potentially become a fire hazard if they dry out and are near a heat source.  Clean-up can also be a big mess.  When the time arrives to take down the Christmas tree, the tree will likely be drier and will have started dropping lots of needles. There is also the problem of all the real trees not being recycled.  Instead, they wind up out with the garbage and in the landfills.

Whether you choose to have an artificial Christmas tree or a real Christmas tree, may it bring you joy and beauty this holiday season.

by Shane Harris, Tallapoosa County Extension Coordinator

Beginner Beekeeping Course Returns in January


Many people have a curious interest in beekeeping but are unsure if it is really for them?  Here are a few questions to ask yourself that might determine if you should become a beekeeper:

  • Do you enjoy the outdoors and do you enjoy supporting nature?
  • Do you enjoy gardening and nurturing plants?
  • Do you enjoy woodworking?
  • Do you enjoy a biological challenge?
  • Do you enjoy talking to people with similar interests?
  • Do you enjoy managing a sideline business?
  • Do you enjoy participating in a historical craft?

If you can answer yes to most of these questions, beekeeping is for you!

Amazingly, the interest in backyard beekeeping and honey production continues to grow.  But how to get started and understand what all is involved can be confusing and frustrating.  To help educate those interested in becoming a beekeeper, the Tallapoosa County Extension office, in partnership with the Tallapoosa River Beekeepers Association, will again offer its Beginner Beekeeping Course.  Plans are underway to host the course beginning January 12, 2017.

The six week course will be held on Thursday nights from 6 to 8 p.m. and taught by local and experienced beekeepers and experts.  All two hour classes will be held in Dadeville, with facility location still to be determined.  At the end of the series, each beginner beekeeper will have enough basic knowledge to start keeping bees, acquire and assemble the necessary equipment for the bees, and will have the opportunity to obtain bees to go in the equipment.  Cost of the series is $45 per person, and includes two textbooks.

If you would like to become a beekeeper or have any questions, please contact the Tallapoosa County Extension office at 256-825-1050 or view our a promotional flyer. Registration deadline is Friday, January 6, 2017.

How to Manage Fire Ants with Baits

fire ant bait - banner

Fire ants can be a major problem for anyone in the southeast and even in other parts of the country as well. Any outside area where someone may be walking, standing, sitting, or playing for any amount of time such as city parks where children play, athletic turf, camp sites, outdoor concerts, lawns, etc. are areas that probably need to be treated for fire ants. Even areas around vegetable gardens/fields and fruit orchards/plantings may need to be managed for fire ant control. Many growers who have “pick your own” farms, such as strawberry, blueberry, muscadine, blackberry, and some vegetables, may treat to keep their customers or employees picking.

Many products for broadcast and mound treatment can be used on some sites such as lawn areas, but only a few products are labeled for fruit and vegetable production areas. I like using broadcast baits because we can treat a large site without searching for individual mounds, and it is cheaper as well. Read the label of bait products to find out the different sites the products can be applied.

Extinguish Professional Fire Ant Bait (S-methoprene) is labeled for fruits and vegetables; Ferti-lome Come and Get It, Payback Fire Ant Bait, and various other trade names (Spinosad) is labeled for fruits and vegetables; Esteem Ant Bait (Pyriproxyfen) is labeled for select vegetables, and tree or vine fruits, refer to the label for specifics; Altrevin Fire Ant Bait Insecticide (metaflumizone) can be used on grape vineyards, citrus and nut trees, and non-bearing stone and pome fruit trees. Clinch (abamectin) is labeled for vegetables, citrus, nuts, apples, grapes, stone fruit, strawberry, and pear. Some of these products are only sold in 25 pound containers and would not be needed unless treating large acreage.

Contact your local Extension office, and we can help you decide on the treatment that is best for your site. Fire ants travel as far as they need to travel for food. It is possible to treat the lawn that is around but not in the garden or orchard site with a product labeled for lawns and still kill manage the ants in the adjacent site.

Extension Entomologist Dr. Kathy Flanders visited many retail stores, farm supply stores, and nurseries across the state and noted the fire ant management products available on the shelf. The list of the products available can be found in our Extension publication ANR 0175A – 2016 Fire Ant Control Materials for Alabama Homeowners”.  This publication also lists the approximate cost per acre of the different baits, cost per acre of residual insecticides designed to be spread, and the cost per ten mounds for individual mound treatments.

When using a fire ant bait or any other pesticide follow the directions on the label. These baits need to be kept in a cool dry place, and when they are opened, they need to be used quickly. Only purchase the amount needed, and do not try to keep the bait for use months later. The baits use an oil to attract the ants, and the oil goes bad if kept too long or not stored properly. The baits need to be applied when the ants are actively foraging. This means the baits need to be applied when temperatures are between 60 and 80oF. Do not apply the bait just before or after a rain or before or after disturbing the mound such as mowing grass. The baits are only good for a short period of time after the application, so conditions need to be right. All of this is explained on the label.

A trick to help you know when to apply the bait would be to put out some greasy potato chips around the site. Wait a few minutes and check the chips, if ants have covered them up then that would be a good time to apply the bait. If not, the application may need to be postponed to a later time. My favorite time to apply fire ant bait is spring and fall, but it depends on the site. Many of the baits should be applied at one pound to one and a half pounds per acre. On a small scale such as two acres or less, you can use a hand held spreader to apply the bait. On a larger scale, we have fire ant bait spreaders in many Extension offices around the state that hook up to ATV’s, tractors, and trucks that the client can borrow to spread bait.

As always, if you have any questions, give us a call at the Extension Office.

by Dr. Chip East, Regional Extension Agent – Commercial Horticulture