Fall Weed Management Advice

by Rich Bonanno, UMass Extension Weed Specialist

Weed management is still important at the end of the season. There are three main activities that need to be completed. They are: fall field scouting, preventing weed seed production, and controlling perennial weeds. 

End of Year Weed Scouting

It is worthwhile to take the time to check fields for weed problems at this time of year. A quick scouting can identify problems that will be expensive to solve if they get out of control and can provide clues that will help in designing a weed management program for next year. Mapping weedy spots, and keeping some kind of permanent record of weed surveys, can help you evaluate your weed management over the years. Make a map of each field and fill in the following information:

How Many? How dense are the weeds? 

If weeds are very dense, they may be having an impact on yields. This is especially true if these weeds emerged early in the season, when competition is greatest. If weeds were actively growing during the period of greatest crop growth, consider changing the weed management program.

Which Weeds?

Identifying weeds can help identify potential problems before they get out of hand, and can help you decide if you need to modify your weed control program. Weeds like yellow nutsedge, field bindweed, and quackgrass are spreading perennials, which have underground parts that enable them to spread throughout whole fields.

Because these weeds can be very damaging, and are very difficult to control, they are worth “nipping in the bud”. In addition, keep an eye out for annual weeds that are new to a field or are increasing in numbers. Some weeds can be very difficult to control in some or all of the crops in your rotation. Galinsoga, for example, is hard to control in cole crops, peppers, and squash. Nightshades are difficult to control in tomatoes for growers who rely on herbicides for control, because they are in the same family as tomatoes. Velvetleaf is hard to control in sweet corn.

What worked?

It is also useful to look at the whole field and evaluate the effectiveness of your weed control efforts. If some weeds are generally escaping, identify them. They may point to weaknesses in your herbicide or cultivation program. If mostly grasses, or mostly broadleaves are escaping, it may require an adjustment of either the rates or the timing of grass or broadleaf herbicides. You may also find the New England Vegetable Management Guide useful. This manual contains a chart listing the effectiveness of vegetable herbicides on most of the common weeds in New England. Use this guide to find an herbicide labeled for your crop that might give better control than the one which was used.

Where are the weeds?

Weeds in the rows or planting holes are much more damaging to crop yields than between-row weeds. Weeds in rows may be an indication that cultivation equipment needs adjustment, or cultivation needs to be done earlier.

Preventing Weed Seed Production

Annual weeds produce incredible amounts of seeds. Annual grasses normally produce 3,000 to 5,000 seeds per plant, small seeded annual weeds such as pigweed and lambsquarters can produce 100,000 to 250,000 seeds per plant, and larger seeded broadleaf weeds such as velvetleaf and smartweed can produce 5,000 or more seeds per plant. Perennial weeds can also produce seeds or other reproductive structures. For example, one yellow nutsedge plant can produce 2000 tubers. Perennial weed management is covered below. Once fields are harvested, they should be tilled or disked as soon as possible to prevent seeds from maturing. Be especially concerned with weeds that are new to a field or are in abundant supply. If time is short, one alternative is to mow the weeds. This will remove the primary seed stalk but will also encourage lateral branching. Eventually, however, these branches will produce seeds and must be destroyed.

Perennial weed management

The best time to control perennial weeds is in the Fall. All perennial weeds have storage structures (tap roots or rhizomes) below ground that enable these plants to survive the winter and regenerate themselves the following year. Fall tillage of perennial weeds will kill top growth and fragment the storage organs but will not kill the weed. Frequent tillage will, over a long period of time, control perennial weeds but, in most cases, this is not practical.

Perhaps the best control technique for perennial weeds is an application of glyphosate (Roundup) before the plant goes dormant. Perennial broadleaf weeds such as bindweed or dandelion should be sprayed while they are still actively growing which is usually before a hard frost. Perennial grasses, such as quackgrass, can be sprayed as late as mid-November.

Use 10 to 20 gallons of water per acre when spraying Roundup. Two quarts of the herbicide will provide much better control at 10 gallons of water per acre than at 40 gallons of water per acre. Spraying on a mild afternoon following a cold or cool morning is best to encourage translocation of the herbicide to the below-ground storage structures. Disking or tilling two weeks after application will also improve control of the weeds.

Many growers fight perennial weeds such as quackgrass in corn fields year after year because their primary goal in the Fall is to plant a cover crop. This is usually followed by a Spring application of roundup which provides top kill but does not kill the whole weed. Applying Roundup at the proper time is the only way for it to achieve good control. Delaying the seeding of a cover crop may be a necessary evil in the fight against perennial weeds.


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