The Early Bird Gets the Weed

Now more than ever, Steve Miller and his fellow lawn care operators (LCOs) need products that will do multiple jobs — and do them well.

The president of Top Cut Lawn Services near West Palm Beach, Fla., Miller says getting value for money is “obviously very important” to his business’ bottom line, given the current economic environment.

“Prices for our services aren’t going up; they’re going down,” said Miller, whose company provides lawn care services for residential communities featuring as few as 60 units and as many as 1,100, plus common areas for communities with as many as 2,400 units. “We’ve got to find ways around that.”

One way Miller has cut expenses is by using a long-lasting preemergence herbicide that also provides postemergence control of a broad spectrum of broadleaf and grassy weeds. As a result, Miller said has cut his workforce from 12 men to just five in the winter months.

“I’ve never seen results like this,” said Miller, adding that the long-term value of an effective preemergence herbicide will “definitely offset” the initial cost.

As residential and commercial LCOs battle it out for survival some observers say LCOs are engaging in increasingly desperate price wars in some markets, slashing the prices of their services the one thing they cannot afford is to have to do the same job twice. In a tight economy where many residential customers are tightening their belts, LCOs need to do everything they can to limit callbacks and other unnecessary expenses.

“If you have to go back even once for spot hand-weeding because of a failed herbicide application, that’s a lot of money you’re spending to go back with a crew and do that,” said Dr. Hannah Mathers, associate professor of horticulture and crop science at The Ohio State University and the state extension specialist for nursery and landscapes crops in Ohio. “Why not use something effective in the first place?”

Pair herbicide with mulch

Although Mathers said many LCOs have cut back on preemergence applications in order to save money, she encourages them to look at the long-term costs. Rather than cut out an application in order to save some money in the short term, Mathers recommends LCOs make two preemergence applications per year — one in the fall and another in the spring and that they not skip either one.

“LCOs usually go out with a granular application in the spring but they forget about winter annuals,” said Mathers. “You have to make a preemergence application in the fall, too, for perennial plants going to seed.”

One way LCOs can effectively control costs, Mathers said, is to reduce the amount of mulch they use and pair the remainder with a preemergence herbicide.

“We’ve done quite a bit of research on mulches and preemergence herbicides, and putting the two of them together is an effective way to control weeds,” said Mathers. “The products work well together. Mulch is very expensive — way more expensive than herbicides — and applying it is more expensive, too. It requires a lot of labor.”

Instead of spending an inordinate sum on mulch, Mathers said LCOs can combine mulch at a depth of up to 2-1/2 inches with a preemergence herbicide applied on top of it.


Applying the herbicide on top of mulch cuts down on splash and results in “way less” potential injury to ornamental plants. Also, the use of an effective preemergence herbicide can reduce the need for frequent, time-consuming, expensive and labor-intensive applications of glyphosate. And that’s not to mention the potential for damage to high-value materials from excessive use of glyphosate.

According to Mathers, it’s important to consider all angles and avoid short-sighted decisions whenever possible.

“Most people are thinking, ‘What am I going to pay when I go to the store?’ They aren’t thinking about the costs they’ll incur later on, but they should be,” she said. “You can save money, but you have to be using preemergence herbicides to do that.”

Out of sight, not out of mind

When Dr. Jason Fausey, a regional field development manager for Valent Professional Products, meets with LCOs around the country to discuss their preemergence weed control needs, a few key points come up every time.

“They want broad-spectrum control of a wide range of weeds as well as a product that’s going to last a long time,” Fausey said.

The difficulty in removing many tough landscape weeds once they have taken hold, combined with the possibility of injuring high-value plants in the process, places an even greater premium on effective preemergence control.

“In this market, more than any other, it’s important to have a preemergence program. In landscape settings, you never want to see weeds,” Fausey said. “There are so many plants involved in landscapes that the possibility of finding a postemergence herbicide that won’t hurt or injure any ornamental plant is nonexistent. The business of landscape weed control is preemergence weed control.”

That business is becoming more competitive every day. Dr. Charles Gilliam, a professor of horticulture at Auburn University, said residential LCOs are “cutting bids real low, so people who do commercial landscaping have to, too. They’re just trying to survive.”

When LCOs look for ways to reduce overhead, they inevitably look to the products they use. Products that provide pre- and postemergence control with the same application are more versatile and save the LCOs time and money — two of their most precious commodities.

Using a preemergence herbicide for landscape weed control certainly makes more sense than the alternative.

According to Mathers, some people may have been afraid of preemergence applications, but they may be at a place now where they have to use them. They may have cut back on preemergence applications and started relying on postemergence herbicides, but the cumulative cost and potential for damage means they’re not saving anything at all.

Article provided by Valent Professional Products, manufacturer of SureGuard Herbicide and a portfolio of other pest-management products for landscape and lawn professionals.

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