Spring is a great time of year. It's when all the misery of winter and the "will it ever end" feeling starts to change to optimism about the season to come, and the hassles and triumphs that it will bring. I would have said challenges but, let's be honest, that's just a word that someone who was frightened of telling the truth used once in a meeting with a flip chart to get around a tricky subject he didn't want to be too specific about.
"Challenge" comes in the same category as other useless phrases that are banded about such as "moving forward" and "let's run that one up the flagpole and see if it flies". What does that actually mean? Who actually thought of those phrases? In the real world they have very little meaning. My guess is that they were conceived to give the vague impression that the person who uses them has a great use of vocabulary, and ended up using too many words, and getting over very little meaning. And what has this to do with weed control? Everything.
If we cast our minds back to April 2007, all was well with the grass. The fertiliser was on, topdressings had gone down, the weather was a little dry, but not enough to complain about. And then it all went wrong! Or, as our friend with the flip chart would have said "we were presented with precipitation related challenges due to continued climate unpredictability". Or another way - we had the wettest summer months on record.
The wet conditions meant, in many cases, that travelling on fairways was not possible without causing rutting. This meant that treating weeds was simply not possible without causing damage to the turf surface. And this was if you weren't submerged! Contrast this with the drought threats to irrigation put in place in the summer of 2006.
So, this year we have a problem saved up from last year due to the never ending rain. The weeds that didn't get treated will have thrived in the warm, moist conditions, especially the perennials such as daisies, dandelions, and plantains which will have stored up a tremendous supply of resources and, from which, they can emerge in early May. The old farming phrase "one year seeding seven years weeding" still applies but, at least with the help of effective herbicides, we can chip a few years off the seven.
Due to last year's great growing conditions, many of the weeds coming through - the tough to control perennials - will be in good condition. To get good control of them more attention will need to be paid to the key aspects of selective weed control that contribute to the best overall result.
The process of successful weed control starts here. Make the conscious decision that you are going to do it and then commit to it. Dithering and debating whether to "go" or not will only favour the weeds, and give them longer to establish. If you didn't get on and spray last year you can stake your mortgage on the fact that they will be coming up again this year, but in greater numbers.
What to spray? When to spray? Who will do the spraying?
Unless you are confident in your weed identification, and can match the weeds you have with the weeds controlled on a product label, you need to seek advice. Only BASIS qualified advisors that are on the professional register (www.basisregistration.org.uk) can give advice on what products to use, so make sure you are getting the correct advice from a professional. Walk the course / pitch with them, and make sure you know what weeds you have.
A good technical representative will recommend the product that will treat your problem - match the active ingredients that make the products work to the weeds. This is the cost effective way to get the best result. Only if you have some particularly tough weeds, such as Yellow Suckling Clover, Celandine, Wood Rush, Black Medick, will you need to go for a premium priced product. If all you have are the usual suspects - clovers, daisies, plantains and dandelions then a good all rounder such as Relay Turf will achieve a good result for you.
There are some excellent herbicides available now. In the last two years new low dose products that have increased levels of both turf safety and efficacy against weeds have been brought to the market. There is an environmental consideration in product use too. Aside from the use of herbicides, the dose of the product plays a part in the overall impact on the environment. An example is needed here.
The higher the dose of a product the more product that is needed to control the weeds. A product that is applied at ten litres per hectare requires twice as much product to control the same weeds as a product that is applied at five litres per hectare, and so on.
You are also placing more product than is necessary into the environment. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the products are inherently safe, though if using less is an option, then why not?
Other considerations come into this too. It takes twice the packaging to contain the higher rate product, more fuel to move it, more space to store it and more rinsing of empties to make them safe after the product is used. They create twice as many empties to dispose of and, if you need to make arrangements to have them removed, this may be an additional cost. If you take account of the environment in your planning, the new generation of products will win hands down - less product used, less packaging, and less waste. Make this a key point of choosing your product.
Who is going to do it? This too is a big part of planning. Herbicides only work as well as they are applied. If you have a sprayer then get it ready to spray. When you have ordered the product clean the sprayer. Start at the tank and clean all the filters, then the nozzles. Check it for leaks, worn hosing, perished pipes, cracks etc. This may help spot problems before they occur - the last thing you want is a hose to burst on a central run down a fairway, and the scorched grass that will mark where it happened. Then calibrate your sprayer.
This all takes time and, when the pressure is on to present your grass to best effect, it may feel like an onerous task, but a clean calibrated sprayer will deliver a far better more consistent result than one that isn't. If you aren't comfortable doing this, or don't have the time there is always the option to bring in a specialist.
Bringing in a specialist to apply your herbicides is often a good decision. It will free up time in a peak period to allow you to keep on top of day to day stuff, and let a specialist take care of the COSHH, record keeping and delivering the results. Your time is valuable and using a good contractor can be a cost effective option during peak times as the busier you are the more your time is worth.
When you are looking for a contractor make sure he is up to the job. At the minimum he should have specialist turf kit with the correct tyres. He should also be a BACCS member, and be NRoSO registered. BACCS (BASIS Advanced Contractor Certification Scheme) and NRoSO (National Register of Spray Operators) are schemes put in place to allow the professional committed providers of an expert service to demonstrate they are operating to the highest standards.
To qualify under the schemes independent audits must be passed and continued professional development points must be earned to keep scheme accreditation. This takes commitment. Think of the time you spend on your grass. Would you let someone who wasn't committed loose on it?
Timing, as with many things in life, is crucial. Spray too early and you will miss some of the weed flush coming through. Spray too late and the early emergents will be slightly more resilient, taking longer to die off. There may be frosts in April. Spraying and then having a ground frost may cause turf damage, so be careful, especially around north facing ground and cooler shaded parts. May is a good time to start - most of the weeds will have come through and the frost risk will have gone.
The best timing is down to sound judgment. You know your local conditions - when you feel that the majority of your weeds have emerged it's time to go to the next step. Spraying.
The best results from spraying are achieved when variation caused by the environment can be managed to reduce interference with the product. Wind - reduce drift by spraying early in the day in sound conditions. A breeze of more than 6 metres per second is too much. If the wind is low you can use fine to medium classed nozzles - this will achieve better coverage or deposition of the product on the leaf and give a better result. Only use coarse nozzles if it is breezy. How can this be done? Mark a day to spray. Use the forecast to select your day and then go with it. Delegate other jobs if need be, but get on and get it done. If you choose to bring in a specialist then he will need to know when you will need him. Give him as much notice as possible so you can be diaried in and take priority.
Communication and planning between you both will help immensely when coordinating availability with when you would like the job doing. The more notice you can give, the closer to the front of the queue you will be.
To sum up the points to think about this spring and to prevent the plants that grow in the wrong place making all your hard work look disappointing, here are a few dos and don'ts.
• Commit to treat the weeds, make the decision early.
• Get some on the ground advice from a BASIS professional.
• Select a product that will treat the weeds you have.
• Service and calibrate your sprayer.
• If you use a spraying specialist give him plenty of notice.
• Commit to and stick with the best day you can.
• Enjoy the results of a well planned job.
• Dither. Waiting to see what comes up only favours the weeds.
• Choose a product because it is cheap - choose the right one.
• Wait until the last minute to prepare.
• Hope the sprayer is okay from last year - service it.
• Try and do spraying between other jobs. You will get an inconsistent result.
It would be nice this year to get weather we could all call average after the extremes of 2007 and 2006. Let's hope that this year is unremarkable, which will make it worth remembering.
About the author: Paul Cawood is Sales Manager for Languard Ltd. Email firstname.lastname@example.org