It's time to start thinking about next season's crop. In your dreams, you picture a beautiful, green field. It's lush with a strong plant population, lots of high-yielding plants and full of foxtail, marestail, Palmer amaranth and giant ragweed.
Instead of soybeans, your dreamy field is full of weeds. But that's ok, because that is exactly what you wanted. You took the right steps to grow a healthy weed crop.
"Ignore the little details, and the weeds will take over," quips Barry Nash. If you are just getting started growing weeds -- which Nash defines as plants in the wrong place -- lambsquarter, morningglory, cocklebur, velvetleaf, foxtails, waterhemp and Palmer amaranth are easy types to grow.
If you want to get a head start on 2015, consider now how you can grow better, stronger weeds.
Winter weather makes a big difference in your weed populations. Small-seeded grasses and broadleaves prefer a mild winter since it gives plants the best chance of emerging in the spring.
Small-seeded grasses and broadleaf weeds need sunlight, moisture and a soil temperature above 50 degrees to germinate in the top one-half inch of soil, Nash says.
"If you give plants those three things, you will grow lots of Palmer amaranth, lambsquarter and other weeds," says Nash, who has been helping farmers manage weeds for nearly 30 years.
If you live south of Interstate 70 or are a "618-er," as Nash says, warmer winter weather will be better for growing these weeds. However, farmers in northern Illinois have an advantage when it comes to growing large-seeded broadleaves such as giant ragweed, cocklebur and velvetleaf.
"These varieties need something to crack the seed coat," Nash says. "They need a hard winter with a freeze like last year's winter."
Mismanage Spring Herbicide Applications
Just like soybeans, weeds grow best when competition is eliminated and fertilizer is applied.
"If you want to grow more foxtails, apply a postemergence broadleaf herbicide to protect the grass," Nash says. "Killing off the competition always helps, and grasses will always win over broadleaf weeds."
Fifty to 100 pounds of nitrogen, along with average phosphorous and potassium applied in the spring, will help most weeds grow stronger. If you must grow soybeans with your weed crop, plant wide rows, 36 inches or wider, to give weeds the most sunlight once they emerge.
"It's so easy. Just give foxtail a little nitrogen and it grows like crazy. It outcompetes everything," says Nash, who answers 70 to 90 calls per day from FS crop specialists. The Southern Illinois University Carbondale graduate also helps train, teach and assist FS staff with issues. Most questions relate to treating weeds or figuring out such problems as crop injury.
If for some reason, you or your neighbor accidentally sprays weeds, hope for a few things. First, that you sprayed either when it was rainy or dusty. Rain causes herbicides to run off plants and into the fields. Gordon says dusty conditions protect plants from absorbing herbicides.
Second, hope that you didn't use the full rate. Just ignore the label and spray whatever you feel like using that day. If it says to use 40 oz. to kill weeds, try cutting that in half or in quarter. In fact, some farmers report that injuring weeds causes them to come back even stronger.
"If you want strong weeds, spray them when they get big. They won't die as easy," Gordon says.
And it is even easier for weeds to get ahead of you in non-GMO varieties, says Dean Atkins who raises non-GMO soybeans near Weston, Ill. If you accidentally spray the weeds, use the same mode of action each time. This will give weeds a chance to evolve and keep growing.
Hope for Good Summer Growth
Weeds will continue to need moisture and moderate heat in the summer, just like soybeans.
"What is good for a crop, is good for weeds. And it's only a weed because we don't want it there," Gordon says. "This past year was great for growing weeds."
"We're losing the battle against weeds this year. They're killer," said Doug Schroeder, who farms near Mansfield, Ill., and is an ISA director.
But if you are trying to grow more weeds, this past year was stellar, especially for farmers who waited too long to spray and had good soil moisture during the summer. Weeds go to seed in the summer, which is a crucial time for establishing a strong stand later that fall or in the spring.
Palmer amaranth pollinates from mid-July to August. If you mow at the end of August when the seeds are black, you will get a flush of new seeds. Don't forget that each Palmer amaranth plant produces hundreds of thousands of seeds. Humans easily transport the small seeds through grain, seed, or feed contamination; or on equipment such as combines.
Palmer amaranth is feisty. It grows aggressively. It competes with crops. It's invasive and it likes to travel. Under ideal conditions, Palmer amaranth plants can grow two or three inches per day, according to Purdue Extension. Within two months, Palmer amaranth plants that emerged May 29, 2013, were more than six feet tall at the Purdue Palmer amaranth research site. It might just be the super hero of weeds -- or the evil villain of soybeans farmers and weed scientists.
Marestail also is a determined weed. It will begin flowering in July and will set hundreds of thousands of seeds in August. It can germinate quickly once it hits the ground, according to Purdue Extension. This means that with the right growing conditions, it can get started in late summer and grow in the fall. In northern Illinois most marestail, which also is called horseweed, germinates in the fall, overwinters as a rosette, and begins to bolt in the spring. The larger the rosette is prior to winter, the greater the chance of survival in the spring.
"Marestail is a winter annual. Once it breaks dormancy in April, it's a monster. There really are no options to stop it. It's a total seed producer. Just leave it alone and let it grow," Nash says.
Agronomist Offers True Final Thought
"If you understand how weeds grow, then instead of just thinking spray, spray, spray, you can understand what weeds need and address what will improve the actual crop," says Nash.
For information on killing your stellar weed crop you've worked so hard to grow, visit with your local crop consultant or visit ilsoyadvisor.com or other trusted information sources.