Pest Management Guidelines
Organic Weed Control
(Reviewed 12/09, updated 6/12)
Controlling weeds in organic cucurbits requires the use of many techniques and strategies in order to achieve economically acceptable weed control and yields. Weeds can always be pulled or cut out, but the question is simply how much can a grower spend in terms of time and money to reduce weed pressure. The more a grower is able to reduce weed pressure (seed and perennial propagules), the more economical it is to produce crops.
Monitor the fields and keep records of the weed species that occur in each field during the period of the year when the crop will be grown, especially at planting time but before hand weeding or cultivation to determine what weeds have escaped treatment. Not only are these records valuable in planning weed management strategies, but they also help track the occurrence of hard-to-control weeds. At harvest, keep records of specific locations in the field where weeds are producing seed. Weed patches are relatively stable within a field and management of these weed clusters may improve weed control in future crops. Avoid fields that have high populations of certain weeds such as common purslane, field bindweed, or nutsedge, as these weeds are not adequately controlled by currently available weed management methods.
Dust mulches are also used in cucurbits. This technique is compatible with the process of pregermination. After weeds are killed by cultivation, the top 2 to 3 inches of soil are allowed to dry and form a dust mulch. At planting the dust mulch is pushed away and large seeded cucurbits can be planted into the zone of soil moisture. The cucurbit seed can germinate and grow with no supplemental irrigations that would otherwise germinate another flush of weeds.
Drip tape buried below the surface of the bed can provide moisture to the crop and minimize the amount of moisture that is available to weeds on the surface. If properly managed, this technique can provide significant weed control during the non-rainy periods of the year.
The goal of cultivation is to remove the weeds as close to the seed row as possible without disturbing the crop. In most cases precision cultivation can take care of weeds on over 90 percent of the bed. The remaining weeds must be removed from the seed row by hand or other mechanical means. Cultivation implements are often mounted on sleds for accurate, close cultivation in row crops. Guide wheels, cone wheels, and other devices are also used, but are generally less precise than sleds. Various implements are attached to these guidance setups to remove weeds.
Even the best cultivators will not eliminate all weeds, thus hand weeding is often needed. It is easier to remove weeds while they are small. The proper timing between cultivations depends on the speed of weed growth: in spring a 2- to 3-week period is about right, in the fall or winter, longer periods between cultivations may suffice.
Early occurrence of persistent weeds may be more damaging to crop yield than are weeds that establish late. Late-season weeding often disturbs crop root system or knocks off flowers or fruit and consistently results in reduced yields. Obviously, late season cultivations to reduce weed seed production must be weighed against the potential for yield loss.
Plastic mulches vary in thickness from 1.5 mil to about 4 mil. The most common plastic color for weed control is black, as it completely blocks light. Plastic mulches are generally placed on the beds and their edges covered with dirt to prevent their blowing away. Drip irrigation is needed under the plastic mulches to provide the crop with moisture. Certain weeds such as nutsedge are not completely controlled by plastic mulches, because they are able to penetrate the plastic. Other weeds are also able to grow in the openings provided for crops. Further problems with plastic mulches include maintaining them in place under windy conditions, disposal after crop harvest, and the cost (including the need for drip irrigation).
Organic mulches such as municipal yard waste, straw, hay, wood chips, etc., must be maintained in a layer 4 or more inches thick. Coarse green waste works better as a mulch. Organic mulches can also be grown in place. Plants used in this way include subterranean clovers, ryegrass, fava beans, oats, barley, rye, etc. These mulches (or living mulches as they are sometimes referred) must die or be killed before planting the crop to avoid excessive competition with the crop.
UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines: Cucurbits
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