6_2.jpg THE MOTTO OF ONE OF THE DECADE?S most popular reality television programs is ?Outwit, outplay, outlast.? The premise certainly makes for dramatic TV, and while it may seem like a stretch to take business advice from a television show, it is, in fact, pretty good advice.

In the business world, you have to outwit, outplay, and outlast competing landscape contracting firms with tools like your marketing skills, your quality service, and your well-trained employees. The prize you?re after is winning bids and getting jobs.

In each individual landscape you maintain, instead of competing against other companies, you?re competing against the invaders of the landscape: pests like weeds. You want to control the weeds, and they want to take over. Weeds are persistent and crafty, and managing them really is a matter of outwitting, outplaying them, and outlasting them. They come back every season, but controlling them effectively will help make sure you do, too.

Your number-one winning move in regards to weeds is probably to keep them from popping up in the first place. This is called pre-emergence weed control. It is most often associated with the use of preemergence herbicides, which kill weed seeds before they have a chance to germinate in turf and in landscape beds. Controlling weeds also involves other tools and techniques, such as proper turf care and the use of mulch. To borrow a phrase from that TV show again, familiarizing yourself with preemergence weed control is one of the best ways to become a property?s ?sole survivor.?

Outwit weeds with pre-emergents

The first question you have to ask is: why is weed control so important in the first place? Weeds could be hurting other plants in the landscape by stealing water, nutrients, and light from them. Many people are also allergic to weeds, and can suffer skin reactions or breathing difficulties. Most importantly, however, is the aesthetic factor: weeds hurt the look of a landscape. They?re unattractive additions to a property.

But why not just wait until they grow to kill them? Why bother with pre-emergence products? For starters, established weeds are much more difficult to get rid of. ?Pre-emergence products are easier on the environment than the stronger poisons you need if weeds are large and established,? says Mike Cioffi, sales manager for Borst Landscape and Design, Allendale, New Jersey. ?It?s easier to kill a weed when it?s tiny, instead of the size of a dinner plate.? Furthermore, controlling weeds before they germinate is simply a more efficient way of doing business. You?re quite literally nipping the problem in the bud. Pulling weeds by hand in the numerous places they pop up can be time-consuming, as can spot-treating them with a post-emergence herbicide.

Putting down one or two applications of a pre-emergence product saves time and labor. There?s an old adage that ?an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.? It?s never been truer than with preemergent weed control. The most effective way to control weeds is to never let them get out of control in the first place.

Of course, one of the most important facts to remember in weed control situations is to have realistic expectations. No matter how many herbicides you use and how harsh they are, you?ll never succeed in completely eradicating weeds from a property (and in fact, might end up damaging the turf and ornamental plants in the process of trying). What your goal should be is exactly what you?ve been reading all along: weed control. You?re trying to limit weed infestations to a small number rather than expecting to annihilate every single one.

With that in mind, you don?t have to douse an entire yard in a pre-emergence product for an effective weed/seed kill. Instead, if possible, go ?weed scouting? the season before you apply a pre-emergent, and note any problem areas. Then, treat only those weed-prone spots. If one or two weeds pop up elsewhere, you can pull them up or spot treat them, but if you?re managing to control weeds in the most difficult, troublesome areas of the property, you know your weed management program is effective.

As part of your ?weed scouting,? it?s important to try to identify your findings, both the desirable plants in a landscape, and the weed species you hope to eradicate.

Some pre-emergent products target only a few weed species; others kill a wide range of weeds. It?s crucial to know that the weeds you are trying to kill are among the species listed on the label. There are a variety of sources to help you identify weeds you?re not familiar with, including books, the internet, and local nurseries.

If the product is going to be spread over turf, or come in contact with ornamental plants you don?t want to kill, it?s equally critical to know that it is safe for those species. Again, the label will tell you everything you need to know. As Michael Frilot, plant heath care manager for Stay Green, Santa Clarita, California, says, ?The labels are our laws. Always read the label.?

The label will also give you important application information. Some products have to be applied at a certain time of day and at certain temperatures to be effective, or be activated with water. If they sit on the ground for too long without being activated, they?ll rapidly lose their efficacy.

Outplay weeds on turf

There are few elements of a landscape as eye-catching as a brilliant emerald green lawn, and nothing can make it look worse than a sea of weeds rearing their ugly heads. Pre-emergence herbicides can be applied to turf in granular or liquid forms to prevent this. However, perhaps the easiest way to apply them is to find a fertilizer that has a pre-emergent already mixed in. That way, you can kill two birds with one stone?with a single application, you?re delivering the nutrients the turf needs to thrive, and the herbicide that the weeds need to die.

However, while herbicide can be a helpful way to control weeds in turf, it can?t be your only strategy. ?The best way to prevent weeds from sprouting in the turf is to maintain healthy turf,? says Bruce Hellerick, senior horticulture specialist for The Brickman Group, Gaithersburg, Maryland. ?It?s often amazing what proper turfcare can do to improve a property.?

Just like any other plant, weeds need water, light, and nutrients to survive. Your turf will die if you try to remove water or nutrients from it; however, you can prevent weed seeds from getting the light they need. You accomplish this by having lush, thick turf. If light can?t penetrate to the ground where weed seeds are, they will not be able to grow.

To keep your turfgrass at its thickest, you need to keep on top of mowing and fertilizing. You should mow frequently, and try to avoid scalping. Scalping creates an open canopy in the turf, allowing a great deal of light to reach weed seeds that may be lying in wait on the ground.

Fertilizer should be applied regularly, with an eye on the correct times to apply it for the particular turf species you?re dealing with. For example, heavy applications of nitrogen in the spring on cool season grasses can encourage excessive vertical leaf growth, bringing with it an increased danger of scalping, and therefore, more weeds.

Core aeration can be integral to the establishment of healthy turf, because it loosens compacted soil and increases the availability of water and nutrients. The spoons or tines of the aerator will also sever the roots, rhizomes, and stolons of the grass, stimulating the grass plants to produce new roots and shoots to fill in the holes. This can help create a much denser turf with increased weed resistance. Finally, overseeding thin areas can be another vital step towards keeping turfgrass plentiful and relatively weed-free.

Outplay weeds in beds

Controlling weeds in beds requires different strategies altogether from controlling weeds in turf. For one thing, you may need to choose a different pre-emergence herbicide. You also have more options as far as limiting the water and the light weed seeds receive, thus reducing the need for costly herbicides.

Of the pre-emergent products commonly used in beds, there are two main types. Most herbicides form a kind of barrier or sheet across the top of the soil; weed seeds that come in contact with that barrier are not allowed to germinate. There is a broad range of products that fit this category. However, if the soil is going to be disturbed frequently, due to traffic or new plantings, the barrier will be broken and weeds have an opportunity to germinate.

Luckily, there are a few preemergent products designed specifically for use in disturbed soil. In fact, not only will disturbing the soil not hurt these products, but they actually function better when they are worked in.

As far as limiting water and light, manufacturers of drip irrigation systems often say that drip products can be yet another weapon to use against weeds. Since water is only being delivered at the roots of ornamental plants, weed seeds more than a few inches away may not be able to get the water they need in order to germinate. You?re more precisely controlling the placement of water in a landscape, and preventing weeds from getting at it.

Landscape fabrics can also help. These block light from reaching any weed seeds beneath their surface. Mulch can serve this same purpose. If you can prevent light from reaching the ground, you can, in many cases, prevent weeds from growing.

Outlast weeds in the long-term

The true measure of success in any landscape maintenance project is often whether or not your contract is renewed when it?s up. Successfully managing the weeds on a property, and keeping the landscape as weed-free as possible, goes a long way towards keeping the appearance of the area at its best, which in turn keeps your clients signing with you.

However, weed control isn?t just about keeping the customers you already have satisfied with your services. It?s also about getting new Circle 135 on Reader Response Card Outwit Weeds with Pre-Emergent Control continued from page 46 customers. When a potential client drives by a property you maintain, and sees your truck out front (hopefully with your phone number printed clearly on the side), if the lawn is an endless, homogenous expanse of turf, that potential client will be much more likely to give you a call than if it is dotted with crabgrass. Similarly, the owner of that property will be much more likely to refer your services to his friends and neighbors.

In other words, your landscapes themselves are your best marketing tools. They?re your calling cards, and if you want to continue getting and keeping as many customers as possible, one good strategy can be to examine your weed control efforts. At the end of the season, who?s the survivor?the weeds, or you?