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Sandy Feather: Asparagus weed killer needed

Saturday, October 13, 2001

Q. My asparagus patch was always weed-free as long as I used Berry's Asparagus Weed Killer. I used to get it from Agway, but it has been taken off the market. Is there another product I can use that controls the weeds without harming the asparagus?


Send questions to Sandy Feather by e-mail at slf9@psu.edu or by regular mail c/o Penn State Cooperative Extension, 400 N. Lexington St., Pittsburgh 15208. Due to volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.


A. I am not familiar with that specific herbicide, but the active ingredient may no longer be registered for use in home gardens. There are many products registered for agricultural or commercial use that are no longer available to home gardeners. Under the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, all pesticides are being scrutinized for the amount of that pesticide the public is exposed to, whether from residues on food crops, structural pest control or home gardening applications. Those that are widely used may have some or all of their uses canceled to reduce public exposure to that pesticide. Hence the restrictions on products such as Dursban (chlorpyrifos) and diazinon that will occur in the next year or two.

There is a product called Preen (trifluralin) that is registered for use around established asparagus plants. Preen is a pre-emergent herbicide, which means that it keeps weed seeds from germinating. However, it will not kill weeds that are already growing, or those that grow from established roots. You will have to hand-pull any established weeds in your asparagus bed. According to the label directions, it is best applied after the old ferns are removed, but before spear emergence in spring.

Preen should be watered in thoroughly or lightly tilled into the soil. Otherwise, it will break down on exposure to sunlight and lose its effectiveness. You may find it helpful to mulch your asparagus bed with clean oat straw after applying the herbicide. The straw will help keep weeds down, maintain soil moisture and moderate soil temperatures. It should be removed during fall cleanup to eliminate an ideal overwintering site for asparagus beetles. Once the ground freezes, remulch the bed with fresh straw to protect the plants from freeze/thaw cycles and to protect the soil surface from erosion.

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