Everyone is looking for ways to save money or do more with less. In some areas, there really isn’t much that can be done without sacrificing quality. Fortunately, weed control isn’t one of them. Real opportunity for cost savings exists if you just make a little extra effort.

The best place to start is with the examination of baseline information for your facility. This involves revisiting each weed management procedure, as well as the cost involved for each. Computer software spreadsheets are excellent for identifying the costs associated with current weed control efforts, but for those technologically challenged, a simple chalkboard or legal pad may suffice.

As each is scrutinized, develop a list of alternatives for each function. Be sure to list all costs, including equipment, labor and products. Therefore, as alternatives are considered, an apples-to-apples, commonsense comparison can be made.

Prioritize areas within your facility

  • Certain areas of a sports field are simply more important than others, both in terms of appearance and function. On a football field, the majority of the team play occurs between the hash marks and 20-yard lines. As a result, these areas are likely to wear down and lose density, resulting in a greater incidence of both broadleaf and grassy weeds. If funds for products and labor are limited, they should be directed to the greatest area of need.
  • In addition to the field of play, consider the importance of amenity, parking or concession areas. On some facilities, these are named for famous alumni or donors to the program. There’s nothing worse than to pay tribute to an important booster with a weed-infested patch of turf near the placard bearing their name.
  • Rate each area of the facility as high, medium or low priority. One possible approach is to treat all high-priority areas every year, and medium or low-importance areas less frequently.

Identify the target weeds

  • It’s always important to identify the species of weed before attempting control measures, but even more so when limited resources are a concern.
  • If an incorrect identification is made, the herbicides chosen for what is thought to be the target invader may not be effective. In order to stretch your herbicide dollar, utilize resources such as books and internet-based tools, including grass and weed identification. Purdue University, Michigan State University and Virginia Tech all have excellent websites.

Timing

  • Timing is everything, and with regard to weeds, it is perhaps the most important factor in control.
  • In the life cycle of each weed, there is an optimal point for treatment. Make sure you apply herbicides at the most vulnerable stage of the weed’s life to get the most bang for the buck and reduce the need for retreatment.
  • Treatments for annual grassy weeds such as crabgrass and foxtail are good examples. Postemergence applications to existing weed plants are not nearly as effective as preemergence herbicides that kill young seedlings before they make above-ground growth.

Consider all costs of control methods

  • In many organizations, especially school systems and various governments, a high percentage of the overall operating budget is personnel or labor. To try to reduce these costs, look further into the specifics of the labor pool. For example, if you have an abundant supply of good high school summer laborers that work for $8 an hour, pulling weeds and repeated herbicide treatments with low cost/low effectiveness materials make sense, even though that may not have been your first thought.
  • Managers of facilities that employ a limited staff should consider more effective herbicides even though they might cost more. In situations where two people are responsible for a multitude of sports fields, steps to avoid retreatment reduce overall cost, even though they generally require a greater initial investment in product.

 Use local resources

  • When looking for cost-cutting options, consider materials already on-site or nearby. For example, if your facility is near a sawmill or pallet assembly business, inexpensive mulch is likely to be available. Even though not considered to be a “premium-grade” product, cheap or free mulch works just as well for suppressing weed growth in flower beds and for paths between fields as more refined products do.
  • Rock quarries can also be a good source of inexpensive materials for weed control. Mulch won’t eliminate the need for hand pulling or herbicides, but it certainly will reduce it.

Spray check

  • Misapplication of herbicides cost money, regardless of an over or underapplication. Make sure you’re getting the most value from each treatment by ensuring your equipment is applying the material evenly and adequately. If it’s not working up to snuff, the need for retreatment is greatly increased. Of course, treating the same area twice instead of once effectively doubles the cost of the weed control effort, requiring more product and more labor to apply it.
  • Performing a spray check is easy to overlook, but in terms of cost savings, it has great potential. A recent study of green industry pesticide application equipment conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln revealed that an overwhelming majority were less than 50 percent efficient. Each piece of equipment was found to be flawed in some way. Common inadequacies included plugged nozzles, worn spray tips, missing nozzles, bent application arms, leaky valves and cracks in hoses.

Organize work days

  • Donor groups and the parents of the youth in leagues might be able to give you one Saturday morning a month to pull weeds and spread mulch. Of course, extra help might be more of a problem than a solution. In order to utilize volunteers effectively, weed identification training is a crucial first step.
  • Unless the economy improves dramatically in the next year, sports turf facility managers will be faced with the reality of needing to cut costs in all aspects of their operation. Wise individuals will begin a thorough audit of existing costs and consider alternatives for the upcoming season.

John Fech is an extension educator specializing in turf and ornamentals at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Roch Gaussoin is a professor of horticulture and extension turf specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.