EDITOR’S NOTE: This series of articles is to introduce the South Dakota Extension Specialists who trained Master Gardeners in Yankton last summer and share about their activities and resources that are available for the public.
In his job, Gared Shaffer responds to what makes weeds grow so well in his job.
Shaffer is South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension Weeds field specialist at the SDSU Extension Aberdeen Regional Center. His emphasis is farmers’ and ranchers’ row crop and pasture weed control.
Without an Extension Horticulturist available last summer, he addressed garden and yard weed management for Master Gardener Interns and active Master Gardeners at the Yankton training site.
“Weeds are adapted to the environment we have them in. Weed seeds are prolific with so much seed production. They’re (competitive with crop plants) partly due to the temperature and moisture levels where we live. Years of higher moisture equals more weeds. Dryer years equal less moisture to germinate weed seeds. Some weed control practices spread weed seeds. When weeds are not controlled in the fall or early spring, they get out of hand,” he said about weed challenges.
Shaffer has been with SDSU Extension three years and has several articles available to the public. These include topics on herbicide damage, effects of spring floods on weed seed movement, and cows eating weeds. See the articles and resource personnel information at the Extension website: www.sdstate.edu.
“As a Kansas State graduate student, I had a few acres to keep weed free,” he said. “I couldn’t use herbicide because of the study, so I used a stirrup hoe. I use it now to knock down weeds. It’s easy to use. It cuts the roots right at the ground surface. It’s especially great for annuals.”
“A weed is a plant out of place; we don’t have to demonize it. It’s in that location that it doesn’t work. Often, it’s introduced plants that are a problem. Some come from our ancestors who brought them here for beneficial reasons at the time, but later got out of hand,” he said.
Extra moisture helped some planted fields, pastures and gardens last season, but also encouraged unwanted plants in bare spots. Shaffer’s approach to garden weeds is integrated weed management that includes weed identification, prevention and monitoring. It also includes his backyard garden experience.
“I like to work with more innovative weed control methods. I look for ways that are easier for weed control and promote plant health,” he said. Lasagna or layered nutrient and weed barriers, plastic weed barriers where necessary, mulch and soil amendments to improve the soil health and suppress weeds are some examples.
He looks for local materials to use as mulch that provide some nutrition and are adequate weed barriers.
“Second or third cutting alfalfa provides organic matter, nitrogen source and weed control. Square bales are easier to move, or round bales if you have a larger area. Oat or wheat straw works as weed barrier too. Make sure you know who you get it from to ensure that it doesn’t have residual herbicides,” he said. Wood chips can come from the local tree removal service. Grass clippings and compost are available at no charge at the Yankton Transfer Station. No-till gardening is another approach to weed reduction.
“In gardening, no-till is not as common. I grew up with a garden that my dad tilled. You don’t think it will work until you try it. No-till doesn’t mean no problems or no management. You still have to manage it properly. It’s a new way to think through how to produce the plants you want,” Shaffer said.