Getting the most from your pre-emergent vegetable herbicide

Understanding how pre-emergent herbicides work can help vegetable producers use them more effectively and safely.

If used correctly, pre-emergent herbicides are an effective means of controlling early season weed problems, helping crops get a good start and potentially enabling them to out-compete mid- and late-season weed pressure. Herbicide applications are also less expensive than alternative methods. Understanding modes of action and other properties of these herbicides can help producers use them more effectively and safely.

Pre-emergent herbicides are applied to the site shortly before or after planting or transplanting the economic crop and prior to any weed emergence. They do not affect the weed seed itself, but create a chemical barrier at the soil surface. As germinating weeds grow through this barrier, the product affects the biological processes of the root, shoot or both. The longer this barrier is maintained, the longer the control period.

Some herbicides volatilize or degrade in sunlight. So establishing this barrier may require incorporation through lightly tilling the soil, or rain or irrigation water moving the product slightly below the soil surface. Tilling the soil too deeply will dilute the product or get it into the root zone of the crop, causing potential crop damage. Similarly, too much water can move the product into the root zone of the economic plant. Properly maintaining this barrier is important for good weed control. Once the barrier is established, it should not be disturbed through other activities such as cultivation. The effective life of the barrier varies with the product, soil type and the population of the soil microorganisms responsible for breaking down the product.

Pre-emergent herbicides differ in modes of action and other properties (see table). Probably the most important chemical aspect of these products is their water solubility. The more soluble it is (higher number), the greater mobility it has in the soil. The higher the solubility, the less water is needed to move it into the soil and therefore into the root zone of the crop and potentially into water sources. To reduce resistance potential it is best to rotate herbicides when possible based on their mode of action.

Mode of action, common name and other properties of common vegetable pre-emergent herbicides.

Mode of action

Trade name examples

Water solubility (ppm)

Soil half life (days)

Run off/leaching potential*

Photosystem II Inhibitor

Atrex
Caparol
Karmex
Lorox
Pyramin
Sinbar
TriCor DF

33
33
42
75
400
710
1100

60
60
90
60
1
120
30

2/1
2/2
2/2
2/2
3/2
2/1
3/1

Carotenoid synthesis Inhibitor

Callisto

 

2200

 

21

 

3/3

 

PPO Inhibitor

Chateau
Goal
Spartan
Ultra Blazer
Aim
Reflex

2
0.1
780
120
12,000
600,000

20
35
120
37
0
100

2/3
2/3
2/1
3/2
3/3
2/1

Chlorophyll Synthesis Inhibitor

Command
Laudis

1100
28

24
32

3/2
3/1

Mitosis Inhibitor

Curbit
Devrinol
Dual Magnum
Kerb
Outlook
Prefar
Prowl H2O
Surflan
Surpass
Treflan
Zidua

0.3
73
488
15
1174
6
0.3
3
223
0.3
4

60
70
70
60
20
120
44
20
50
45
60

1/3
2/2
2/1
2/1
3/2
1/2
1/3
3/3
3/2
1/3

Lipid Biosynthesis Inhibitor

Eptam
Nortron
Ro-Neet

370
110
85

6
30
30

3/3
3/2
3/2

ALS Inhibitor

Matrix
Sandea
Raptor
Pursuit

7300
15
100
1400

3
30
30
90

3/2
3/2
2/1
2/1

Pigment Synthesis Inhibitor

Solicam

28

45

2/2

*1=high, 2=intermediate, 3=low
Information taken from Weed Control Guide for Vegetable Crops, MSU Extension Bulletin E-433.

More information on controlling weeds in Michigan-grown vegetables can be found in the “2015 Weed Control Guide for Vegetable Crops” (Extension Bulletin E-433) published by Michigan State University Extension. The publication is available through the MSU Extension Bookstore.

If you have further questions concerning commercial vegetable production, contact your local MSU Extension office or Ron Goldy at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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