Historically control of weeds with chemicals dates back to the late 1800's and early 1900's, when natural salts and powdered metal/stone mixes were use. Then, in 1941, 2,4- D was first synthesized, sparking the development of modern herbicide technology. The early production and use of chemicals for control of invasive species were blamed for environmental and human health problems. Because of this, new laws and regulations were implemented, greatly improving the quality, effectiveness, and safety of modern herbicides.
Today's herbicides will not solve all of our weed problems, but they can be very effective when used properly. In some cases they are the only practical way to kill a weed. Many herbicides have been created to kill a specific group of plants (like grasses), or may be so specific that they kill only one kind of weed. One of their greatest advantages is versatility. Herbicide control is fast, and can be applied from a backpack, horseback, vehicle, or by air (helicopter or plane). This allows for its use where other methods such as plowing or digging are not practical (mountainous terrain and/or large areas). Herbicides can also be used in varying concentrations, depending upon the desired end result. Today, very little herbicide is needed to kill targeted plants., Most require less than ½ pound of active ingredient per acre. Herbicide application also reduces the physical disturbance that mechanical and other controls may cause.
Although herbicides have a number of benefits, they also have disadvantages. Herbicide performance can be inconsistent from site to site. Soil types, humidity, and a number of other factors can impact their effectiveness. Because of this, they may work in one area and not in another. During application, human error or wind can cause the chemical to be misdirected. The "stray" chemical might then drift into new areas and affect desirable, non-target plants, or enter waterways. Another disadvantage of chemicals is that some may stay in the soil, affecting the area for a few years. In other instances, plants have been known to develop a tolerance or resistance to herbicides.
Today there are literally hundreds of herbicides that are both safe and effective. They are a great tool and an asset in the fight against weeds, but if used incorrectly, they can cause problems. The chemical label should be read carefully. All registered uses of the product are listed there.
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