Weed control

There are no excuses for failing to follow best practice in the amenity sector, Sally Drury cautions.

Spraying: important for the industry to be able to demonstrate the highest standards - image: Deere&Co
Spraying: important for the industry to be able to demonstrate the highest standards - image: Deere&Co

The industry has seen several examples of unscrupulous contractors providing cheap illegal services, sadly drawing the herbicide-application industry - one of the most regulated in the world - into disrepute. These contractors have been found using illegal operators and stores, spraying under invalid insurance, using banned products, polluting water, causing environmental damage and putting the safety of the public at risk.

It has to stop. There can be no excuses. Everyone involved in weed control - whether client, contractor, sprayer operator or product supplier - has to pay full attention to legislation and best practice. Lip service is no good.

The Amenity Forum is the national voluntary initiative seeking to promote best practice in the sector. Forum chairman John Moverley says: "It is important that industry can fully demonstrate its ability to regulate itself and ensure the highest standards. We have made substantial progress but more remains to be done and it is vital that everyone involved is fully up to date with changes and implications."

To establish and maintain amenity areas to a high and respected standard, the amenity sector requires pesticides, efficient equipment and well-trained, qualified staff. But it is a time of change in terms of weed (and pest and disease) control. The enactment of UK legislation to implement the Sustainable Use Directive and the publication of the National Action Plan are key drivers, although there is still much to be done if the UK is to comply with the Water Framework Directive.

These challenges highlight the need for everyone to follow the very best practice when it comes to weed (and pest and disease control). There are some basic rules that must be followed by all concerned.

1. Training

There is a current exemption in UK law that allows operators who were born before 31 December 1964 to use and apply amenity approved pesticides without the requirement to hold a certificate of competence so long as they are suitably trained and only apply product to their own or their employer's land.

This exemption ends on 26 November 2015. After that date, everyone applying professionally on amenity areas will need a certificate of competence. So, if you are 49 or older you need to get a certificate as soon as possible so you can continue to legally use amenity herbicides.

It should also be noted that it will be an offence for anyone to purchase a professional product where the intended user of that product does not hold a certificate of competence. An obligation to demonstrate competence is also required of advisers, while distributors must have trained staff available to give advice on the safe, proper and economic use of products. Training applies to everyone.

2. Planning

Strategies for weed (and pest and disease) control must be planned, employing a suitably qualified and experienced adviser or consultant where necessary. That planning should look at what level of control is deemed acceptable and also needs to take into account the adoption of an integrated approach where pesticide application is combined with non-chemical controls, such as Foamstream by Weedingtech. It is good practice to only use chemical products where it is absolutely necessary.

3. Purchase and storage

Counterfeit and back-of-the-van products do exist and are illegal. Purchasing product only from reputable distributors is essential to avoid the risk of being sold black-market products and to ensure that the correct advice and support is available. Only buy authorised products and be sure to store them according to the legal requirements. Best practice is to have a trained and qualified storekeeper.

4. Equipment maintenance

The directive stipulates that all application equipment, including that of low-scale kit and equipment not used for spraying pesticides, but excluding handheld and knapsack sprayers, be inspected and tested by 26 November 2016. The purpose is to prevent leaks and drips that could cause pollution and prevent operator and bystander contamination as well as limit waste.

Only equipment that has passed inspection and is certified under the National Sprayer Testing Scheme (NSTS) can be used after that date and it will then be subject to regular testing. The NSTS registration fee is currently £23.50 and the cost of the test is determined on a case-by-case basis. A lot of sprayer owners already, voluntarily and wisely, have kit tested. For those who have not, this is the MoT for your sprayer and it is a legal requirement.

All equipment must be regularly calibrated to prevent underand over-dosing of pesticides and it must be correctly set so that applications are confined to the target area. Knapsack owners and users should follow the checklist set out by the Voluntary Initiative

5. Use carefully

It is essential the label is read every time the product is used. Similar products can be formulated differently, so it is vital that the user understands how the product should be used and how to comply with the conditions specified on the label. Then use the minimal amount necessary to deliver acceptable control. It not only makes economic sense but it is also a legal requirement in areas frequented by the public, conservation areas and certain transport infrastructure and sealed surfaces. Applications on hard surfaces must be targeted - there can be no blanket spraying of the areas between weeds.

6. Protection

It is a legal requirement to ensure that all reasonable precautions are taken to protect human health, water and the environment when advising on, using, storing or handling pesticides. Employees must wear suitable protective equipment and may need health monitoring.

When it comes to water and the environment, users must determine whether they are in regions such as surface water safeguard zones or drinking water protected areas. Product should not be allowed to drift, so take account of weather conditions, particularly wind and the likelihood of rain, as well as the surface type and topography.

7. Maintain records and keep up to date

It is a legal requirement for distributors to keep sales records and users must, by law, keep clear and accurate records of pesticide use. For the user this will also help monitor product effectiveness. To ensure that pesticides are used safely and sustainably, everyone needs to read and understand advice from Government and industry bodies.

Having absorbed the rules, it is time to spray. Last year, the cold and snowy weather meant applications started later than normal. This year, after a mild wet winter, weeds are bursting into life and have all the moisture they need to race away. There can be no "due date" to start spraying. Every year varies and decisions to apply or not can only be made in accordance with observed current weather, not by the calendar, and different weeds appear at times. Do not spray too early.

With regard to broadleaf weeds, such as overwintered daisy, in sports turf, there is a tendency to spray early. Complete Weed Control (CWC) franchisee Alan Abel advises: "Better results are achieved by waiting for the first real growth flush. There is no date for this - it's just waiting for the right soil temperature and perfect day to spray."

CWC is one of the UK's longest-established franchised businesses. Founded 35 years ago, it covers 47 regions and has more than 200 operators throughout the UK with a wide range of clients including airfields, sporting venues, camping and caravan sites, canals and rivers, cemeteries, industrial sites, highways, parks and National Trust sites along with local authorities and schools.

Last year, the company announced that it will make the Weed-IT technology available for councils and contractors in the UK and Ireland. Weed-IT combines weed-detecting technology to spot spray weeds through chlorophyll recognition, ensuring only the weed is dealt a dose of chemical.

Considering spring spraying, Headland Amenity operations director Mark De'Ath advises: "To ensure you get the best possible weed control, you want everything on your side - correct timing is as important as ensuring the correct water spray volume is used (consult the product label). Too low a volume of water may not only be illegal but will give inadequate spray coverage of the target weeds. Spraying at higher water volumes will help when weeds are large, but get it too high and the water volume can cause spray run-off and give poor weed control."

He continues: "It is also important to make sure that your spray equipment is maintained in good working order. Use the winter period to get it serviced and make any repairs. Spray nozzles should be regularly calibrated and checked for wear, replacing them as required. New nozzles can save a lot of money on herbicide."

- For further information, visit the Amenity Forum website. Nomix Enviro also has a useful guide for professional users. The Product Range & Technical Guide 2014 contains key information on legislation and best practice as well as case studies featuring Nomix customers' thoughts on current weed-control challenges and highlighting how the company has worked with them to deliver efficient, compliant and cost-effective weed-control programmes.

New products: Garlon Ultra and ICADE

An advanced herbicide formulation for the control of deep-rooted perennials, wood and invasive weeds, Garlon Ultra from Nomix Enviro combines the efficacy of triclopyr with the latest active ingredient technology of aminopyralid to deliver an effective herbicide that contains lower amounts of active without losing potency.

The product is approved for use in amenity grassland areas that are not intensively managed. Its selective action means it will control tough weeds such as brambles, buddleia, thistles, mugwort and Japanese knotweed, yet will not harm grass and is rain-fast after just one hour.

New to Rigby Taylor's portfolio is ICADE. Controlling tough and invasive weeds including brambles, gorse, buddleia, Japanese knotweed and hogweed, it also combines triclopyr and aminopyralid and is ideal for railway and motorway embankments, industrial areas and cemeteries.

Latest options for tackling moss

The relentlessly wet winter months have seen moss infestations grow out of control in all types of turf. Alan Abel, a Complete Weed Control franchisee for more than 30 years, offers advice on tacking the problem.

"There are products on the market, but we all remember dichlorophen with affection," he reminisces. "It's no longer available and we have products such as Jewel (carfentrazone/mecoprop) from Everris that will control mosses and weeds as a double action, but it's better to wait for good growing conditions before application.

"Mogeton (quinoclamine) from Certis is available for use on golf greens with application only through a watering can at high water volumes. It is effective and where silvermoss is the problem, then this product must be a choice.

"Iron products at high rates are available and should be used with light scarification where possible, two weeks following applications, to give the iron a chance to work. This particularly appertains to golf fairways."

Soluble Iron is offered by Headland Amenity and Turfcare. Other products for tackling moss in turf surfaces include Greentec Mosskiller Pro from Headland Amenity and Greenmaster Mosskiller by Everris. Many products are available for treating moss on hard surfaces, such as Headland Amenity's New-Way Weedspray, MMC Pro from Brinton Products and Rigby Taylor's Qualgex.

New-Way Weedspray

Southampton's King Edward VI School had a problem with moss control on artificial playing surfaces, tennis courts, car parks and paved areas. Headland Amenity's New-Way Weedspray, which works by desiccating green matter even at low temperatures, was recommended to head groundsman Kevin Wright, who tried it out.

"I liked the idea of employing a naturally based product as my aim is to reduce chemical use throughout the school and I have been delighted with the results," he says.

"We first tried New-Way in January (2013) on our synthetic surfaces and were amazed to see the moss starting to die within three hours, and with no staining of the surface. The majority of our affected hard areas, including car park, patio and steps, were treated in March and these were virtually cleared within just one day. It has even controlled liverwort, which we have struggled with in the past. The results have been first-class and we have ordered more."

Unlike other moss killers for hard surfaces, New-Way will also control weeds and grass, eliminating the need for a separate application. The product is not translocated with the plant so is safer to use around trees, shrubs and other valuable plants. As there are no residual effects with the product in the soil, sowing and planting can be undertaken as soon as weeds have died.

New-Way is available in a 10-litre pack size (MAPP No 15319). It is a fast-acting, non-selective herbicide, active against most soft tissue that it comes into contact with - grasses, broad-leaved weeds and moss - discolouring and browning foliage within a few hours of treatment. Areas of use include footpaths, pavements, parks, around trees, shrubs and hedges, and in industrial areas such as railways and industrial sites.

The active ingredient, acetic acid (vinegar), has been formulated from the highest food-grade product and developed with a naturally occurring protein ingredient that literally doubles the herbicidal properties of the acetic acid. It breaks down to water in the ground. Most annual weeds will die within one or two days but perennial weeds generally require more than one application for control.

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