Principles of Soil-Applied Herbicides

April 7, 2000
Use of soil-applied herbicides in corn and soybean production systems continues to be a common method to achieve weed control. Early preplant, preplant incorporated, and preemergence surface are the most common types of herbicide applications to soil. Regardless of when the herbicide was applied to the soil, the effectiveness of soil-applied herbicides is governed by several factors.

The primary factor that governs the efficacy of soil-applied herbicides is having the herbicide available for uptake by the germinating weed seedling. Soil-applied herbicides must be absorbed into the germinating weed seedlings to be effective. These herbicides do not prevent weed-seed germination. Rather, they are first absorbed by the seedling and then they exert their phytotoxic action, generally before the seedlings emerge from the soil. For the herbicide to be absorbed by the germinating seedlings, it must be in the soil solution or vapor phase. How is this achieved? The most common methods for herbicides to become dissolved into the soil solution are by mechanical incorporation or precipitation. Many early preplant applications in no-till systems attempt to increase the likelihood that sufficient precipitation will be received before planting to incorporate the herbicide. If, however, no precipitation is received between application and planting, mechanical incorporation, where feasible, will in most instances adequately move the herbicide into the soil solution.

Many weed species, in particular small-seeded species, germinate from fairly shallow soil depths. The top 1 to 2 inches of soil is the primary zone of weed-seed germination and should be the target area for herbicide placement. Shallow incorporation can be achieved by mechanical methods or by precipitation. Which of these two methods is more consistent? Rainfall provides for a fairly uniform incorporation, but mechanical incorporation reduces the absolute dependence on receiving timely precipitation. How much precipitation is needed and how soon after application the precipitation should be received for optimal herbicide performance depend on many factors, but generally 1/2 to 1 inch of precipitation within 7 to 10 days after application is sufficient.

Herbicides remaining on the soil surface or those placed too deeply in the soil may not be intercepted by the emerging weed seedlings. Herbicides on the soil surface are subjected to several processes that reduce their availability. Volatility (the change from a liquid to gaseous state) and photolysis (degradation due to absorption of sunlight) are two common processes that can reduce the availability of herbicides remaining on the soil surface.

The dry soil conditions in many areas of the state may be conducive for planting but may reduce the effectiveness of soil-applied herbicides. If applications are made prior to planting and no precipitation is received between application and planting, a shallow mechanical incorporation may help preserve much of the herbicide's effectiveness.--Aaron Hager and Christy Sprague

Author: Aaron Hager Christy Sprague