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Tools Improve Strawberry Weed Control

Brush hoe and finger weeder achieve better results than herbicide in newly planted berries

When New York strawberry growers name their toughest challenges, weed control comes out on top. Controlling weeds is especially tough in newly planted strawberries. Marvin Pritts, of Cornell’s Department of Fruit and Vegetable Science, explains why: "Only one herbicide is labeled for use in the year of planting strawberries, and it is active for only six weeks. Growers are turning to cultivation as an adjunct, but the standard Rototiller sometimes does more harm than good." Rototillers tend to go too deep, breaking down soil structure and bringing weed seed to the surface, where it can germinate.

photo of finger weeder photo of brush hoe
L: Finger weeder cultivating strawberries. R: Brush hoe. Photos by M. Pritts

Pritts and colleague Robin Bellinder tackled the weed problem with three "nonstandard" cultivation implements this past summer: the flex-tine harrow, the brush hoe, and the finger weeder. These tools are nonstandard because they 1) disturb only the top few centimeters of soil and 2) cultivate both within and between plant rows.

Records were kept of labor and equipment costs associated with each tool and of the numbers of weeds in each plot at the end of the season. Strawberry yields will be recorded next year so as to complete the economic analysis. Bellinder and Pritts found that the flex-tine harrow disturbed the soil too deeply to be a good choice for strawberries (though it has proven useful in several vegetable crops). The other two tools were very effective.

Although operating the brush hoe and the finger weeder is more expensive than a single herbicide application, these tools achieved much better weed control. At the end of the season there were 40 times more weeds in the herbicide-only plots than in the brush hoe and finger weeder plots. Pritts is confident that the cost difference will be taken care of by increased yields: "All that is needed to make up the costs is a three percent yield increase over the herbicide-only plots. I think that kind of outcome is very likely due to the significant difference in weed numbers."