The Land Trust’s eight public nature preserves offer trails to explore the woods, creeks, bluffs, and valleys around Madison County. To provide access to those trails, we manage 28 trailheads (or trail entrance points). Lori, one of our two Land Stewards, visits each trailhead weekly to collect trash, clean up, and determine what needs some attention. Keeping everything looking good requires constant maintenance, which is completed by our Land Stewards often with the help of volunteers. For gravel trails and parking lots, that includes some form of constant weed control, especially during the summer months when things grows so rapidly (and even more so with frequent rain like we’ve seen this year). Last year, Lori began testing out a variety of methods to treat these areas without the use of herbicides.
Method 1: Vinegar Solution
We began testing the effectiveness of a vinegar solution in May 2019 using Harvest Square Nature Preserve and The Nature Conservancy of Alabama’s Whitaker Preserve parking lots as test locations. The first treatment was completed at Whitaker Preserve using Recipe #1 (1 gallon 6% vinegar, 2 cups Epsom salt, 2 Tbsp Dawn soap). This solution was applied using a pump sprayer. After several days, the grass was mildly burned but continued growing at a normal rate. Weeks later, the same recipe was used again but with a heavier application. While days after this application the grass was burnt, it slowly grew back over the next several weeks.
After first trimming back grasses and weeds, the Harvest Square Nature Preserve parking lot was treated with Recipe #2 (1 gallon 20% vinegar, 2 cups Epsom salt, 2 Tbsp Dawn soap) using a pump sprayer. After several days, the grass had been charred but slowly grew back over 2-3 weeks.
Lori saw the best results from the vinegar solution by first cutting back any large grasses and allowing it to dry. Then while having 6-7 hours of sun, she applied Recipe #3 (1 gallon 20% vinegar, 2 Tbsp Dawn soap) 2-3 days before rain when possible. Epson salt did not seem to change the results so it was removed from the solution.
Method 2: Torching
This summer, we tested a torch method for the first time. This involves scorching the grass. Torching has so far been tested at Monte Sano’s Trough Springs Trailhead, Chapman Mountain parking lot but has not been as effective as we hoped. It does, however, kill small grasses successfully. We have seen more positive results from torching treatments at the Trough Springs Trailhead.
This experiment is still ongoing. We are constantly looking for new ways to address this challenge. We have found that combining applications of vinegar solution and torching provides pretty effective results, although more frequent applications are required in comparison to chemical treatments. We are currently using alternative weed control methods wherever possible but have found that certain species of grasses are just more stubborn and do require use of an herbicide. We will continue to test new ideas in our effort to minimize the use of herbicides on Land Trust properties.
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