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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Local and statewide information on a variety of current topics for home gardeners and market growers.
Nick Christensen

Organic Herbicide????

Contact: Kelly Allsup, Extension Unit Educator, Horticulture

Livingston, McLean and Woodford Counties, 309-663-8306,

Organic Weed Control: Corn Gluten Meal

Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup, says organic weed control in lawns may not be as elusive as one might think. While attending the 2012 IPM Symposium in Memphis, Tennessee, the topic of corn meal gluten (CMG) as an organic weed preventer/nitrogen feeder was brought up in a talk given by Iowa State scientist Dr. Nick Christians. He presented his twenty years' worth of research about using CMG as a weed preventer. Christians explained that corn meal gluten is an industrial by-product of grain wet milling. It is sold as feed material for cattle, poultry, fish and dogs. Eager to find out more about weed-suppressing ability of corn meal gluten, Christians initially began to test it as an herbicide against grasses, such as crabgrass.

"Corn gluten meal as a growth regulator was discovered purely by accident. In 1988, an experiment seeking to clarify the effects of five corn derivatives, among them corn gluten meal, on the survival of potted creeping bent grass was conducted", said Christians. In a surprise result, Christians showed that CMG had a profound effect on the growth and development of creeping bent grass, suppressing its growth by 80% at the lowest dose applied, and 100% at twice the dose.

Field tests that Christians initiated in the late 80's showed that good crabgrass control was achieved with application of 20 lbs. of CMG per 1000 square feet in the spring and another application in the later summer to early fall. With this application, 60% of weeds were controlled in the first year, 80% in the second, and 90% in the third. As a pre-emergent herbicide, he showed that CMG was effective in suppressing other grasses and broad leaf weeds: annual bluegrass, black medic, buckhorn plantain, lambsquarters, dandelion, foxtail, purslane and redroot pigweed. It can be used by growers for control of weeds in strawberries, radishes, onions, garlic, saffron, herbs and grapes. As a bonus, CMG was observed to also be an excellent fertilizer.

Allsup notes that success of CMG is heavily dependent on a number of environmental factors. "Timing of application is critical because it must be done before weed seeds germinate and also the highest efficiency is observed during the third and fourth year of treatment. Thus weed plants that have already germinated will not be controlled. Equally important, Allsup noted that CMG must contain 60% protein. There can be many brands on the market that do not contain enough protein to be effective. Allsup also cautions to not water in the lawn after application, or apply so soon after a rainfall, because wetness will reduce its effectiveness.

The take-home message is if a homeowner would like to try organic weed control with corn meal gluten, they should acquire the appropriate product, apply at the right time before weeds germinate and apply from year to year to get the most effective control. Call your local garden centers and nurseries to see if the product is available.

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