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Noticing herbicide drift in your garden?

Grapevines growing in a garden with curled, yellowing leaves.
A garden with grapevines showing herbicide damage

Every summer around this time, I see symptoms of herbicide damage on my peppers, grapevines and tomatoes. The leaves grow in strange shapes, curl inward, and are smaller than normal. The damage is from certain types of herbicides or weed killers. While I do not spray herbicides in my lawn, my garden still has this damage every year.

Two popular herbicides for killing broadleaf weeds like dandelions and clover are 2,4-d and dicamba. They are both highly effective on broadleaf weeds, so homeowners and lawn care companies spray them on lawns to kill weeds without hurting the grass. Sadly, they often vaporize into the air and travel to neighboring areas where they can injure many common garden plants.

Reports of herbicide drift damage are common throughout June after lawns are sprayed for dandelions.

What herbicide injury looks like

A grapevine with misshapen leaves as a result of herbicide drift.
Drift from herbicides containing 2,4-D and dicamba causes deformed, stunted and curled leaves on grapevines

Grapes, tomatoes, and peppers are some of the garden plants most susceptible to damage by 2,4-d, dicamba, and other growth regulator herbicides. Other herbicides can drift, but these are especially common.

Damage from herbicide drift does not appear immediately. With many herbicides, it takes between a few days to 2 weeks for damage to be noticeable.

When sensitive plants are hit by 2,4-D and dicamba drift, they usually keep growing but display misformed leaves. The plants often grow more slowly (are stunted) and may take longer to start producing fruit.

What will happen to your plants

A pepper plant with misshapen leaves as a result of herbicide drift.
Drift from herbicides containing 2,4-D and dicamba seems to cause stunted leaves with squiggly veins on pepper plants.

Vegetable and fruit plants are often able to outgrow herbicide drift damage over time, as long as they were not directly sprayed with the herbicide. However, they may take longer to start producing fruit because their growth will be slowed while they recover.

Helping plants recover from drift

Once plants display herbicide damage, there is not much to do but wait for them to recover. Plants may recover more successfully through regular watering and fertilization.

Over-watering or over-fertilizing will not be helpful, because that can cause other problems. Just make sure the plants are getting adequate water and nutrients so they are not stressed in other ways. 

Preventing drift

To prevent herbicide drift from your own lawn, avoid spraying your lawn for broadleaf weeds like dandelions. If you do spray, avoid spraying during very hot weather.

Preventing herbicide drift from neighboring property is more difficult. First, try having a conversation with your neighbors, and consult with lawn care companies in your area.  If all else fails, you can report drift to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Misuse Complaint Line.

Continue reading about herbicide drift on home gardens.

Author: Annie Klodd, Extension educator, fruit production

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