Heavy cone production by Fraser fir Christmas trees requires significant labor inputs to remove nuisance cones. We conducted two field trials in collaboration with operational Christmas tree farms to evaluate the effectiveness of post-emergent herbicides to stop the development of newly emergent cone buds. In the first trial (2016), we applied six products (two conventional herbicides and four herbicides labeled for organic production) to trees using back-pack sprayers in operational plantations at four farms in Michigan. Three products; Scythe, Axxe, and Avenger, provided better cone kill than the other products but resulted in phytotoxicity at two locations. In 2017, we applied the three most effective products from the earlier trial at three farms either as single applications or as two applications approximately one week apart. We also evaluated a hand-held mechanical de-coning device at two farms. For all the products and the mechanical device, cone control in the 2017 trial was high (>80%). Phytotoxicity to foliage was low (mean rating, <0.3; 0 = none, 2 = severe) for single applications of the herbicides. Repeated applications increased cone control slightly but also increased risk for phytotoxicity. The mechanical device caused significant damage to shoots and foliage. We attribute the increased product effectiveness and reduced phytotoxicity between the 2016 and 2017 studies to improved coverage and earlier spray timing. Based on the current retail product cost, chemical cone control can be cost-effective compared to handpicking cones if trees have high numbers of cones that can take several minutes to remove. The effect of using surfactants and reducing product rates should be investigated along with mechanized application.
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