Weeds can quickly take over a yard and before you know it, your formerly lush lawn is filled with dandelions, clover, crabgrass, foxtails, thistles, sheep’s sorrel, ragwort and other unwelcome intruders. With proper management, however, you can keep weeds away with ease.
Know Thy Enemy – Identifying Weeds
To properly control weeds, you need to know what you’re trying to control. There are hundreds of different types of weeds, from weedy grasses to broadleaf weeds to invasive plants. In fact, any plant – even a lovely flower, bulb or tree sprout – can be considered a weed if it’s growing where you don’t want it.
Because many weeds look similar to popular grasses and groundcovers, you need to identify them carefully in order to choose the most effective control methods. Look at unwanted weeds carefully, noting the leaf, stem, bloom or blade shape and size, as well as the plant’s overall size, color, texture and growth habit. Compare your observations to gardening books or websites for weed identification. If you aren’t sure, take several photos of the plant and consult with a gardening center or landscaping expert for proper identification.
Your Lawn Is Your Best Defense
A rich, healthy turf has no room for weeds, and a well-managed lawn is your best weapon against weeds. When your lawn is stressed, it will become thin and poor, leaving much more room for weeds to flourish. To keep your lawn at its very best.
- Choose the proper type of grass for your climate and soil condition. This includes considering season lengths, high and low temperatures, moisture levels, drainage and soil pH so grass can grow well.
- Use the proper watering schedule for your lawn, giving it a deep, thorough drink at longer intervals rather than shallow sips too frequently. Deeper, less frequent watering encourages stronger, deeper roots so the turf can resist weeds.
- Feed your lawn as needed with appropriate fertilizer, adjusting nutrient levels and application densities to be appropriate to the time of year. This will help the lawn grow thicker, minimizing space for weeds.
- Patch bare spots in the lawn as quickly as possible. You can opt for patch mixtures, sod patches or grass seed, but don’t give weeds a chance to take root. If the entire lawn is thin, overseeding may be necessary.
- Remove excessive thatch and aerate the lawn to help the grass grow more productively. Too much thatch or compact soil will nurture weeds with its dense base, while preventing grass from growing effectively.
- Set your mower height for the optimum length for your grass type. If the grass is longer, it will shade and cool any weed seeds, decreasing their germination and minimizing how many weeds can take root in the yard.
Controlling With Chemicals
Even a lush, healthy lawn can occasionally see a weed or two, and careful chemical use can manage those weeds before they get out of control. There are two general types of weed control chemicals…
- Pre-emergent: These herbicides are applied to the lawn before weeds appear to stop germination and keep weeds from getting started. These herbicides are often available in weed-and-feed combinations that include fertilizer that will nurture the lawn at the same time weeds are discouraged. Pre-emergents are first applied in early spring, and there may be several applications throughout the summer to catch new generations of weed seeds.
- Post-emergent: These herbicides are used after weeds appear and will slow their growth and eventually kill them. Both liquid and granular varieties are available, depending on how applications will be made. Selective herbicides kill only the weeds they are formulated to attack, while non-selective chemicals will kill all plants, including grass, flowers or gardens. Never confuse the two types, or you may have a bigger problem than just a few weeds!
Weed-killing chemicals should always be used carefully. Read all instructions before use, and follow them meticulously or else you may do your yard more harm than good. Ideally, use chemicals as sparingly as possible to avoid possible overuse or environmental contamination, and dispose of any unused or unwanted chemicals responsibly.
A little elbow grease can also help you manage the weeds in your yard. When just one or two weeds may be appearing, it can be quick and easy to remove them by hand. Weeds will pull out easier if the soil is damp, and it is critical to remove the entire root if possible. If the root breaks off and some is left behind, new weeds can sprout from the old root. Because of that difficulty, it may be best to only pull roots by hand from very loose soil, such as in a garden, flowerbed or mulched area where they will pull out easily.
It’s not impossible to manage the weeds in your lawn, and if you take care of your turf from the roots to the tips, you’ll soon be weed-free.