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As a seasoned horticulturist and a passionate gardener, I’ve spent countless hours tending to my beloved yard here in the heart of Texas. Today, I’d like to share my wisdom on a topic that often vexes homeowners: lawn weed control.
Weeds, those uninvited guests that seem to appear out of nowhere, can be a constant source of frustration. They’re like the gatecrashers of the plant world, showing up uninvited and often overstaying their welcome. But fear not, for I have a wealth of strategies to help you reclaim your lawn from these pesky intruders.
A Guide to Lawn Weed Control
Weeds are an all too common frustration when it comes to keeping up a healthy lawn. It seems that the battle between homeowners and lawn weed control is a never-ending one. With some helpful tips, however, you can take measures into your own hands and gain back the control over your yard to put those pesky weeds to rest.
Table of Contents...
- 1 A Guide to Lawn Weed Control
- 1.1 What is a Weed?
- 1.2 Why Do Weeds Infiltrate Your Lawn?
- 1.3 Why Should You Remove Weeds from Your Lawn?
- 1.4 Getting Rid of Weeds
- 1.5 Using Lawn Weed Control Herbicides
- 1.6 Understanding Grass Types
- 1.7 Use a Natural Approach
- 1.8 Using a Weed Burner (Weed Torch)
- 1.9 Additional Topics
What is a Weed?
In the simplest terms, a weed is a plant growing where it is not wanted. They are typically characterized by their robustness, rapid growth, and ability to spread. Weeds can be native or non-native, invasive or non-invasive, and can grow in a variety of environments. They are often opportunistic, taking advantage of any available space or resources, and can be particularly troublesome in gardens, lawns, and agricultural fields where they compete with desired plants for resources.
Weeds can be classified into several categories based on their life cycle (annual, biennial, or perennial), their morphology (grassy or broadleaf), or their habitat (aquatic, desert, forest, lawn, etc.). Some common types of weeds you might encounter include dandelions, crabgrass, and poison ivy.
While most weeds are viewed as unsightly and unwanted, some homeowners will actually plant weeds intentionally. These types are generally ones that produce flowers and require very little upkeep as they do fairly well on their own.
Why Do Weeds Infiltrate Your Lawn?
Weeds are opportunistic by nature. They produce a plethora of seedlings, enabling them to spread far and wide. Several factors can contribute to the proliferation of these unwelcome guests in your lawn or garden:
Weeds are hardy plants, capable of thriving in conditions that would hinder more delicate species. They can infiltrate areas of your lawn or garden that are disturbed or shaded, out-competing other plants for resources. Even when weeds die off seasonally, they can still leave behind seeds that will germinate if there are no preventative measures in place.
These plants tend to be a much hardier type of plant that are capable of withstanding various factors to survive. Shady areas, areas with a lot of foot traffic and other disturbances generally affects more sensitive types of plants hindering their growth, which can allow weeds to infiltrate these areas of your lawn or garden as they compete for survival. In fact, it usually takes some form of action to intentionally remove or keep weeds from growing, whereas flowers and other delicate species require more nourishment to thrive.
Even when weeds die out of season, they can still produce seeds that will germinate if there are no preventative methods in place. Weeds adapt much more quickly to their environments.
Why Should You Remove Weeds from Your Lawn?
Weeds may seem harmless other than simply being unappealing, but they can cause trouble to your lawn and the health of your plants. Weeds, while able to adapt much quicker to environments than other plants, still must compete for water, air and space. This can potentially hinder the growth of plants in your yard that you have planted intentionally. If you have weeds in your garden, it can also reduce the yield of your crop. If you take care to tend to specific plants in your lawn or garden, but fail to treat and prevent weeds, your efforts may be all for naught.
Another issue that weeds can pose is they can act as a host for various plant diseases. If you have a garden or flowerbed, this can be very detrimental to the health of the surrounding plants. It’s important to understand the types of weeds you’re dealing with so you can rid your lawn of them in an effective manner before they cause problems to other plants.
Some weeds can actually be toxic to your family or pets, especially if you live in certain regions where poisonous plants are common. Devil’s weed, or Jimson weed, is one that produces white or purple flowers with leaves that are irregularly shaped or toothed and appears harmless. It can have deadly consequences on animals and pets if consumed. Another very common, yet potentially dangerous, weed type is poison oak that can cause severe allergic reactions upon contact. Take careful notice and familiarize yourself with various poisonous plants that are native to your area and use careful approach in removing them to protect yourself, family, and pets.
Getting Rid of Weeds
Weeds in your lawn can be very bothersome and truth be told, they are nearly impossible to eradicate altogether. Most weeds contain seeds that remain dormant so even when the die at the end of the season, they can continue to return in the spring. So how do you get a handle on your lawn weed control?
The key to successful lawn weed control starts with a healthy lawn. Lawns that are properly maintained and well taken care of throughout the year are far less likely to come under attack of a weed invasion. The use of weed killers and herbicides is not particularly ideal in managing weeds and should only be applied at a minimal frequency. Follow these guidelines to keep your lawn under control before using a weed killer:
Weed out your lawn by hand throughout the year – Don’t just wait until spring time to tackle on the weeds. Make an initiative to remove them from your lawn to get a better handle on lawn weed control and prevent new sprouts from popping up. Specific types of weeds that are easy to remove by hand include spurge, sedges, creeping wood sorrel, Bermuda grass, and dandelions. (Avoid those that can be dangerous to handle when in contact with skin such as poison ivy, poison sumac, or stinging nettles).
Get Rid of Young Weeds: Getting rid of the young weeds in your yard before they begin producing seeds will help tremendously in warding off future growth. Remember when pulling out weeds by hand to pull them out by the roots carefully so they don’t break, which can allow for new sprouts to form.
Water and Feed Your Lawn Regularly– Some homeowners may wish to forego watering their lawn during rainy seasons or have their irrigation system on a frequent schedule that results in over-watering. If you’re really interested in caring for your lawn then you need to keep it well maintained. Aim to irrigate your lawn at least two to three times in a week in order to ward off the growth of weeds. Additionally, you should feed your lawn at regular intervals to ensure healthy growth to fill in bare spots that are susceptible to weed growth.
Do Not Remove Grass Clippings – after you have mowed your lawn, you should not be so quick to rake up or remove the grass clippings as this can actually serve as a natural fertilizer for your lawn. If you have a clippings bag attached to your mower, remove it so that the clippings can be dispersed as you mow.
Use a Nitrogen-Based Fertilizer – a nitrogen-based fertilizer is actually beneficial to any type of grass and will help control the spread of weeds.
Using Lawn Weed Control Herbicides
In well-kept lawns, the use of weed killers or herbicides is usually not needed. However, even if you take proper care of your lawn, it’s still quite possible for weeds to develop. If your lawn is under a weed invasion and you need to get straight to the source choose one that is suitable for your needs while still safe for your lawn.
For weed-killers on broadleaf weeds opt for a spot-killer method to target isolated weeds using a spray bottle such as a pressure sprayer. Other types of weeds, such as quack grass, are more difficult to get rid of as they are not usually affected by typical broadleef weed killers. For these weeds, as well as other common grassy weeds, the best method is to individually coat them using a non-selective herbicide.
Organic herbicides can be safe and effective at ridding weeds without killing your lawn. These work by burning off or destroying the cuticle of the weeds. This is the waxy portion of a weed that protects it from losing excessive water. To apply herbicides, dip a work glove in the solution and apply by coating the blades from the base of the plant up.
An important tip before using any type of weed killer or herbicide is choose the right time to apply it to your lawn. Plan to apply it on a day when the weather is forecasted to be sunny for at least two consecutive days. If it rains right after you’ve applied the herbicide it may render it ineffective and require reapplying.
To learn more about weed killers read our article specifically on the different types of Weed Killers for Lawns. Or, if you want to use chemical-free weed killers then you’ll love our article on Pet Safe Weed Killers.
Understanding Grass Types
Before you attempt these different ways and methods to eliminate weeds it is valuable to know what type of grass you have in your yard. Various grass types will require different methods and approach. For instance, some herbicides can negatively affect your grass if it is too weak, which will kill the weeds but will also kill the grass too. Be sure to know what type of grass you have before applying weed killer to avoid unsightly dead spots. You should also check the labels on the weed killer you opt for to know which types of grass it is best used for.
Use a Proper Mowing Technique
Believe it or not, mowing your grass and how you mow could affect the outcome of the reoccurrence of weeds based on the grass type of your lawn. For example, mowing the grass too short (which is a common practice many landowners take to minimize the frequency of mowing) can leave your grass weak and vulnerable to weed invasion. Rye-grass is one of those types of bunch grasses that are more susceptible to producing various weed types in the yard if cut too short. A good approach is to mow the lawn with the mower set at a high setting so as to gain better control.
It is recommended that homeowners keep their lawns mowed at least every 4 to 5 days. Frequent mowing will help keep the lawn even and minimizes the appearance of weeds. A good rule of thumb is to maintain a height of 2.5 to 3 inches of your lawn, especially during summer time as this tends to be the season it grows the most. Be sure the blades of your mower are adequately sharpened to avoid damage to the grass, which can also weaken it. To avoid spreading weed seeds, begin mowing in the least weedy area of the lawn first and mow the areas with the heaviest production of weeds last.
Use a Pre-Emergence Weed Preventer
Annual weeds come back year after year and are a common nuisance during the growing season- typically spring. The best way to combat annual grassy weeds like crab grass is to spread a preventer to your lawn before they germinate. These pre-emergent preventers are specifically formulated to safely treat your lawn for preventing weedy grasses. The ideal timing is to apply in early spring, preferably in between the first mowing and third mowing of the season.
Most annual grassy weeds such as crab grass tend to infest specific areas of the lawn, such as those that get warm the fastest. Near driveways and walkways are common place for these types of weeds to grow due to the nature of the asphalt that warms the soil in heat. Focus on areas where weeds are most prevalent to apply the preventer without having to spread over your entire lawn, especially if you have a large yard.
Use a Natural Approach
If you aren’t too sure of the grass type you have, you can always rely on a natural option to get rid of those pesky weeds. Using non-chemical weed killers offers safe and effective solutions that won’t damage your lawn.
Corn Gluten Meal – this is a nitrogen-rich by-product of processed corn that is commonly used in weed-control. Applying a layer to your lawn serves as a fertilizer that will help enrich and nourish the grass through the soil to give it a leg-up in competing with weed growth. It also acts similarly to mulch in inhibiting weed growth.
Baking Soda – This common household staple found in most pantries can be used as a preventative treatment to rid your lawn of weeds. It is most suitable for use on weeds in isolated areas that are not too close to desired plants or flowers. Dampen the weeded area and apply a teaspoon of baking soda over the entire weed and its foliage.
Vinegar – This is another common item that you often find in the kitchen that can easily be transformed into a natural weed killer. It is ideal for use in early spring at the very beginning of growing season. Applying this DIY (do-it yourself) solution will help to kill budding weeds and prevent them from multiplying, especially dandelions. Prepare a solution of white distilled vinegar or apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle using a 1-part vinegar to 5-parts water ratio.
Another great alternative for preventing weeds from popping up in places like a flowerbed or garden is to apply a protective barrier that prevents weeds from coming through such as a tarp, shower curtain, or viscuin. Additionally, use an added layer of protection around your plants such as mulch or gravel to inhibit weed-growth.
Mulching: Mulch can prevent weed growth by blocking sunlight. Organic mulches, like wood chips or straw, can also improve soil health as they decompose.
Hand Pulling: This is a simple and direct method. It’s most effective when the soil is moist and the whole root of the weed can be removed.
Water Management: Over-watering can promote weed growth. Water your plants directly to give them the advantage.
Planting Cover Crops: These crops can out-compete weeds for resources and are then turned into the soil to improve its health.
Using a Weed Burner (Weed Torch)
A weed burner, or sometimes referred to as a weed torch, is a specific product that is also used as a non-chemical method for killing weeds. These can be used in hard-to-reach places, garden crops and to reduce a landowner’s need to mow the grass. The purpose of a weed burner to kill weeds is by a means of intense heat. As the name implies, it is torch that connects to a propane tank and works by bursting the plant when the flame passes over it.
This is another great chemical-free alternative to traditional weed killers as it doesn’t spread a residue often left behind from chemicals that could be toxic to pets and children. The downside is it isn’t recommended for use in dry, forested areas or areas that are more prone to fires.
Remember, the best way to handle lawn weed control is to prevent it before it starts. Follow these guidelines to keep your lawn adequately maintained before weeds get out of hand. Your lawn will thank you.
Understanding Your Soil
Understanding the type of soil in your garden can help you manage weeds. Some weeds prefer certain types of soil. By knowing your soil type, you can choose plants that will thrive and out-compete potential weeds.
Being able to identify the weeds in your garden can help you choose the most effective control methods. Some weeds are more resistant to certain types of control methods than others.
Creating a Weed Management Plan
A weed management plan involves regular monitoring and maintenance to prevent weeds from becoming a problem. This can include regular weeding, proper fertilization and watering, and the use of cover crops or mulch.
Remember, the key to effective weed control is persistence. Weeds are opportunistic and will take advantage of any lapse in your garden management. But with knowledge and regular care, you can maintain a healthy, weed-free garden.