In our post “Effects of Dog Urine and Feces on Lawns” we touched on the topic of weeds and how they pray on weak lawns. These lawn pests look for any openings to take root and make a permanent home for themselves and future offspring. Within the industry, battling weeds is called weed control rather than extermination, as it’s a matter of ongoing maintenance when considering a slight breeze across a dandelion down the street will bring them right back to your doorstep. In this post we will discuss how to tackle weeds in your lawn, pre-existing and preventative.
Pre-existing weeds must be killed and/or removed down to the root. Weeds are known for having deep and hardy roots (often 2 – 3 ft deep) and if not completely killed off or physically removed the plant can grow right back.
Herbicides and/or Weed & Feed: If physically removing the weeds is not an option due to health issues or just the sheer quantity of the problem in the lawn, there are many herbicides on the market that will kill weeds without harming the lawn.There are also many businesses these days who only provide weed control services, if the problem is immense enough you may want to consider it an option. Weed & Feed products work in two ways, first they kill the weeds, but they also simultaneously feed the grass and encourage its strengthening and growth thereby pushing out any other existing weeds or soon to sprout ones. We will discuss the importance of healthy lush lawns further in the post.
Organic Weed Killer: Many homeowners are concerned about the effect herbicides will have on the health of their family and pets, and rightly so. There are options for organic weed killer and easiest option (low maintenance) for homeowners is a vinegar solution:
(1 gallon pure vinegar, 2 cups Epsom salt , quarter cup Dawn dish soap to help it stick). Apply in the afternoon on a hot sunny day directly to each individual weed only. Three hours later, the weed is dead and easy to pull out if required.
The idea with this solution is to burn the plant itself along with just a bit of the upper root so that the weed can not get it’s much needed sunlight. It’s a well known fact that dandelions, in particular, flourish best in full sun. The problem with this solution is you need to be precise when spraying as it will kill off some of the grass that it hits. However, consider that if you physically remove a large weed you will be left with a gaping hole where it once was. If you use herbicides to kill off the weeds you will still be left with gaps where they once were. So anyway you look at it, you may still need to throw down a bit of grass seed on each of the now open spaces to fill them up with grass.
With that said, there are options for organic weed & feed also, however, the application process and timing can become challenging. Many reviews of such products will describe it as uninspiring. They work better as preventative or very early in the weed/dandelion season when the weeds are still very young and not very strong. Any older/bigger weeds will be left behind and the grass will not be able to push them out. Again, keep in mind that weeds can often have taproots of 2 or 3 feet deep and even a little root left behind can bring them right back.
To summarize; where the vinegar solution works by burning the plant itself and not allowing for it to get sunlight causing potential death of the root also but more likely will require manual removal then seeding to block out any attempt for a reemergence, organic weed & feed options work by suffocating the root itself and so requires dedication to the process and exact calculations with regards to concentration. With that in consideration, you can understand where larger more established weeds may not be affected by these products and will require manual removal anyway or a stronger product.
Preventive Measures – Weeds
Once you have rid your lawn of the weeds, or at least the full grown ones, you must immediately focus on the health of your lawn. You have to choke them out and the best way to do so is by achieving a lush thick lawn.
Mowing the Lawn: Mow you lawn at a high setting. Weeds, mainly dandelions, need sunlight and the shade created by taller grass will discourage the growth.
Feeding Program: A well fed lawn is healthier and will have a better root system to handle heat, cold, drought, traffic and weeds. Feeding it three times a year is recommended. We suggest the following schedule.
- Spring (between April and June) – Now is the time to amp up the health/thickness of your lawn as it is weed season. Feeding your lawn in the spring will help choke them out.
- Summer (between June and August) – Heat, drought and foot traffic is stressful on grass so feeding it will strengthen and protect it.
- Fall (between August and October) – The most important feeding is right before the winter when grass is preparing for dormancy. This will strengthen roots and increase nitrogen storage for an early spring green and a healthier lawn next year.
Dead/Burn Patch Correction: In a previous post we mentioned that weeds are hardy enough to take root in dead or burnt patches in your lawn. In fact, these open spaces that get direct sunlight is precisely what they look for. Therefore, correct any such patches immediately by seeding and watering well. If the patch is large enough, you may want to forget the seed and just get some sod. Again, make sure to water well so the roots can quickly and effectively penetrate and make home in the lawn.
Aeration: Surprisingly, many people do not know what aeration is or its importance. Nutrients must be able to reach the soil beneath the grass. Aeration can be an important step to a healthy lawn because it forces air and water to penetrate lawn thatch or built up lawn. Lets discuss.
What Is It? – Aeration is perforating the soil with small holes to allow air, water and nutrients to penetrate the grass roots helping them grow more deeply. The purpose for aeration is to relieve soil compaction as soil compaction prevents circulation and starves the roots of air, water and nutrients. Aeration is usually done in the Spring and the Fall. However, not ALL lawns need it.
Does Your Lawn Need Aeration?
- Does your lawn get heavy use? Children and pets running around the yard contribute to soil compaction.
- Is your lawn part of a newly constructed home? The topsoil of new yards can be compacted by construction traffic.
- Does your soil dry out easily and have a spongy feel? This might mean your lawn has an excessive thatch problem.
- Was your lawn recently sodded and did it result in soil layering? Finer soil that comes with sod is layered over coarser soil. What happens is drainage is disrupted because water is retained in the finer soil which then leads to compacted lawns and poor root development. Aerating will break up the layering and allow water to flow.
Hardy Grasses: We’ve mentioned it before and we will do so again, as depending on your neighborhood and your lifestyle the type of grass you choose can make or break your yard.
Kentucky Blue Grass is the preferred grass by most home owners due to its beautiful colour and texture, however, in our opinion the two best grasses for yards with dogs, high traffic, or prone to weeds are Ryegrass and Tall Fescue.
Ryegrass: Does well in cooler climates and can sustain itself through droughts and winter seasons. It is a good option for home lawns as well as any high traffic areas such as playgrounds or sports fields with its good tolerance of shade and good wear resistance. Ryegrass has a normal schedule of 3 to 5 fertilizes per year. It stand well at 2 to 4 inches in mowing height.
Tall Fescue: Tall fescue is a cool season grass that can also tolerate hot and dry conditions better than other species. It is one of the most durable grasses and is often used on high traffic, it also tolerates shade well if you don’t have much sunlight in parts of your yard. It’s quite easy to maintain, it grows quite quickly, needs only 2 to 4 fertilizes per year and the mowing height is preferred at 2.5 to 4 inches and few insects bother it.
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