So, how do you go about removing and preventing these undesirable plants from your yard? The answer is simple; maintain a healthy, well-nourished lawn and the weeds won’t stand a chance.
Some weeds are a little more resilient than others. Take the dandelion for example. One of these plants can make 15,000 seeds. Each of those seeds can survive in the soil for up to six years. If they are allowed to grow unchecked each of those 15,000 seeds can produce 15,000 more.
I don’t know about you, but that is a terrifying statistic to ponder when you’re trying to take back control of your lawn. There are quite a few options available to you that are both simple and cost-effective. Knowing your enemy is part of a good defense. Read on to learn more about weeds so you can better prepare your lawn and get rid of weeds for good.
What are Weeds?
Contrary to popular belief, weeds can be any plant. By definition, a weed is a plant that is growing where you do not want it to grow. Even tulips could be considered a weed if they were growing in an area of your lawn where you did not want them to grow!
Botanically speaking, there are three different types of weeds: broadleaf, grass, and grass-like.
Broadleaf weeds are characterized by their wide leaves with veins branching in different directions and have a wide variety of appearances outside of this distinction. Common broadleaf weeds include dandelions, clover, and chickweed.
Grassy weeds are named for their strong resemblance to grass and are more difficult to identify. They emerge from the soil as a single leaf and have round, hollow stems. Common grassy weed species include annual bluegrass, crabgrass, and bermudagrass.
Grass-like weeds are commonly known as sedges. They have narrow, triangular leaves arranged in sets of 3. Several of the most common sedges include wild onions, nutsedge, and kyllinga.
How Do Weeds Spread?
Weeds are difficult to contain because they are so easily spread. They can be blown by the wind, attach themselves to pets or lawn equipment, be transported by water, and can even be unknowingly brought into your yard in soil you buy.
Since weeds can remain dormant for several years until the perfect conditions arise, they are easy to miss when first starting your lawn. To be as safe as possible, whenever bringing soil into your yard from an outside source, apply weed prevention before placing soil in your weed-free lawn.
Like other plants, weeds fall into three different categories or classifications: annuals, perennials, and biennials. When fighting weeds, it is important to know their classification since that will determine the best way to combat them.
As the second most common category of weed, annuals could be an issue for your lawn. Annuals complete their life cycle, from seeds to flowering, in one growing season. They then die and leave behind their seeds to grow again next season. Crabgrass is a common type of weed that falls into this category.
Perennials, like dandelions, come back year after year from their roots. This type of weed is the most common type found in lawns and is often the most difficult to control. They can live for many years and do not die after flowering. All perennials possess underground parts that store food for the cooler months so they can survive and flower again in the spring.
Biennials, such as mullein or Queen Anne’s Lace, live for two years. The first year is spent in vegetative development and may grow rosettes but never flower until the second year. After they flower and go through seed production, they die and new weeds are grown from those seeds. This type of weed only spreads through their seeds and are less common than the other types.
Conditions Weeds Love
Just like any other plant, weeds need the right conditions to thrive. Weeds especially need lots of nitrogen, sunlight, and soil temperatures above 55° F. As soon as the right conditions appear, weeds will germinate and they will focus solely on growing. Make sure your lawn doesn’t have any of these characteristics Otherwise, you could soon have a major weed problem on your hands.
- Frequent Watering – Frequent sprinkling of water on your lawn can actually encourage weed growth. Grass needs a heavier watering every few weeks to encourage strong roots. This leads to healthier grass and a more weed resistant lawn.
- Improper Fertilization – Timing is everything with weeds. There is a short window where their seeds will germinate under the perfect conditions. If you fertilize your lawn during this period, you may be fertilizing your weeds as well as your grass.
- Compacted Soil – Grass prefers spongy soil and does not grow to the best of its ability in highly compacted soil. Weeds, however, have no preference. Lightly till your compacted soil to encourage grass in these areas.
- Insect Damage – The more damaged a lawn, the less strength it has to fight off weeds. Insect damage can cause destruction to leaves and roots, making it harder for grass to grow well. Weeds will move in where grass starts to recede. Try a pesticide that is safe for use in organic gardening like Neem Oil.
- Disease – Weeds love unhealthy lawns. They will quickly inhabit the areas grass vacates as it becomes weaker from any disease or fungi. Using a fungicide that is safe for your lawn and free of harmful chemicals is a great way to protect your lawn and keep it healthy.
- Poor Drainage – Nothing says yes to weeds and no to grass like overly damp soil. Landscape or till lightly to aerate the soil. This will solve your drainage problems and discourage weeds from growing.
- Short Grass – Mowing grass too short creates stressful conditions for your lawn. Having grass remain at a height between 2.5-3 inches provides shade for the plant and promotes drought resistance. Cutting grass too short also creates less coverage and gives weeds more access to sunlight.
How to Control & Prevent Weeds
The most effective and simple way to control weeds is to maintain a healthy lawn and promote desirable plants. Well-maintained lawns naturally control weeds without you having to resort to buying weed killer. Learn more about how to create a healthy, lush lawn here.
Choosing the right weed control requires understanding the weed as well as its stage of growth. It is best to take into consideration your target weed species and start to plan from there.
Controlling Annuals, Perennials, and Biennials
Annuals typically start to germinate after soil is disturbed such as when a yard is tilled to prepare for planting. Luckily, there are quite a few ways to battle annuals. They can be hand pulled, eliminated by herbicides, or smothered by mulch or similar products. Note the locations of the annuals and act accordingly. In gardens or landscaped areas it may be easier to mulch. If weeds are widespread, an herbicide may be the best option.
Most weeds homeowners will encounter fall into the perennial category. Their extensive roots must be fully removed to prevent them from returning. These type of weeds are best controlled by hand pulling and applying herbicides. Keeping your lawn healthy is the number one best defense against these type of weeds.
Biennials are not too common in lawns but can be controlled in a number of ways. In order to keep them from coming back, you must eliminate their roots completely. Biennials are best killed by hand pulling, applying or using herbicides, or smothering with mulch or similar products.
How to Remove Weeds by Hand
Hand pulling weeds is the most environmentally-friendly method of controlling weeds. Unfortunately, it is also the most time consuming and tedious. Weeds can be pulled at any time but are easiest to pull after it has rained and the soil is soft. It is also better to remove weeds before they start to seed to avoid accidentally shaking seeds into the soil where they will start growing.
Lawn maintenance might be the best option in preventing weeds, but it is not the only effective method. For the best results, use more than one method of weed prevention or control. This will massively limit the impact weeds could have on your lawn.
- Cover Them Up – Use mulch, bark chips, or wood chips to completely cover the weeds in landscaped areas. This will keep weeds from getting sunlight, preventing them from continuing to grow. Adding mulch to shadier areas where grass isn’t likely to grow removes space where weeds could thrive.
- Overseed – Overseeding involves planting grass seed into existing turf without tearing up the soil. This helps to fill in patches where weeds might take over.
- Spread Cornmeal – Corn meal is a natural byproduct of the corn milling process and studies have shown it is an effective herbicide. While cornmeal is effective against seeds, it does not damage the plants after the seed stage.
- Apply Weed Prevention Plus – This product contains active bacteria that eat up available nitrogen in the soil which weeds use to grow quickly. After two weeks, the bacteria die and release the nitrogen back into the soil for your grass to benefit from. Because the weeds only have a 10 day window to germinate, this will effectively prevent seeds from growing.
- Mow On The Highest Setting – Keep your lawn tall but maintained. This will keep weeds from getting enough sunlight. As a general rule, mow your grass no lower than 2.5-3 inches tall.
- Keep Weeds Out of Compost Piles – If you think there are any seeds on the weeds you’ve been pulling, do not put them in your compost pile. The seeds could potentially germinate or be spread wherever you move your compost.
Everything You Need to Know About Herbicides
Herbicides, more commonly known as weed killers, are substances that are toxic to plants that are used to eliminate unwanted vegetation. As with most lawn care products, herbicides come in variations that are synthetic/chemical or safe for organic use. Chemical herbicides have been linked to harmful health related issues such as cancer and are harmful to the environment. They cause uncontrolled growth and twisting in plants which cause they plant to grow itself to death.
Organic herbicides, on the other hand, contain natural ingredients that eventually break down without harming the environment. Here at SaferⓇ Brand we are committed to providing safe products and from here on out, any discussions of herbicides will reference only natural herbicides or those that are deemed safe for organic use.
Herbicides are better for controlling weeds on larger lawns or if you have a severe weed problem. Hand pulling weeds can take longer than you are willing to commit to and applying weed killer is a relatively simple and quick process.
There are two main categories for herbicides: systemic and contact. Systemic herbicides enter a plant through its leaves and roots and then moves throughout the plant and kills it from the inside out. Contact herbicides do the exact opposite; they attack leaves and other exposed parts of the plant to reduce its ability to photosynthesize.
Herbicides have subcategories in which they can be classified. One of these subcategories differentiates between selective and non-selective herbicides. Selective herbicides are formulated to kill only certain plants. Be sure to check the label of each herbicide to see if it will work against the plants you wish to eliminate. This type of herbicide does not typically hurt an already established lawn, but it can cause damage to new turf.
Non-selective herbicides kill plants without discretion. This type of herbicide will kill any plant it is applied to, so your lawn is definitely not safe. Use extra care when applying this type so you don’t end up eliminating parts of your lawn as well as your weeds.
Finally, herbicides can be pre- or post-emergent. Pre-emergents are designed to be applied before the weed germinates or starts to grow. They will not have any effect on existing or established weeds. These types of herbicides are meant to attack seeds to eliminate weeds before they become a problem by creating a chemical barrier between them and the nutrients they need to grow. After 6-8 weeks the barrier will break down and the seeds will no longer be a threat. To be effective, pre-emergents should be applied before the soil reaches 55° F.
Post-emergents do not work effectively on seeds. They target established weeds that are already growing. For the best results, apply this herbicide later in the season after weeds are growing but before they start to seed. All contact herbicides are post-emergent.
Weed Control Schedule
Timing is crucial in the fight against weeds. Apply too late and seeds will germinate or spread. Apply too early and the product may not be effective. To get the best results, apply herbicides three times a year, once in the early spring, again in late spring and once in the fall. You may also decide to apply herbicides whenever you fertilize your lawn. The dates to apply both products will be very similar.
- Early spring – Give your lawn a thorough inspection. Are there lots of weeds or just a few? Are you more worried about seeds or existing weeds? After you’ve answered those questions, then decide on a treatment plan. Apply a pre-emergent before they have time to germinate when soil temperatures start to increase.
- Late spring – Late spring falls in the middle of the growing season. Inspect your yard again and determine which weeds have grown back. Apply the best herbicide for the type of weed you have or remove the weeds by hand.
- Fall – After you have mowed your lawn for the final time of the year, treat your lawn with an herbicide to remove any remaining weeds. If you have only a few weeds left, walk through your yard and remove weeds by hand to make sure they do not survive the winter and plague you again next spring.
These tips will not only help keep you organized but they will help you get the best possible results to maintain a healthy, weed-free lawn.
- Mark Your Containers – Designate specific containers, like a spray bottle, that will only be used for herbicides. Mark it clearly so it will not be mistaken for something else, especially a food or water container.
- Read All Labels – Herbicide labels will tell you exactly what kind of herbicide they are, how to use them well, and which plants they will work on.
- No Mowing or Pruning Before Product Application – Herbicides will be more effective if there is more surface area available on the plant you wish to eliminate. Shorter leaves, especially with contact herbicides, may not provide enough surface area to be as effective as possible. Give your herbicide a few days to sink in and start to work before you mow or prune as well.
- Focus On Actively Growing Plants – Apply herbicides to younger plants to stop them in their tracks before they can flower and produce seeds. The older a plant gets, the more resistant and stronger it will become. Try to eliminate them before they have a chance to become more resilient.
- Create A Strong Lawn – A newly planted lawn may not be able to stand up to the stress of adding an herbicide. You may have to wait a season before you apply any type of herbicide to prevent damage to your lawn. Take the time to make sure you have a healthy lawn before applying herbicides.
- Keep It Simple – If you are trying to cover a large area with herbicides, use a hose-end attachment for easy spraying. If your herbicide is in granular form, keep it simple by using a wheeled spreader.
- Spot Treat As Needed – Some weeds might sneak by your careful inspection and applications of herbicide. Keep a close eye on your lawn and apply a small amount of herbicide to small areas to eliminate any weeds you missed.
- Avoid Windy Days – Try not to apply chemicals to weeds on windy days. The wind may cause the chemicals to drift or run onto your grass and kill it as well.
- Discard Responsibly – Discard weeds and clippings in an area where they will not be able to germinate. Adding them to compost can lead to their germination and help them spread wherever you put the compost.