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Throughout North America, homeowners confront an annual scourge that can turn a lush, smooth emerald carpet into a weedy mess: crabgrass. Specifically, large crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis) — which also goes by the name hairy crabgrass — and smooth crabgrass (Digitaria ischaemum) can invade lawns, flower beds and vegetable gardens, rapidly becoming a nuisance. When one plant can produce an estimated 150,000 new crabgrass seeds from each plant, you know it’s trying to take over your yard!
Crabgrass and other unwanted weeds steal valuable moisture and nutrients from the soil, taking them away from plants you value such as lawn grasses, flowers and vegetables. Crabgrass can also make a lawn look unkempt. As an annual grass sown from seed, when the plants die in the fall, they leave gaping holes throughout the lawn during the winter.
The first step in managing and repelling any intruder is to identify the enemy. Once you learn what crabgrass looks like, it’s important to learn several methods of controlling this weedy grass. Biological control of crabgrass is easier than you’d think, but there are also several crabgrass control products available at your local nursery and garden center that kill unwanted crabgrass or prevent it from sprouting in the first place.
To the casual observer, all grass may look the same — but look again. Peer closely at a spot on your lawn. You’ll notice that the smooth green carpet is actually composed of individual blades of various grass species. Lawns throughout North America are sown with cool season grass, warm season grass or a mixture of both types. The type of grass grown in your yard may differ from your neighbor’s significantly, depending on where you bought the seed, when the lawn was established and which varieties you chose for the lawn.
You can identify crabgrass by looking for:
Large crabgrass has:
On the other hand, smooth crabgrass:
Of the two types, smooth crabgrass is a lot more common in lawns because it can survive repeated close mowing. Large crabgrass doesn’t like a close shave, so it doesn’t thrive as well in groomed areas such as lawns, but it grows more easily in open pastures and fields.
If you’ve taken a walk around your property and recognized crabgrass growing among the Kentucky bluegrass, zoysia and fescue, don’t despair. There are several steps you can take to make your yard inhospitable to crabgrass plants and seeds.
To take back control of your lawn from the crabgrass invaders, try changing a few of your gardening and lawn care practices.
Crabgrass that invades flower beds or vegetable gardens should also be controlled through simple horticultural practices. Pulling crabgrass by hand is the preferred, albeit tiring, method. You can also hoe the area around the plants to pull up crabgrass by the roots. Mulching your garden with wood chips or hay reduces weeds and increases natural moisture retention near the roots of plants, a plus for drought-prone areas.
Crabgrass preventers are good at stopping crabgrass seeds from germinating. Since each crabgrass plant produces a huge volume of seeds — and even small plants can begin producing seeds when relatively young — preventing seeds from germinating in the soil is a useful crabgrass prevention tip.
Concern® Weed Prevention Plus® is an excellent crabgrass preventative made from corn gluten meal. It kills the roots of sprouting seeds, so it nips germinating crabgrass as it emerges, but it won’t harm established lawns and gardens. As long as your existing flowers and vegetables have several sets of leaves, you can use Concern® Weed Prevention Plus® near your plants.
As previously mentioned, a healthy lawn prevents crabgrass from gaining a foothold. Keep your lawn healthy with Ringer® Lawn Restore® II Fertilizer. Underneath that lovely lawn is a thriving ecosystem of fungi, bacteria, insects and other living creatures that contribute to healthy soil and grass. Ringer® Lawn Restore® II Fertilizer supports and restores this healthy ecosystem so your grass can thrive. It provides micronutrients lawn grass craves in a balanced, economical formula.
If all else fails and you need to spot-kill patches of crabgrass, there is a product to take care of the job: Safer® Brand Fast Acting Weed and Grass Killer. This weed killer features a simple pump spray bottle to kill individual crabgrass plants. It’s fast acting, and the lawn can be reseeded with your chosen grass seed blend in as little as two days after application. A larger size concentrate is also available.
For more information on conquering crabgrass, your local Cooperative Extension Office may have pamphlets, flyers or information to help you maintain a healthy lawn. They will also have lists of good grass seed varieties to plant in your area and the proper mowing height to encourage a healthy lawn.