Just when you thought that your carpet of green grass couldn’t look any better, a weed pops through to remind you that you are not in control. Unfortunately, weed control is part of any lawn maintenance routine. Whether the seeds blow in on the wind, drop from a passing bird, or lie dormant in the soil waiting for the right time to emerge, it’s inevitable that they will find your grass. A quick response is key to preventing a few weeds from swallowing your entire lawn. Here are nine common lawn weeds and the best (and safest) ways to stop their spread.
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One of the most recognizable lawn weeds, dandelions have notched leaves and yellow flowers that become puffballs most of us blew on as kids. Their thick taproot sinks deeply into the soil, making it difficult to pull the entire plant out by hand. The weed often snaps, leaving the taproot in place to regrow, which isn’t a totally bad thing if you’re consistent with this method. Repeatedly removing the growth above ground makes it tough for the plant to produce food and the dandelion eventually will die. If you prefer a more immediate response, opt for a post-emergent herbicide designed for use in the lawn. All parts of the dandelion are edible, so you can toss them in a salad or sauté them as long as you haven't exposed them to any herbicides.
Producing 150,000 seeds per plant, crabgrass is tough and determined to take over. This annual grass pops up frequently around heat-absorbing areas like driveways and sidewalks where soil warms faster, triggering the germination of crabgrass seeds. Though hand-pulling is helpful, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to control the spread using just this method. Your best defense is a preemergent herbicide, or crabgrass preventer, applied in early spring before seeds have a chance to germinate.
This perennial groundcover produces three leaflets atop a long stem and small rounded white or pink flowers. If clover has “invaded” your perfect suburban lawn, consider its attributes before removing it. It’s an excellent pollinator plant and a favorite of honeybees. Clover doesn’t require fertilizer or water to remain green during drought conditions and it has no serious pests. In fact, many lawn seed companies include clover in seed mixes because of its low maintenance and environmentally friendly attributes. To prevent a total clover takeover of the lawn, remove small clumps by hand or mow larger areas high—at three inches or more.
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Also called ground ivy, creeping Charlie thrives in poorly drained shady sights with fertile soil. Rounded leaves with toothed margins form along square stems that weave across the lawn. Blue funnel-shaped flowers appear from April to June. Controlling crabgrass is difficult, especially in shady sites where there’s little competition from grass. Increase sunlight to these areas by pruning trees and shrubs. To control the spread by hand, dig out all the stems and roots or the plant will grow back. For large areas, apply a post-emergent broadleaf herbicide containing dicamba from mid-spring to early summer and in middle to late fall.
Closely related to moss roses, purslane has fleshy succulent leaves and stems that hug the ground, radiating out from a single taproot. It has small yellow flowers and can produce large mats in bare soil. Purslane seeds germinate best when soil temperatures reach 90 degrees or more, so a preemergent herbicide applied in April will likely have lost its efficacy by June when purslane starts growing. Pull by hand, making sure to remove all parts of the plant. Seed bare spots in the lawn in spring or fall to prevent purslane from gaining a foothold in these areas.
A perennial weed, field bindweed is one of the lawn weeds that is tough and difficult to eradicate. It has arrowhead-shaped leaves and flowers resembling small morning glories. This vining weed spreads by underground rhizomes. It wraps around plants and spreads across lawns so densely that it can smother and kill them. Repeated pulling before the plant flowers and releases seeds is the best control method. Some post-emergent herbicides work, but be sure to read the label to confirm the product's effectiveness against bindweed.
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Dense, compacted soils are favored by lamb's-quarters, which can grow up to 5 feet tall with enough sun and moisture. Toothed pale green leaves are egg shaped and have a fine white powdery coating, especially on new growth. The good news is this weed pulls up easily. The bad news, especially if you’re a vegetable gardener, is that it harbors viruses that attack certain crops like beets, lettuce, cucumber, and watermelon. If hand-pulling isn’t an option, mow the lawn consistently to prevent the weed from producing seed or apply a preemergent herbicide to prevent germination.
Sharp barbs on the spear-shaped leaves of this tough perennial weed are a dead giveaway that it means business. Canada thistle is hard to remove, requiring repeated efforts to eradicate the entire deep taproot. When left behind, the smallest piece will sprout a new plant, and in some cases, two new plants. Chemical control is an option but cutting, while wearing gardening gloves, works by attrition. Snip off the plant at its base and continue to do this until the weed no longer grows. When you remove the leaves, the plant can’t produce the food it requires to grow and produce seed.
Also called wood sorrel, oxalis is a perennial weed that looks a lot like clover, except with yellow flowers. It forms a dense, low-growing mound that spreads by seed, stem fragment, or underground root. Hand-pulling rarely works because you leave much of the plant behind. Your best bet for small areas is digging by hand, but this option often takes several seasons to have an impact. Apply a broadleaf herbicide like dicamba to actively growing plants before they set seed. As with all chemical treatments, follow the application instructions and wear protective clothing.
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Weed control is part of every successful lawn maintenance plan. Here are some steps you can take to ensure that your grass stays as weed-free as possible.
• Mow higher and as needed. Frequent mowing weakens grass and exposes the soil so weed seeds can germinate. Grass blades, when cut often, won’t develop the side shoots required to create a denser lawn. Mow frequently enough to maintain a lawn height of 3 to 4 inches.
• Water infrequently, but deeply. Lawns require about an inch of water per week. Any more than that and you’re inviting disease. Water deeply to promote a stronger root system and only when there’s been insufficient rainfall. A rain gauge positioned in the landscape can help you determine weekly precipitation.
• Pull weeds when soil is damp. Hard soil is reluctant to release weeds. Wait a day or two after rainfall to do some hand-pulling or digging.
• Never allow weeds to go to seed. A weed flower is a sure sign that the plant is preparing to set seed. Cut it down to prevent it from spreading.
• Dig only when necessary. Thousands of weed seeds sit just below the surface of the soil, waiting to be kissed by the sun. The more you disrupt soil in your beds and lawn, the more you increase the likelihood that seeds will germinate.
• Mulch landscape beds. Mulch stops the germination of weed seeds by preventing sunlight from reaching them.
• Fertilize appropriately. Apply the right amount at the right time, according to the instructions on the option you choose, to grow a healthy, weed-free lawn.
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