Most people who like keeping a lawn will only be satisfied if their expanse of grass is entirely uniform and completely weed free. This can be a lofty goal since the plants we have termed weeds are usually rugged and enthusiastic growers producing vast amounts of long-lasting seeds, not to mention rambling underground runners that spring up as new plants with wild abandon!
In this article, I will share some top tips for keeping a healthy, weed resistant lawn along with good information about choosing a commercial weed killer or brewing up your own homemade concoction to help you get rid of weeds. Read on to learn more.
Use A Holistic Approach To Weed Control
It’s important to understand that preventing weeds is really more effective than attempting to kill them. Weeds grow best on bare, impoverished earth with lots of sunlight. If your lawn is thick and healthy and you don’t mow it down to the dirt, weeds will not be able to take hold.
Take good care of your lawn to prevent weed growth:
How to Fix a Patchy, Weedy Lawn – This Old House
Make & Follow A Smart Lawn Care Plan
No matter what type of weed you are dealing with, know that it is an opportunist. If you fail to feed and water your lawn properly and you mow it too short, you are setting up ideal conditions for every kind of weed to take hold. Well-cared for grass leaves no space for weeds. That’s why establishing a consistent lawn care plan is your first weapon in the battle against weeds.
- Fertilise the right amount. If don’t fertilise enough, your lawn will be thin and your soil will be just right for weed growth. If you are a grass purist and want only one kind of grass, excessive fertilising will nourish unwanted types of grass (e.g. crab grass, annual bluegrass, rye or Bermuda). Seek out a type of fertiliser that is formulated specifically for the type of grass you want and follow instructions very carefully.
- Water correctly! Don’t provide shallow, frequent waterings as this encourages shallow root growth and nourishes plants that have shallow roots (e.g. Bermuda, spurge, quackgrass and annual bluegrass). The most desirable types of grass have deep roots and prefer a deep weekly soaking to a daily sprinkle.
- Don’t scalp your lawn. When you mow your grass very short, you reduce the ability of the grass leaves to produce nutrients. This weakens your chosen type of grass. Additionally, mowing too low exposes the soil and encourages weed growth. It is best to keep your mower blades set at a height of two-to-four inches.
- Know your weeds. Learn about the different types of wild plants that populate your area. Familiarity with the conditions they prefer will give you a clue as to what you might correct about your lawn space to discourage their taking hold. For example, if you are having a problem with ground ivy, you may surmise that your soil is too wet and too shady for good grass growth. Correct those problems and you’ll discourage ivy growth and encourage healthy grass growth.
What Can I Use to Kill Weeds in My Lawn?
If you are just starting out and you have a wild, weedy lawn, understand that your weed killing project is likely to take several seasons and involve many steps and techniques. Here are some good guidelines to follow:
- Establish and follow a regular schedule of hand-weeding. If your lawn is large, tackle it section-by-section. Be sure that your weed control efforts include regular mowing of your whole lawn, which will help keep seed-spreading weeds under control.
- Pull perennial weeds while they are young and small. Dandelions are a prime example of a perennial weed which becomes harder to eradicate as it matures. This is because it has a very deep tap root. Use a dandelion digger or a very thin spade to remove the whole root while it’s small. Be careful not to leave any part of the root in the ground, or a new plant will grow.
- Fill bare spots. Whenever you pull up a weed, fill in the empty space with rich compost and top it off with grass seed and a good watering to prevent weed seed from taking hold. Keep it well watered until the new grass is an inch high.
- Apply organic compost regularly. Remember that well-enriched soil actually discourages the growth of weeds.
- Use weed killer carefully and sparingly. With consistent effort, you can eventually grow a lawn that will repel weeds. In the meantime, you may occasionally need to use a commercial herbicide or homemade weed killer to eradicate stubborn plants.
- Use carefully selected garden incinerator to dispose of any weeds that survive the Step 5.
Save Money & Avoid Chemicals With Homemade Weed Killer
If you don’t like the idea of using potentially dangerous chemicals on your lawn, you’ll be happy to know that it’s cheap and easy to mix up a batch of all natural, contact weed killer using ingredients you may already have on hand.
Rummage in your cupboards for white vinegar, plain salt and dish soap to mix up a powerful brew that can mean death to mature weeds when applied carefully on a still, warm, sunny day.
Because this homemade solution works by killing the leaves and stems (not the roots) you’ll need to check back every few days and reapply the product as needed until the weed returns no more.
Apply this concoction carefully, as it will negatively impact any growing plant it touches, including grass.
Recipe For Homemade Weed Killer
- A tablespoonful of liquid dish soap
- 4-5 litres of plain, white vinegar
- A cupful of plain table salt
Just add the salt and dish soap to 4-5L of vinegar and allow the solution to sit for a few hours so the salt dissolves completely. Shake it up and decant the mixture into a hand-held spray bottle with a nozzle that can be adjusted for stream or broad spray. Apply carefully to targeted weeds.
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Use Herbicides Sparingly & Carefully
If you are just starting out with a lawn that is completely overtaken by weeds, you may have to treat the whole thing with herbicides in order to get started. Once your lawn is established, only use herbicides when you have tried everything else possible to solve your weed problem. Follow these guidelines for safe, effective use:
- Choose correctly. Be sure the product you choose is safe for the type of grass you want to grow.
- Read and follow all directions for application, safe use and safe disposal of the product and its packaging.
- Double-check weather conditions. Some types of herbicides only work in specific temperature ranges or when applied during a certain time of year. All herbicides should be applied on clear, still days when no rain is expected.
Choose The Right Category Of Herbicide
There are three primary categories of herbicides to choose from:
- Preemergence herbicides are usually synthetic products designed to kill weed seeds as they germinate and before they sprout. This type of product is effective against crabgrass, but may also kill your desirable grass seed if you use it at the wrong time.
- Postemergence herbicides are designed to kill weeds that are already growing. This type of weed killer should be used on specific plants or small areas and not broadcast over your lawn.
- Weed & Feed products are designed to nourish desirable plants while killing off weeds; however, performance is often less than perfect. If the optimum time for fertilising your grass and the optimum time for eradicating your weeds does not coincide, using this type of product can be a waste of time. Furthermore, you run a risk of using too much weed killer if you do a follow-up fertilising using the same product. The safest of these types of products are those made with organic fertiliser and corn gluten.
Read The Subtext
When selecting a weed killer, make certain you understand how it is intended to work. There are a couple of types of weed killer: systemic and contact. A systemic herbicide works by circulating within the plant and killing leaves, stems and roots. A contact herbicide works by killing the leaves and stems it comes in contact with. This deprives the plant of photosynthesis and eventually kills it. Sometimes multiple applications are necessary.
You must also be aware of whether the product you choose is selective or non-selective. Systemic herbicides may be designed to kill only certain types of plants (selective) or they may kill all kinds of plants (non-selective). A broadleaf herbicide is a selective product that will kill dandelions and other broad-leafed plants (both weeds and desirable) but will not kill grasses of any kind. This is not a good choice for crabgrass, but it would work for dandelions.
All contact weed killers are non-selective and will damage or kill any plant they touch. This is why you must not spray them broadly, and avoid using contact weed killers on a windy day.
Caveat Emptor! Let The Buyer Beware!
Don’t believe advertising assurances at face value. Even if an herbicide is advertised as being safe and harmless, do a little research and know the ingredients before applying it to your lawn.
For example, glyphosphate is a commonly used systemic, nonselective chemical. It is an ingredient in many products that are touted as safe; however, it can kill off anything it touches, and it can have detrimental effects on your health, too. Know what you are using, and use all herbicides carefully.
No matter which type of weed killer you use, remember to evaluate and improve the condition of your lawn first. Correct any circumstances that might be encouraging weeds to grow and then do your best to nurture a thriving, healthy lawn. With a bit of patience and persistence, you may be able to get your weed problem under control without the use of potentially dangerous poisons.