Tips and Tricks For Eliminating Lawn Weeds

Learn how to get rid of pesky weeds once and for all.

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March 23, 2015
By: Julie A Martens

Photo By: Roel Smart

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©Julie A. Martens

©Julie A. Martens

©Julie A. Martens

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©Julie A. Martens

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Weed-Free World

Growing a weed-free lawn may seem like mission impossible, and to be honest, it’s probably an unrealistic goal. But you can succeed in creating a thick, healthy lawn that doesn’t give weeds an inch to take root. When a weed does appear, tackle it head on with one of these simple tips.

Inspect Your Lawn

The first step in maintaining a healthy, strong lawn is inspecting it frequently. Take time to wander through the yard and observe what’s happening. Many weeds appear when growing conditions for grass wane, and as lawns become thin, weeds invade. Keep an eye out for signs of trouble in your turf. If you use a push mower, you can also easily notice potential problems as you’re mowing.

Hand Pulling

When it comes to removing lawn weeds, the most direct tactic is still the simplest and best: pull them. Carry a lightweight bucket to hold the weeds you gather, and keep a tool in the bucket that makes weeding easier. If you have plenty of weeds but are short on time, focus on pulling ones that are setting seed. Not allowing plants to reproduce is a key strategy in winning the war on weeds.

Wet Weeds

Weeds come up easier when soil is wet. Head out to pull weeds after a soaking rain, or after your lawn irrigation has turned off. If you have time to weed and there’s no rain in the forecast, run a sprinkler in the area you plan to attack. You can even use a watering can to soak soil in a small area.

Pre-Emergent Herbicides

Take advantage of pre-emergent herbicides to interrupt seed germination of annual weeds, like crabgrass, annual bluegrass or henbit. Corn gluten-based herbicides offer an earth-friendly alternative to traditional pre-emergent products. Whatever herbicide you choose to use, follow package directions carefully. Post-emergent herbicides that kill via leaf contact require wet foliage so the product sticks to weed leaves. You don’t want to apply contact herbicides before a rain, which would wash them off leaves. Pre-emergent products usually need watered in after application, so applying before rain is ideal.

Early Action

Tackle weeding when plants are young. Small plants have smaller root systems, which means they’re easier to pull or dig. When plants are young, leaves are most susceptible to contact herbicides (granules or sprays). As some plants mature, leaves develop a waxy coating that is impervious to herbicides. In these situations, you need to mow or trample weeds prior to applying herbicides, so the chemical can penetrate into the plant.

Specialized Tools

Check out specialized weeding tools, but don’t spend a fortune unless you know it will work. A mechanical dandelion grabber makes quick work of yanking dandelions and their taproots, provided soil is moist. This type of tool saves the back-breaking digging and kneeling that so often accompanies weeding.

Fish-Tail Tool

Tap-rooted weeds like dandelion, curly dock and purslane come up easier when you use a fish-tailed weeding tool. Look for one with a cup behind the fish-tail end, and you’ll have a tool that provides built-in leverage for prying weeds out of soil.

Pulling Tap Roots

When pulling tap-rooted weeds, you want to get as much of the root as possible. For dandelions, pull at least 2 inches of root to ensure the plant won’t resprout from the remaining root system. Moist soil is the secret to coaxing deep roots loose. The plant on the right shows two leafy crowns and two tap roots. This plant was pulled at some point but the root broke during the process. In response, the plant produced a split root and a second growing point. This is why you want to get the whole root the first time.

Painting With Herbicide

Another option to tackle deep-rooted perennial weeds like dandelion, burdock or curly dock is to paint leaves with herbicide. Do this in early spring, as soon as you spot the leafy growth. You’ll see plants wither and die within a few days. Keep an eye out for secondary shoots, especially from perennial herbs. Treat those leaves the moment they appear. When painting herbicide, carefully follow package instructions regarding application before rain.

Spraying Lawns

When dealing with a single weed, a handheld sprayer works fine to apply herbicide. If you have a larger number of weeds to treat, use a pressurized sprayer to save your hand and wrist from spray fatigue. It’s also a good idea to keep a separate sprayer just for weed killer. Label it clearly, and renew the label if it fades over time. Keep your dedicated sprayer filled with a selective herbicide that doesn’t kill grass, and you’ll always be ready to spray weeds the moment they appear.

Section Off Weeds

You can selectively treat weeds that are growing near desirable plants in several ways. Remove both ends of a large can, slip it over the weed and spray herbicide until leaves are coated. For larger areas, use a piece of cardboard to protect nearby plants from herbicide. Never spray herbicide on a windy day to avoid damaging desirable plants with spray drift. If you accidentally get herbicide on desirable plants, wash it off leaves immediately. If you’re using a systemic herbicide, one that’s absorbed through leaves and transported throughout the plant, clip the treated parts immediately, removing them from the parent plant. Then wash the plant thoroughly with water.

Remove Seedheads

If weeds manage to set seedheads, use your mower with the grass catcher in place to gather seedheads as you cut them. Lower the mower if necessary to help catch seedheads. You can also rake the seedheads before mowing to coax them to stand upright. Just take care you’re not releasing or spreading seeds by doing this. Dispose of seedheads with yard waste at the curb. Don’t add them to a home compost pile that likely won’t heat up enough to destroy any viable seeds.

Maintain Your Lawn

The best way to grow a weed-free lawn is to maintain the healthiest grass you can. Mow grass at the proper height, no matter the season. Make sure you fertilize and water your lawn as needed. Aerate and dethatch when conditions indicate it’s time to tackle these tasks. Add a layer of compost at least once a year to help build soil. A thick stand of grass doesn’t give weeds a chance.

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