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Strategies for Dealing with Lawn Weeds

A completely weed-free lawn is impractical, if not impossible. A beautiful lawn that includes a few weeds is both practical and possible — and acceptable. Most people prefer to keep weeds to a minimum. After all, if you wanted weeds, you wouldn’t have planted a lawn in the first place.

You can choose from several techniques for keeping lawn weeds to a minimum. Usually, a combination of the following techniques works best:

  • Eliminate weeds before you plant. If you’re planting a new lawn, you can eliminate many weeds and greatly reduce future problems before you even plant.

    One of the best ways to eliminate weeds before planting is to rely on the sod grower. Sod lawns are delivered to you virtually weedless. When the carpet of sod gets placed on your soil, many of the most common weeds are buried and never seen again. There are exceptions: Bermuda grass and similar tough spreading grasses can, and often do, invade new sod lawns.

  • Outcompete the weeds. Like many competitive situations, the healthiest, most vigorous competitor wins. If you take all the steps necessary to keep your lawn in tip-top shape, the grass wins. If you water, mow, and fertilize your lawn properly and aerate to reduce thatch and compacted soil, you have fewer weeds.

    If you’re neglectful and give the weeds just the slightest edge, they’ll blast into your lawn, like Reggie White going through the offensive line of a Pop Warner football team.

  • Renovate. If the weeds really have the upper hand, consider renovating your lawn. By renovating, you can kill all the weeds, repair the soil conditions that may have favored the invaders, and replant with a tougher competitor, such as tall fescue or hybrid Bermuda grass.

  • Ignore the weeds. Maybe you should just learn to live with the weeds. They really don’t get in the way of the kids playing on the lawn, do they? If the lawn looks good from the street, who cares if you have a few weeds? If nothing else, start thinking of your yard as a meadow rather than a lawn. Hey, people really do this.

Cultural practices can throw the competition one way or the other:

  • Mow at the right height, and the grass shades out weed seeds and seedlings. Mow too low, and the weeds suck up the light and are off to the races.

  • Mow frequently, removing new flowers on weeds, and seeds never get a chance to mature and scatter near and far. Don’t mow often enough and, well, you get the picture — more seeds and more weeds.

  • Water properly. Overly wet, dry, or compacted soils are ideal for many weeds, terrible for lawn grasses. Water properly, and you give your lawn the upper hand.

  • Fertilize. Many weeds love infertile soil. Underfertilize your lawn and the weeds run right over the top of it.

  • Pull the weeds by hand. Don’t laugh. Hand-pulling the weeds can really help, especially if you have a young lawn. Just pull a weed whenever you see one, or really go over the lawn, and get as many as you can. Try to pull the weeds, root and all, before they flower and set seed. This activity can be therapeutic — victory over weeds in hand-to-hand combat. What an accomplishment.

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