Lawn “Weeds” a Problem?

Violets Flowering in Lawn
March 21, 2019
  |   4 Comments

Image says Pardon the Weeds I'm Feeding the Bees

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Lawn “Weeds” a Problem?

You’re looking at your lawn, and thinking there’s a few too many weeds in there. Before grabbing that bag of chemicals, learn more about what the weeds are telling you, and use easy, organic methods to increase your grass and decrease (or appreciate) your weeds.

Especially in sunny conditions, and with healthy soils, grass is extremely competitive, and cared for properly, will out-compete most weeds, so encouraging a dense stand of grass is critical. The two easiest ways are to let you grass remain long, and create a denser cover of grass. Tall grass helps shade the ground, preventing sun from reaching to soil, where weed seeds might germinate. Mow higher than 3″ with sharp blades, and always leave your grass clippings behind. And overseed (instead of “weed and feed”) your grass whenever it is thin or bare. In the spring use annual ryegrass to fill in thin areas and shade out weeds, and it will die back just in the summer, creating space to overseed perennial turf grasses in the fall. 

While low or thin grass may be a problem, weeds can also be a sign of nutrient imbalances in the soil, much of which can be corrected with organic amendments like compost. Examples include dandelions, that can thrive in soils that are low in calcium, and plantain can be a sign of low nitrogen or phosphorus. But most lawn weeds share two things in common: compacted soils, and low nutrient fertility. Take a soil test, and check for soil compaction–if you cannot easily push a screwdriver in the soil, it is compacted. Focus on aerating compacted soils, and feeding the soil with organic amendments.

So what’s really a “weed” in your lawn? Perhaps dandelions and violets add a sprinkle of color to your lawn in the spring, and nectar for pollinators? How about making some ice cream from dandelion flowers or violet infused vinegar? Maybe that winter chickweed or summer purslane will make a tasty addition to your edible wild salad? And clover is almost critical in a lawn, to capture and convert nitrogen from the air, while also being an important summer source of nectar for pollinators. A few weeds in a lawn is all about just learning to appreciate a diverse look and the function of various plants. But if weeds are so abundant that you have large bare patches when the weeds are dead, focus on increasing your grass coverage. Find out more on our lawn care webpages.



4 comments on "Lawn “Weeds” a Problem?"

  1. Jan Polissar says:

    The worst weed I have to contend with is the one that overnight puts up a stalk that has a small flower and number of seed pods on it, that, when dry, sprays the seeds widely when touched. This is a very ingenious mechanism for spreading the seeds far beyond the foot radius of the initial spread by hitch hiking on the animals that triggered the spray. The name is Bitter (?something…?) and I am told cows will not graze in a field contaminated with this weed because it is so bitter . I spend hours each week trying to pull out the new plants but it is a losing battle. I understand that you do not favor herbicides but unless you can tell me a better way, I am gong to use RoundUp. also somewhat effective on Wild Onion and Wild Strawberry, #2 and #3 problems. And, no, I am not trying to get a Home Beautiful lawn.

    1. mary says:

      Jan,

      This might be a long answer but I hope it helps!
      I would not recommend spraying the bittercress with anything, whether it be a synthetic chemical or organic chemical. The reason being is trifold. 1. You are exposing yourself to chemicals unnecessarily. 2. It’s money and time down the drain. 3. The reason I say unnecessary, and money and time down the drain, is because bittercress is an annual weed. Wild strawberries and wild onion are perennials so the chemical in roundup and many other chemicals are targeting the way the plan grows in a way that messes with growth hormones to prevent it from growing back. The ingeniousness of bittercress is typical for annual plants that only grow once and then die–they are fully reliant on the seeds they produce to create new plants so create a lot of them. It’s also why more can pop up throughout the growing season, because the seeds can sometimes last for years in the soil.

      So save yourself money and time and don’t buy something to spray them.

      Instead, we use the term, “overseed instead of weed and feed” which is just a trade of time and cost and better for you and the environment. The best way to suppress any weed in a lawn, but especially annual weeds like bittercress, but also strawberry and onion, is to increase the density of your lawn grass. The denser the lawn grass, the less bare soil there is for a weed seed to get enough sun, water, and nutrients to germinate and survive. A dense and healthy lawn has an amazing 850 turf plants per square foot! But grass plants die on average about every 7-8 years so it’s very necessary in most lawns to add fresh seed, sometimes every single fall! The second best thing you can do to suppress weeds is keep your lawn mower blades as high as possible. You want the grass to stay over 3″ tall unless you are overseeding. When the grass is short it allows more sun to reach bare soil and increase the germination and survival of weeds. Also, always leave your grass clippings after mowing, don’t water unless there is extreme drought or new seed is getting established, and ensure your soil is not compacted. There are more tips, but these will set you far ahead on reducing the time your spend weeding your lawn.

      I hope that helps, and any further questions feel free to email us directly at askdep@montgomerycountymd.gov which will get through to me directly. Best! Mary

  2. Robert says:

    Listen to Mary. If the plants have time to flower and go to seed, killing today’s plant is a complete waste. Hairy bittercress will die, on its own in the next few weeks, leaving seeds behind. If it bloomed, it’s probably made seeds and is about to die anyway and nothing you do will change that. These seeds will germinate in the fall, survive the winter and flower next spring. Trying to prevent germination will prevent germination of the grass seed to make the turf better. Work on making a healthy lawn, now, not killing off the Hairy Bittercress.

  3. Jan Polissar says:

    “Work on making a healthy lawn means doing what? The other suggestion I got was to be sure to allow the grass to stay at least 3 inches tall so as to block out sun and heat that germinates the Bittercress.

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