CREATING AND MAINTAINING HEALTHY SOIL
It's the cornerstone of your landscape.
1. Put down the weed control product! You’re not ready for it yet.
Two neighboring lawns: bluegrass on the left, crabgrass on the right. The difference? The crabgrass lawn is cut much shorter.
Effective weed control is much more than spraying a product. There is much meaningful work to be done before breaking out the quick-fix bottle treatments. One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make related to weeds is mowing their grass too short. When grass is mowed incorrectly, it is less healthy, making it more susceptible to weeds. The rule of thumb for most lawns is to set the mower to cut at 2 ½” to 3” high. Very likely, the most beneficial and easiest change you can make to protect your yard from weeds is simply to raise your mowing height.
2. When it comes to your lawn, we have to talk.
Ground Ivy growing in a creeping bentgrass lawn. Ground ivy is a notoriously difficult weed to control.
There are literally thousands of species of plants that constantly vie for space and resources in the environment, most of which are far more competitive than the grasses we use for our lawns. Complete eradication is simply impossible. The soil under your lawn contains millions and millions of seeds that are just waiting for the opportunity to germinate. Your job is to keep them from doing so.
3. Know Your Enemy.
Henbit is a winter annual weed, meaning that it germinates in the fall, overwinters, and then completes its lifecycle the following season. A member of the mint family, Henbit exudes a very pleasant scent when mowed.
It’s important to know your enemy – so, meet your weeds…
“Weeds” is just a catchall term for everything growing in a lawn that isn’t the grass you want – that means, invasive grasses, broadleaf plants, trees and other unwelcome visitors. Some of them have annual lifecycles while others are perennials. Some have life cycles that begin in the spring while others germinate in the fall. This distinction is important because there are times during a life cycle where weed control products are effective against a particular weed while at other times they are completely useless. Effective weed management begins with proper identification followed by a complete understanding of that plant’s ecology and the best strategy for effective control.
4. Be observant. Weeds are story tellers.
A newly seeded lawn infested with Broadleaf Plantain. Use of heavy landscape construction equipment will often result in compacted soils, an environment where plantain thrives.
Weeds thrive where they have an advantage over grasses. Different weeds thrive under different conditions and can be very helpful in diagnosing underlying problems in your lawn. For instance, the common lawn weed called Broadleaf Plantain will thrive in heavily compacted soils where grasses will not. If you identify Broadleaf Plantain in your lawn, it’s a good bet that your soil needs to be aerated. Once you’ve alleviated the compaction, the grass will naturally out compete the Broadleaf Plantain.
5. When you work on your lawn, think like a farmer.
A commercial core aeration machine in action. Pulling plugs of sod from the lawn has many benefits including allowing air and water to more freely move into the soil profile.
Too often, homeowners equate lawn care to commodities in their home. If you paint your home a certain color, it stays that way. But a green lawn won’t hold its color or its health without attention. Grasses and weeds are alive and dynamic. They need care and attention.
When you care for your lawn, think of yourself as a farmer tending his crops. Farmers spend a lot of time weeding, but they also cultivate their soil. Obviously, you can’t plow your lawn under every spring but you can make a difference in the health of your soil by aerating. Core aeration is the removal of plugs of soil from the lawn that allows air and water to more easily penetrate, as well as reducing the bulk density of the soil. Anything you do that encourages the health of the grass helps to deter weeds naturally.
6. Influence what grows, or Mother Nature will.
Annual bluegrass in a home lawn. A prolific seed producing plant, annual bluegrass is an example of Mother Nature determining what’s growing in your lawn if you do not.
Part of successfully controlling weeds is considering what lies beneath. Is there a burgeoning stand of grass that will emerge if you get the weeds under control, or are the weeds the only thing growing? Planting fresh grass seed into your lawn is a vital component of weed control for if you don’t regularly infuse your lawn with new grass, Mother Nature will be more than happy to fill your lawn with whatever is growing naturally around you. You, however, might not like what she has selected.
7. Consult a professional.
Over the course of a single season, a lawn specialist will perform over 3,000 applications and cover over 1,000 acres of grass. They are fantastic resources for expertise on lawn care.
Weed science is surprisingly fascinating. Weed control strategies and products evolve over time so what may have been the best approach to controlling a particular weed a few years ago may not be the best way to do it today. Lawn care experts are trained to inspect their clients’ yards, assess what’s healthy and what’s not, and recommend effective solutions to provide lush, green grass. A healthy lawn is not just an attractive showpiece; rather, it provides tremendous environmental benefits. If you want to take the guess work out a weed control, a trained professional can help.
Photos courtesy of Bob Mann, Lawn Dawg.