I’ve decided not to put too much work into my yard this year. Time is already limited, and I’ve learned that lawn care is like an odd, geological, Pandora’s box. Perhaps next year I’ll be more motivated. Instead, this spring and summer will be dedicated to learning more about fighting off weeds and how to establish a healthy lawn. That way I’ll be better prepared for next season.
From a big picture point of view, a thriving lawn is simple:
Grow grass without weeds!
Unfortunately, everybody’s yard is different, there’s no silver bullet and lawn care techniques are confusing. Will my yard benefit from aerating? How do I get rid of crabgrass? What is runoff? These are good questions and hopefully a few explanations will help you make sense of it all.
Grass & Soil Type
It’s important to know what grass and soil you have. Different grass species thrive under completely different conditions. For instance, Bermuda Grass is a perennial, warm season grass. That means it’s actively growing during the hotter, summer months. If you applied fertilizer during the spring or fall, it would probably have minimal effect. Zoysia grass is another perennial, warm season grass that goes dormant in the winter months turning a straw-brown color. The grass isn’t dying and aggressive watering will actually do more damage than letting it run it’s cycle.
It’s a similar story for soil type. Soil analysis tells you the amounts of clay, silt, and sand (soil separates) present, which have direct consequences for things like water permeability, porosity, pH and more. Clay particles are smallest and result in a compact, cohesive soil. Lots of sand means your soil won’t hold onto water very well, and your grass should be drought-resistant.
The bottom line:
Ultimately, the best weed control is a healthy lawn. If weeds have no place to grow, they won’t be a problem. The real challenge is getting there and maintaining. I’ve found a Virginia Tech weed guide to be very helpful in determining specific weeds. You can find it here. No matter which weed it is, they all fall into two types: grassy weeds and broadleaf weeds.
Broadleaf weeds are easily identifiable because they don’t look like grass. Examples include dandelions, Curly Dock and Broadleaf Plantain. These sorts of weeds can be targeted by herbicides like 2,4-D which is commonly found in weed & feed and applied during the active growing cycle (just like applying fertilizer to grass while is growing). Take care whenever using herbicide not to overdo it. Spreading too much will harm your grass and probably result in chemicals entering the water system (runoff).
Grassy weeds are a bit tougher to target. To eliminate weeds like crabgrass, you need to stop them before they start by preventing seeds from germinating. With repeated success over a couple growing seasons, the number of grassy weeds will reduce down to zero. This is typically achieved by putting down a pre-emergent that forms a protective barrier. Just make sure you spread pre-emergent early enough that seeds have not already started to take hold.
Who knew watering your lawn could be such a complex task?! Watering your lawn will depend on your specific soil type as that determines how much water is available to vegetation. A general rule of thumb is that grass needs an inch of water (including rainfall) per week. Be sure to thoroughly soak your lawn so that water penetrates deeply, encouraging roots to grow deeply too. Watering is best done in the early morning before the heat of the day so as to minimize evaporation. Late night watering can encourage fungal growth.
You should only aerate your soil if you have a lot of clay, highly compact soil, or excessive thatch buildup. Clay soil particles are small making it tough for roots and nutrients to penetrate the soil. Compact soil achieves a similar result because it creates this top-layer barrier with very little pore space. A certain amount of thatch is actually good because it helps prevent weeds and locks in moisture. Over a 1/2″ layer of thatch is too much and can be combated with aeration. Grab a core aerator that will remove small plugs from the topmost layer of earth. Spike aerators can actually make soil more compact.
You can see what I mean about lawn care becoming a complex puzzle, and these are just some of the options available. I hope you can take these tips, and investigate how they might benefit your grass. Or maybe you’ll be like me and put it off for another year. :)
What’s your plan this year? Who has experience with more environment-friendly weed control? Any lawn care professionals out there?
Note from the hosts: Fellow Baltimore blogger, Ethan Hagan is a co-founder / editor of One Project Closer – a web site providing premium DIY content. For more on information on watering your lawn, visit them here or see our own article – Tips for Overseeding a Lawn.