Have you noticed that weeds are taking over your lawn? Or perhaps you’ve just moved in to a place where the yard hasn’t been looked after at all? Did you just Google “Help My Lawn is Nothing But Weeds”?
There are lots of things that you can do to save your lawn’s appearance no matter what season you are in. However, getting an impeccably manicured lawn can take a bit of time.
Something else worth noting is that slightly less manicured-looking lawns are actually better for the honey bee population and thus the environment!
Certain weeds, such as Black Medic, clovers, and daisies, are important food sources for our pollinators. Our pollinators, in turn, are important to us as a human race and are unfortunately dying at alarming rates. So, if a neighbor is critical of your yard while it is a work-in-progress, you can simply tell them you are doing it for all of mankind.
But when you say it, try to say it in a generous way that doesn’t make him feel badly about the bee genocide he’s got going on over there.
Lawns provide their own environmental benefits: they keep the ground cooler than concrete or asphalt, help to filter the bad chemicals out of rainwater runoff, absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, and much more.
So how can you get the perfect lawn? Read on for some great tips.
Should You Use Herbicides if Your Lawn is Nothing but Weeds?
Many herbicides are harmful to humans, honey bees, and animals and thus worth avoiding at all costs.
These include neonicotinoids (e.g. imidacloprid, thiacloprid, clothianidin, and more), glyphosate (e.g. RoundUp), and others.
If using herbicide will be an important part of your plan, then do your due diligence and research its effects. However, I’d strongly suggest that there are other effective measures that have no harmful consequences.
Eco-Friendly Weed Removal
A more environmentally-friendly way to remove weeds involves spraying vinegar at the root; regular household 5% vinegar will work, or you can find stronger acetic acid (10-20%) in most hardware stores.
You can add table salt and dish soap to the mixture as well if desired, which can also help with many bugs such as grubs. Too much dish soap kills grass, and vinegar will as well – so be mindful about where you’re spraying.
Vodka is more expensive, but it is also effective as an herbicide (alternately you can drink it — after a few shots you will probably forget all about your weed problem!).
These options all work by drying out the weed and killing it. They will also kill grass, so it is important to spot-treat and not just spray haphazardly all across the lawn.
The best part is that these mixtures are completely safe for humans (including little ones), animals, and honey bees (Vodka honey anyone?).
Borax can be made into a solution with water to spray weeds as well.
Simply mix 10 ounces of borax powder with 2.5 gallons of water and put into a sprayer. Avoid spraying on “good” plants and grasses and make sure not to saturate the soil. Borax can also irritate the skin if there is prolonged contact, so avoid getting on your skin and rinse thoroughly right away if you do.
Corn gluten meal is a powder that can be spread over lawns and prevents the seeds of weeds from germinating, making it a natural and pretty effective pre-emergent. It is best when applied in early spring or late fall – just as the ground is defrosting or before the snow flies.
I like to use hydrolyzed corn gluten meal as a natural pre-emergent, applied with a hose-end sprayer. This often can save you money and deliver better results when compared with traditional, granular corn gluten meal products.
The Organic Pre-Emergent I Recommend
Want to block weeds without the nasty chemicals? Try Weed Wipeout from Lawnbright.
This natural product is easy to apply with the included hose-end sprayer, and is made with liquid corn gluten meal – an effective pre-emergent herbicide that is USDA National Organic Program compliant and safer for kids and pets than traditional pre-emergent herbicides.
Do not use corn gluten (or any chemical pre-emergent) when you are seeding grass or other plants though, as it will suppress those seeds from germinating too and grass seed is expensive.
Removing Weeds Manually
Hand-weeding with a garden spade, weeder, dandelion digger, or your child (forced labor is part of effective parenting … change my mind!) ensures that you get below the surface of the soil to get the entirety of the weed.
In the beginning this process can be labor and time-intensive, but it is highly effective when done regularly.
As a handy tip: watering the yard right before weeding can make it easier to pull the weed out root and all while preserving the plants around it.
Crowd Out Those Pesky Weeds
Dense planting prevents weeds by simply not allowing space for them to root and grow. The competition for water, sunlight, and nutrients is simply too much for new weeds. More ground cover equals fewer weeds.
If you’ve got weeds, chances are that you have thin or sparse grass. Fix the thin grass problem, and you fix the weed problem you have as well.
Aim to densely plant perennial plants, perennial grasses , and other ground covering plants.
Even bushes and trees with well-established root systems can crowd out weeds.
Be careful to choose grass seed that is appropriate for the area you are seeding. That is, pick a grass type that is adaptable to shade, or sun, or a mixture. This way the grass can thrive and you avoid any bare patches that will allow weeds to grow.
Also – when you buy grass seed be sure to read the label and avoid annual grass seed. Seed companies sell this so you get beautiful grass for a year, then have to buy more next year. Perennial only!
Seeding as a Form of Weed Control
The best time to seed is in the early spring, several weeks after any pre-emergent weed treatments that you use such as corn gluten meal.
Start by raking the area to clear debris. Aerating is an optional step if the soil has been compacted by foot traffic.
Next, lay down an inch or so of lawn soil or screened compost. Add grass seed, lightly rake it in to get good even soil contact with the back of a leaf rack, and water.
Regular watering early in the morning and/or late afternoon is important for letting the grass seed germinate properly.
The significance of the aforementioned timing is to prevent peak sunshine from drying it out too quickly and also to prevent it from sitting too long overnight and growing mold.
If you water mid-day a lot of that water will evaporate before it hits the ground, which is pretty inefficient.
What About Mowing During Your Assault on Your Weedy Lawn?
Don’t over-mow your lawn during maintenance. Let it grow, baby!
Longer grass means longer roots, which can continue to crowd out weed seeds and prevent them from growing. Longer lawns are also better for our pollinator friends like honey bees.
A mulching mower that leaves the clippings on the lawn is a great way to fertilize your lawn. The nitrogen-rich grass clippings will support the growth of healthy grass.
You should bag your clippings the first few mows after spreading lawn seed so you don’t smother out new grass.
Once your lawn is established, mulching is a great way to prevent weeds. This is for the same reason. You’ll help to smother them and prevent them from getting sunlight … all while feeding your grass!).
Burn, Baby, Burn! Killing Weeds with Fire
A flame-weeder can be used to scorch weeds, thus killing them. However, this must be avoided in dry areas where flames could catch and quickly get out of control.
You think using your weed-eater at 6am annoys your neighbors? Wait til you set their lawn on fire or burn their house down.
Another consideration is that the flame-weeder tool usually requires a supply of propane fuel.
But I’ll be honest … this is the most fun and satisfying way to get rid of weeds.
A more recent tool that works based on the same idea is a tool that uses the heat from infrared light to kill the weeds.
An example is the NatureZap tool. It looks like a dandelion digger, but the end is an infrared light.
Goodbye Lawn! Starting Over
If you want to start from scratch and don’t mind killing the existing grass along with all of the weeds, then you can solarize large swaths of yard. This is as simple as putting a plastic sheet over an area and securing it with heavy stones or bricks.
Leave it like this for 4-6 weeks during a time when there is enough sun for it to get hot under the sheet. Afterwards, the area will be completely dead and brown.
From there, you can till the soil to mix up the dirt; but this will also bring seeds to the surface. I recommend waiting two weeks to be able to pull any weeds and till again before laying grass seed.
You can also use chemicals, which will be faster.
But if you live in an area with dogs, kids, birds, insects, or wildlife … think carefully about it.
I’m not trying to be preachy … it’s fast and it works, but it isn’t great for the environment.
Turn Weedy Lawn Areas into a Garden Bed
In a similar vein, mulching can have the same effect in areas where you do not want weeds (nor grass) to grow such as garden beds.
You can also consider turning big sections of your lawn into garden beds by removing the grass. This may cut down on lawn maintenance time, frustration over weeds, and it might make your lawn a sanctuary for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. It also cuts down on weed killer use.
Mulch can include compost, bark, wood chips, paper materials, straw, or grass clippings. Just make sure to avoid hay as it can contain seeds (straw can sometimes too).
For added protection, an old shower curtain or landscape fabrics can be layered underneath the mulch. I recommend this … the last thing you want to do is replace a weed-infested lawn with a weed-infested garden bed.
Rake in the Compliments (see what I did there?)
Once your lawn is established, it should require relatively minimal upkeep through the summer months.
A thick, long lawn will continue to keep weeds out. The weeds that do still happen to sprout can be easily managed with a spray of vinegar or a swift punch of a weeder tool (or fire, mua-haha).