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How Do I Get Rid of Weeds?

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

As previously stated in the section on What kinds of weeds do I have?, weeds fit into two categories: Grassy Weeds and Broadleaf Weeds. Additionally, weeds (much like grasses) will have their own respective growing seasons and life cycles. Weeds usually grow as either a Perennial (usually germinate every year) or Annual (Usually reproduce only by seed) . To better understand the weed you are looking to eradicate, see: What kinds of weeds do I have?. After knowing the weeds you have or want to prevent, it is now time to figure out how to control them.

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  • Make it greener
  • Eliminate patches
  • Less weeds
  • Make it thicker
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Before we begin, there is a general rule of thumb when working with weeds: Know when the weed grows so you can prevent it! Sounds simple right? Well, keep these two things in mind when thinking about weeds.

  1. Warm-season annual weeds tend to flourish during the warm summer months in the Northern states when cool-season grasses tend to go dormant. Conversely, cool-season weeds tend to grow and flourish during the fall and winter months in the southern areas of the United States when the grasses tend to go dormant.
  2. Weeds fight to live just like your grass does. As far as the weeds are concerned, they don't know you don't want them in your lawn, so its best to prevent them from growing in the first place. Remember, your neighbor's lawn next door didn't get perfect on its own -- it had plenty of help!


The following are the different ways to prevent and eradicate weeds from your lawn:

  1. Fertilizing: Fertilizing and/or applying pre-emergence can be very important in your efforts to control weeds. Results don't come over night, so be patient and understand why it is important! As discussed the section of fertilizing, it is important to know your lawn and when its growing seasons are. By doing so, you can identify (by following a schedule) the best time to stimulate your grass's growth and to fight off weeds. Additionally, many fertilizers can be mixed with, and/or are already mixed with, a pre-emergence and weed-control to help prevent weed growth. By stimulating (with fertilizer) your grass growth just prior to its growing season/s, you can help crowd-out weeds from growing and fighting for space. Conversely, if you fertilize your lawn prior to periods of dormancy, you could actually end up feeding the weeds instead, and create much bigger problems. As you can see, following a fertilizing schedule and knowing the best time to use fertilizer is crucial in preventing weeds!
  2. Mowing: Mowing your lawn regularly and to the proper heights can help prevent weed growth. Mowing your lawn to its higher mowing range (see: how high should I cut my grass) will help crowd out unwanted weeds and prevent sunlight from reaching those weeds, helping to stunt weed growth. Additionally, when weeds are present, it is a good idea to bag your clippings so you can help prevent them from spreading throughout your lawn. This is especially important when the weeds are producing seeds!
  3. Weed Remover
    Weed Remover
  4. Pulling Weeds: Weeding is often considered a dreaded task, especialy when it comes to pulling weeds from the ground. However, when it comes down to it, it's the quickest and usually the most effective way to do it! Most annual weeds should be pulled by hand, unless they have already grown too far out of control. The important thing to remember when pulling weeds from the ground is to make sure you pull not only the weed, but also its roots. Many deep-rooted weeds can grow up to 6 inches into the soil, and if not removed, those roots can grow back again. Depending on the size and number of weeds, most can be dug-up with weeding tool, potting trowel, or a small shovel. When digging-out the weed, make sure that you remove as much of the root as possible. Remember, the root should be completely removed, even to its root depth. If the roots are 6 inches deep, make sure you dig the roots up from that depth as well. This can be accomplished by loosing the soil around the weed roots and slowly removing the weed back and forth from the soil. If the ground is to hard, try soaking it a little to ease the root removal process. Some people will even use hot-water from a kettle to poor on shallow rooted weeds (like spurge) to help loosen-up the soil or even kill the weeds on the spot!
  5. Herbicides: You can't hardly walk into a lawn and garden store anymore without seeing a multitude of lawn herbicides on the shelves. Most are concentrated in a liquid form and can be sprayed by simply applying to a hose end. Herbicides are becoming more popular in use do to their increasing varieties and ease of use. Some herbicides are now formulated to kill certain weeds while at the same time not harming your grass. Just make sure that the label clearly spells this out before using. Many of the spray herbicides can be applied either to your entire lawn, or in certain spots were weeds are prevalent. Click here for more on how to apply. However, there are some down-sides and instructions to using herbicides that you should consider before use:
    1. Herbicides are toxic and can cause health problems if not properly handled, used, or stored.
    2. Herbicides should not be used on new lawns until they are fully established (usually after four mowings).
    3. Herbicides should not be sprayed on windy days or in windy areas.
    4. If you have children or pets, you will need to check the herbicide container to determine how long they need to stay off of the lawn after applying.
    5. Only those herbicides that will not harm or damage your grass when applied should be used on your lawn. If you use the wrong type, you could end up killing not only the weeds, but also your grass!
    6. Always dispose of used herbicide containers and spray-nozzles after use. Most importantly, follow the instructions on the container label for proper use and safety!
  6. Aerating: Aerating is necessary for lawns that have never been aerated, get lots of foot traffic, and/or are planted in cloy soils. If your lawn is developing weeds like Crabgrass, Chickweed, and Plantain, you may have a highly compacted soil that needs aeration to loosen it up and prevent these weeds from growing. Click here for more on aerating.
  7. Reseeding: If you live in a region (commonly the Southern U.S.) where Warm-Season grasses often go dormant in the winter months, you may want to consider reseeding your lawn with another Cool-Season grass to keep your lawn looking green year-round and crowd out cool-season weeds in your lawn.


About the Author
Dawn West B.A. holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and teaches writing at Oregon State University.

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