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Weeds Versus Seeds

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

Fall is the ideal time for killing many types of weeds. Come September, perennials (a category which includes dandelions, curly dock, and many other obnoxious lawn invaders) start storing up their winter food supplies, taking nutrients from the soil down to their roots. Apply weed killer in the fall, and the weeds will take it right down to their roots, too--literally getting to the root of the problem.

But fall is also the ideal time for seeding cool-season lawns. The temperatures are just what these lawns love, and with a couple of months of growth before truly cold weather sets in, fall seedlings have matured enough to come back strong in the spring.

The problem? Weeding and seeding don't mix. Young lawns can't handle the herbicide, so you're left with a choice this fall: killing weeds or planting seeds?

How would you like to improve your lawn?
  • Make it greener
  • Eliminate patches
  • Less weeds
  • Make it thicker
Do you own your home?
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What's Your Problem?
To make your choice, take a careful look at your lawn. Is the bigger problem a weed infestation or a thin lawn? If your lawn is thin and patchy, filling it in will probably help more than killing the weeds. If it's truly both problems--lots of weeds, very little lawn--you have a few more options…

If yours is a case where "lawn" is just another word for "weed patch," you can treat the problem with a non-selective herbicide, which will kill everything. Then, a week or so later, you can replant. Selective herbicides linger in the soil much longer, creating problems for seedlings, but non-selective herbicides clear out quickly, so new seeds do just fine. If you think your current lawn is salvageable, this isn't the option for you. But if it's just not, sometimes the best option is starting over.

Killing Weeds the Old-Fashioned Way
You can also try to have it both ways, by tackling weeds without herbicide. Some weeds can be pulled. Others can be dug out. Then there's the old boiling water method (as in, pour boiling water on them). Or, you can spot treat with a weed killer like Roundup.

 Choosing between killing weeds and planting new grass seeds can be tough, but choose wisely. Fall only comes once a year.

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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