Homeowners and landscapers everywhere approach weeds with one goal in mind: to remove them all from the property. Weeds grow out of control in yards across the world and steal vital nutrients from the grass, flowers and other plants. They grow in places where you do not want them to grow, ruin a lawn's aesthetic and crowd vegetables in the garden.
Identifying Different Types of Weeds
Weeds fall into three categories:
- Broadleaf: Dandelions, common chickweed, poison ivy, wild violet
- Grassy: Crabgrass, bermudagrass, smutgrass, doveweed
- Grasslike: Wild onion, yellow foxtails, nimblewill
No matter the type, almost every lawn and garden has weed seeds in the soil waiting to grow and take over the landscape. These seeds disperse in a number of ways, from blowing in the wind to depositing into soil amendments. You can also introduce weed seeds into your lawn by using poor-quality grass seed and using borrowed lawn and garden equipment.
You may not notice any weed activity for quite some time as the seeds often remain dormant for years. It takes time for the plant to emerge from the seed, reach the soil's surface and receive the amount of sunlight and moisture that it takes to germinate.
Whether they're broadleaf, grassy or grasslike, all weeds belong to one of three primary groups:
- Annuals: These weeds complete an entire life cycle in a single year. They grow, produce seeds and then die. Annuals in warmer climates may thrive for a second year in ideal conditions.
- Biennials: Biennial weeds live for two years and go through two stages. For the first year, they spend most of the time developing in the soil. During the second year, they begin to flower and produce seeds before dying.
- Perennials: These weeds live throughout the entire year, producing seeds and putting a stranglehold on lawns and gardens. Because they thrive from season to season, it's more difficult to eliminate and control perennials.
The Cause of Weed Development
Maintaining the lawn and garden restricts weed growth and creates suitable conditions for desirable plants to grow and thrive. Weeds grow when conditions favor their development, such as when homeowners apply improper fertilization or water the lawn incorrectly. Other reasons why weeds grow out of control include:
- Soil compaction
- Plant disease
- Poor water drainage
- Pest damage
- Excessive wear on the lawn and garden
- Too much sunlight
Mowing the grass at the proper height can shield the soil from the sun and decrease the potential for weeds to germinate. In addition, removing weeds during their young development can prevent them from producing seeds and spreading across the entire landscape.
How to Remove Weeds
You can get rid of weeds in a variety of ways, from removing them by hand to using herbicides. In areas with desirable plants, you may want to choose manual removal methods to target only the weeds; however, a selective herbicide can also help kill the weed without affecting other plants.
Removing Weeds by Hand
You should remove weeds as soon as you see them emerge from the ground. Attack them when they're young and tender to make the process easier when pulling them from the soil. Wear gloves when removing the weeds, and start by grabbing the weed close to its base. Lift the weed from the ground, and try to take out as much of the root as possible. For large weeds with established roots, use a slim trowel or a garden fork. Dig around the weed, loosen the soil and grab the weed just above the ground. Pull the weed up, making sure to remove the entire root.
Using Herbicides to Remove Weeds
Attempting to remove weeds manually in large gardens and across expansive landscapes may not seem very practical. In more challenging cases, using an herbicide can help you target and eliminate weeds without much effort. However, you must use the proper herbicide for the job or risk damaging or killing your desirable plants. Herbicides fall into two categories:
- Selective herbicides kill only select plants. For example, a broadleaf weed killer targets only broadleaf weeds without killing an established lawn. However, it may kill young grass that has not had the time to grow and develop.
- Nonselective herbicides kill every plant within the target area. Use nonselective herbicides to prepare an area for a new lawn or a garden. These herbicides kill all living vegetation and give you a blank canvas in which to start over and plant anew.
Herbicides also come in pre-emergent and post-emergent varieties for preventative and curative control. Pre-emergent herbicides target weeds before they germinate and provide a method for preventing and controlling weed growth. These herbicides do not kill established weeds; however, they will prevent further weed growth in the target area. The chemicals in pre-emergent herbicides create a barrier for up to eight weeks, preventing any weeds from taking hold.
Post-emergent herbicides kill weeds that have established in an area and continue to grow. These herbicides usually kill the weeds on contact and provide a way to remove weeds late in the growing season before they have a chance to seed.
Tips for Using Herbicides
- Always read the product labels. Don't make the mistake of buying a nonselective herbicide and accidentally killing all the grass and desirable plants in your lawn and garden.
- Never mow or prune before applying the herbicide. The more leaf surface available, the better the plant can absorb the product.
- Avoid spraying herbicides on windy days. The product can drift onto ornamentals and other desirable plants and cause chemical damage.
- Don't add mature weeds to your compost pile. They may have seeds that can grow and cause further aggravation.
- Wear gloves and protective gear when applying herbicides. You should also wash your clothing after use.
Stick to a Weed Control Schedule
Weed maintenance doesn't end when you've applied herbicides or manually removed the weeds from your lawn. You must inspect your lawn each season and apply the appropriate methods to prevent future development and growth.
In the early spring, inspect your lawn for weeds, and decide which treatment would work best for the situation. If you've chosen herbicides, apply a pre-emergent before annual weeds begin to grow. You can also apply a pre-emergent with a fertilizer as a way to prevent weed growth while treating your lawn.
In the late spring, check to see which weeds have returned. Apply post-emergent, selective herbicides to the weeds, or remove them by hand if you prefer manual methods.
During the fall, treat your lawn one more time before the winter if you're using an herbicide. Mow your lawn one final time, and remove all the large weeds by hand to prevent them from surviving through the winter season.