Organic Weed Control For your Lawn

Exploring Natural Weed Killers

A beautiful lawn or landscaped yard can increase the value of your property and provide a pleasant area to relax and entertain.  A thick green lawn often is a badge of honor to many weekend yard warriors. Generations of home gardeners and professional landscapers have spent millions of dollars on herbicides and various weed control methods to achieve the perfect lawn. Over the last few years however, questions have risen about the cost of the blue ribbon lawn. The financial and environmental costs of weed control have gotten too high, and alternative ways are being found and promoted. Today organic weed control methods are being advocated and used successfully on both lawns and landscaped grounds.

Before we begin exploring natural weed control, we should understand the meaning of the word ‘weed’. A weed is any plant that is not wanted in any given area. A plant that might be bought and grown in one area can be called a weed in another. Clover is an excellent example of this fact. Clover seed was often included in grass mixes until the mid 1950 when popular herbicides were introduced that killed clover. Chemical companies reclassified clover, and in just a few years clover changed from a desirable plant to a weed. 

To best understand and eliminate them, weeds are commonly divided into different categories based on the way they emerge from the seed and how long they grow. Different types of weeds need different chemicals and methods to kill and prevent them from growing.

 

Seed Growth Identification

  • Monocots (weedy grasses)  are plants that emerge as a single leaf from the seed.
    • Crabgrass
    • Annual Bluegrass
    • Tall Fescue – this type of grass, if left unmowed will bend over and create a type of carpet. 
    • Quack Grass
  • Dicots (broadleaf vegetation) are plants that emerge as two leaves from the seed.
    • Dandelions
    • Clover
    • Ground Ivy – this has become a popular alternative ground cover especially for hilly or uneven areas.
    • Knotweed

 

Plant Life Identification

  • Perennial weeds last two years or more, usually have extensive root systems, and can drop seeds every year.
  • Biennial weeds store nutrients in their root systems during the first year and germinate during the second.
  • Annual weeds last less then one year but they usually grow faster and produce more seeds then biennial and perennial plants.

Weeds grow where there is space to grow.  If the lawn or ground cover is sparse there is room for unwanted plants to take root and grow. Patchy lawns or grass that must struggle to take root and survive because the soil or climate is not optimal for a particular variety of grass invite weeds. The best way to reduce and illuminate weeds is to grow a thick, healthy turf or ground cover.

  • Choose grass seeds or ground cover plants that thrive in your climate, soil, and regional conditions
  • Use mixed seed blends
  • Don’t over cut grass (avoid cutting too often or too short).
  • Over seed lawns to produce thick turf, (use 1½  amount of seeds recommended on label).

If you are just beginning your lawn, most experts suggest killing all vegetation before spreading your seed.  The Black Sheet Method uses no chemicals.  Take a black plastic or non-porous sheet and totally cover the area you are planning on planting.  Leave the ground covered for at least three weeks.  When you remove the black sheet all the vegetation will be dead.  Rake and pull up all the dead plants, being careful not to sow seeds back into the ground. If you choose to kill the ground plants with a chemical, choose an organic nonselective herbicide.

Before you choose a natural weed control method for existing lawns or landscape areas, try to identify the type of weeds you want to control.  There are different types of herbicides for the different types of weeds.

Pre-emergence herbicides kill germinating seeds. This is most effective against annual seeds and must be applied early before the plants take root. Corn Gluten Meal, a by product of milling corn, has been an affective natural pre-emergence herbicide. Best results appear after multiple uses. Excessive watering and rainfall can reduce its effectiveness. (1)

Post-emergence herbicides control weeds after they are growing and established but many commercial brands can also damage or kill trees, flowers and shrubs. Selective Post-emergence Herbicides kill some but not all plants. They usually kill broadleaf plants, including clover. Nonselective Post-emergence Herbicides kill all plant life and can be used on individual weeds or to kill an entire area to prepare for planting. Household vinegar can be used as a nonselective post-emergence herbicide to kill individual plants. Care should be taken to apply vinegar only on the weeds you want to kill, because it will harm other plants if it makes contact. Some weeds can also be removed by hand.

There are several organic weed control products now available. Make sure to always completely read the directions and apply as directed. Commercial herbicides have been linked to health risks ranging from skin rashes, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and nervous system disorders. Children and animals often have a higher level of exposure to herbicides because they crawl and play on the grass.(2) Many times homeowners over treat their lawn, increasing the threats to water quality which can affect fish, birds and wildlife.

Planting grass seeds and ground covers that thrive in your area, allowing non-offensive grasses and plants, like clover, to be part of your lawn and selecting organic weed control products are all positive steps toward promoting a truly Green landscape.






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References

1 Pedersen, Brad and Mugaas, Bob. Weed Control in Lawns and Other Turf. Retrieved May 15, 2010. University of Minnesota Extension: http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/dg1137.html

2 Weed-free Lawns - Naturally! Retrieved May 15, 2010. Faifax County Virginia: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/nvswcd/newsletter/weedfreelawns.htm

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