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7 Steps to Saying Good Bye to Weeds (Forever!)

  1. Put down the weed killer! You’re not ready for it yet.

Two neighboring lawns: bluegrass on the left, crabgrass on the right. The difference? The crabgrass lawn is cut much shorter. (Photo: Bob Mann)

Effective weed control is much more than spraying; in fact, the very best “herbicide” is a vigorous, healthy stand of turfgrass.  The biggest factor is controlling weeds in your lawn is you because little differences in your maintenance practices can mean big differences in weed populations.  Probably the most beneficial and easiest change you can make is to simply raise your mowing height.  The rule of thumb for most lawns is to set your mower to cut at 2 ½” to 3” high.

  1. When it comes to weeds in your lawn, we have to talk.
Ground Ivy growing in a creeping bentgrass lawn. Ground ivy is a notoriously difficult weed to control. (Photo: Bob Mann)

There are literally thousands of species of plants that constantly vie for space and resources in the environment, most of which are far more competitive than the turfgrasses we use for our lawns.  Complete eradication is simply impossible.  The soil under your lawn contains millions and millions of seeds that are just waiting for the opportunity to germinate.  Your job is to keep them from successfully germinating.

  1. The best advice on controlling weeds comes from an ancient Chinese military strategist.
Henbit is a winter annual weed, meaning that it germinates in the fall, overwinters, and then completes its lifecycle the following season. A member of the mint family, Henbit exudes a very pleasant scent when mowed. (Photo: Bob Mann)

Sounds crazy, right?  Not so fast. The 7th century Chinese military genius Sun Tzu wrote in his book The Art of War that if you know your enemy as you know yourself you will never lose a battle.

“Weed” is just a catchall for everything growing in a lawn that isn’t a turfgrass, but some of those weeds are grasses, while others are broadleaf plants, still others are trees.  Some of them have annual lifecycles while others perennial.  Some have life cycles that being in the spring while others germinate in the fall.

There are times during a life cycle where herbicides are effective against a particular weed while at other times they are completely useless.  Effective weed management begins with proper identification followed by a complete understanding of that plant’s ecology and the best strategy for effective control.

  1. Be observant – weeds are storytellers.
A newly seeded lawn infested with broadleaf plantain. Use of heavy landscape construction equipment will often result in compacted soils, an environment where plantain thrives. (Photo: Bob Mann)

Weeds thrive where they have an advantage over grasses. Different weeds thrive under different conditions and can be very helpful in diagnosing underlying problems in your lawn.  For instance, the common lawn weed called Broadleaf Plantain will thrive in heavily compacted soils where turfgrasses will not.  If you identify Broadleaf Plantain in your lawn it’s a good bet that your soil needs to be aerated.  Once you’ve alleviated the compaction, the turfgrass will naturally outcompete the Broadleaf Plantain.

  1. When you work on your lawn, you’re not a homeowner, you’re a farmer.
A commercial core aeration machine in action. Pulling plugs of sod from the lawn has many benefits including allowing air and water to more freely move into the soil profile. (Photo: Bob Mann)

Too often, homeowners equate lawn care to commodities in their home.  The problem is that your dishwasher won’t die if you don’t water it and the paint job on your house will always be the color that you selected.  Turfgrasses and weeds are alive and dynamic.  They are far more like the humans in the house than the appliances.

When you care for your lawn think of yourself as a farmer tending his crops.  Farmers spend a lot of time weeding, that’s for sure, but they also cultivate their soil.  Obviously, you can’t plow your lawn under every spring but what can you do?  Core aeration is the removal of plugs of soil from the lawn that allows air and water to more easily penetrate as well as reducing the bulk density of the soil. Anything you do that encourages the health of the turfgrass helps to naturally deter weeds.

  1. As you sow, so shall you reap.
Breeding turfgrasses for drought tolerance at Rutgers University’s Adelphia Farm in New Jersey. The automated rainout shelter in the background moves on rails to ensure that no water is applied to these turf-type tall fescue plants for 90 days. Most plants die, but those that do not move on for further evaluation. (Photo: Bob Mann)

Lawn care theology?  You bet!  Part of successfully controlling weeds is considering what lies beneath.  Is there a burgeoning stand of turfgrass that will emerge if you get the weeds under control, or are the weeds the only thing growing?  Sowing improved turfgrass seed into a lawn is every bit as important to the overall strategy of weed control as selecting the right herbicide.

Although most turfgrasses are perennial plants, they are not immortal.  If you don’t regularly infuse your lawn with new plants, Mother Nature will be more than happy to oblige with whatever is growing naturally around you.  You, however, might not like what she has selected.


  1. When in doubt, consult a professional.
Over the course of a single season, a lawn specialist will perform over 3,000 applications and cover over 1,000 acres of turfgrass. They are a fantastic resource for expertise on lawn care. (Photo: Bob Mann)

Weed science is surprisingly fascinating. Weed control strategies and products evolve over time too so what may have been the best approach to controlling a particular weed a few years ago may not be the best way to do it today.

Herbicides are not benign, they’re products available to do a job and if used improperly they can do more harm than good. If you’re going to use herbicides yourself make sure that you completely read and fully understand the label directions prior to use; lawn care isn’t difficult to do but it sure is easy to make a mistake.  If in doubt, consult a professional.  Take advantage of the resources of NALP to find someone in your neighborhood that will help you get the job done right!

Find more technical tips in our Technical Resource Library in the NALP Member Center.

National Association of Landscape Professionals