Your Guide to Lawn Weed Control and Eliminating Pests
January 17, 2022
Your lawn might do a pretty good job of growing on its own, but if you look deeper below the surface, you’ll find a whole host of intruders trying to damage it.
Pests, weeds, and disease are the three most common enemies of the average lawn and it’s up to you to keep them at bay.
How do you control weeds and pests on your lawn? Keeping pests and weeds away is a combination of good lawn care and knowing which products to use to deter or eradicate them. There’s a huge host of options in both natural and organic pesticides and herbicides that can help protect your lawn from these intruders.
Lawn maintenance is a detailed task and it’s not just about mowing and fertilizing to keep it in good shape.
If you want to find out all there is to know about controlling pests, weeds, and diseases in your lawn, this is an essential guide that covers it all.
The Basics on Lawn Weeds
Weeds are the bane of every gardener’s existence and they can easily take over your lawn if you’re not careful.
There’s no grass type out there that’s immune to weeds either which means you need to remain vigilant in keeping them away.
Identifying Common Lawn Weeds
A weed can be classified as any plant that’s growing where it’s not wanted and although many of them look green, they’re not to be trusted.
By being able to identify the weeds growing on your lawn, you’ll know what needs to be removed and how to do it effectively.
These are some of the more common lawn weeds and how to spot them within your grass:
Bindweed: This perennial vine is known as one of the hardest weeds to control and features white, purple, or blue flowers. Although it can look pretty at first glance, it’s persistent and invasive and the roots are capable of reaching as far down as 14 feet.
Canada thistle: Another perennial weed, this creeping thistle covers everything from lawns to crops. Although annoying on the grass, it can be devastating in areas with livestock as it will prevent them from feeding. In July and August, it will bloom small white and purple flowers and can take up to two years to remove once established.
Quackgrass: This noxious weed falls into the perennial grass category and uses seeds to reproduce. Featuring long light color rhizomes, it gets a good hold in the ground and continues to growth, and can often disguise itself in your regular grass if you’re not careful.
Nutsedge: This common garden weed is a cause of poor soil drainage and it looks similar to regular grass, which makes it hard to spot. Yellow and purple nutsedge are the most common types, and they can take over your lawn and reduce harvest yields if they’re able to get out of control.
Buckhorn plantain: As a common perennial found in lawns and meadows, you can easily spot the narrow-leafed plant if you look closely, but it’s tough enough to withstand drought and harsh weather. The real trouble comes when you try to remove it as it’s low to the ground and has a long taproot, so you have to be careful.
Crabgrass: Crabgrass is a low growing summer annual weed that features nodes that are positioned on top of the soil, and it sometimes disguises itself in regular grass. The good news about crabgrass is that it’s one of the easiest to manage, but if you don’t mow it, t’s capable of growing up to two feet tall.
Control Weeds On Your Lawn
Before you get to the stage of having to kill and remove weeds, the best defense against them is preparing your lawn.
Mow your lawn regularly and don’t cut the grass too short, as leaving it a little bit longer will prevent the weeds that grow down low from getting as much access to sunlight and water.
By using a controlled release nitrogen fertilizer, you’ll get a slow and steady flow of nutrients delivered to the grass, without delivering too much that it will tempt the existing weeds to grow out of control.
Other helpful tips to remember are keeping your tools cleaned so that you’re not spread weeds and seeds elsewhere and creating a border around the lawn.
If you spot any weeds starting to emerge in this border zone, treat them quickly and effectively before they get a chance to spread.
Chemical vs Natural Weed Control
In all types of gardening, there’s debate about whether natural or chemical products are best.
For weed control, there are points on either side that should be considered, allowing you to decide what’s best for your gardening style.
Chemical weed killers are usually cheaper than their natural alternatives.
Natural weed killers are safer to use around humans and animals, which gives you good peace of mind.
Chemical weed killers are aggressive and get results faster than their natural counterparts, which work but do so slowly.
When to Weed Your Lawn
Depending on the method you use to weed your lawn, there’s likely an ideal time to do it.
If you’re pulling the weeds by hand there’s no bad time to do it, but you will make the job a lot easier if it’s following a heavy soaking with the hose or recent rainfall.
If you’ve mowed recently, you’ll want to wait a week to apply herbicides and pesticides, and then a week following the application.
As far as timing goes, weed and feed products should be applied in late April or early May, and then assessed in September to see if it’s needed again.
Using a standalone herbicide without a fertilizer can be done any time, but the same rule about mowing stands.
The Best Tools and Products for Weeding
There are a number of items you can arm yourself with to eliminate lawn weeds and prevent them from returning.
Consider adding these to your arsenal to finally rid your grass of pesky weeds.
Weeding tools: Among the popular weeding tools are hoes, garden knives, weeders, and spading forks. Depending on the types of weeds you have and the gardening style you prefer, you’ll find one of these to be the right fit.
Mulch: If you spot a large area of weeds growing on your grass and don’t want to use any sprays, try covering it with some mulch. You want just enough to smother it from getting sunlight, like two to three inches, but not enough to facilitate growth.
Pre-emergent herbicide: These herbicides are designed to be applied before the weeds germinate, as their name suggests. They won’t work on weeds that are already established but can prevent them from appearing at all if they’re timed right.
Selective herbicide: A selective herbicide is formulated to be effective on specific types of weeds. Before using one of these, you need to be sure that the weed you’re treating falls into that category otherwise it’ll be ineffective.
Contact herbicides: These kill the plant that they come into contact with immediately and will not spread anywhere else. Be careful when using these as they can also kill the plants that you want to keep, like your grass.
Weed and feeds: These products are labeled as weed and feed because they feed your grass while attacking the weeds that are growing. Applying one of these saves time because you’re effectively doing two jobs in one, but they’re not always suited for every lawn.
The Fundamentals of Lawn Pests
Try as we might to take care of our lawn, there’s nothing we can do about all of the insects and organisms that live within the grass.
Lawn pests have long been a problem for homeowners and knowing how to get rid of them, prevent them from appearing in the first place, and protect your lawn from damage is an essential part of gardening.
The Types of Lawn Pests
When you think about the pests that overrun your lawn, it’s easy to assume the usual suspects like ants and bugs are the only ones we’re concerned with.
However, there are a few different types of lawn pests that can be living within your lawn and causing all kinds of problems:
Insects: Insects are small and inconspicuous which can make these pests hard to find, but they’re capable of doing a lot of damage. The most troublesome insects to find on your lawn include bugs, beetles, caterpillars, ants, moths, borers, and leafrollers.
Mammals: Each area of the US is home to different mammals that would be classed as pests and you’ve likely spotted a few of them in your garden. Depending on where you live, the most common mammalian pests are squirrels, rats, mice, rabbits, gophers, and moles, but there are plenty of others as well.
Lichen: This pest is also known as lichenized fungi and it happens when a fungus and algae combine and supply each other with what they need to live. Dog lichen is the most common type and it appears as black slime on your lawn, and as a living organism, it’s considered a troublesome pest.
How to Control and Eradicate Pests
As with most parts of gardening, keeping your lawn properly maintained and healthy is one of the best things you can do to control pests.
When conditions are poor in your grass and there’s no plan in place for pesticides or barriers, you’re making it easier for pests to make their way in and thrive.
Being educated on the most common pests in your area and how to identify and treat them is the other thing you can do.
Keep an eye on your lawn and make note of any changes or signs that pests have been present, then act quickly to eradicate them and prevent the damage from getting out of control.
The Best Tools for Pest Removal
There are many different pests roaming your lawn at any given time, and just as many ways to treat them.
Depending on the intruders you’ve identified and how you prefer to treat them, these are some of the popular methods and tools for pest control.
Animal traps: There are a variety of humane animal traps available if you are dealing with larger pests in your lawn and garden. An animal trap can lure the pest in and then a pest control expert can come and remove them without doing them harm.
Pesticides: Pesticides come in many varieties including selective, pre-emergent, natural, and chemical. A pesticide should only be applied if you have identified the pest variety in your garden and will work best when used in conjunction with other pest control methods.
Fencing: For larger pests like rabbits and squirrels, you might consider using some form of fencing or barrier to keep them out. This works especially well if you have a garden bed but can be harder to achieve over your entire lawn.
Top dressing: Top dressing is the act of throwing soil, sand, or compost on top of your lawn and it’s an effective way of preventing pests from growing. The use of top dressing makes the conditions under the soil unhabitable while delivering loads of benefits for your grass.
Your Guide to Lawn Disease
Lawn disease can quickly turn a beautifully manicured lawn into a spotty and discolored one, and because you can’t see anything obvious like a weed or an insect, it’s hard to diagnose.
The cause of most lawn diseases comes from an active fungal infestation, but there are other types to be concerned about, with some preventative measures you can take.
Common Signs of Lawn Disease
With so many varieties of lawn disease out there, there are lots of signs and symptoms to be aware of assess your lawn regularly to look for potential signs of trouble, and take action if you spot any of these:
Circles or rings of dead or discolored grass
Strange color patches like yellow and white
Slimy or greasy looking spots on the grass
Spots on the grass leaves
Blades of grass that turn black or dark
Wilting grass and disfigured blades
The Different Types of Lawn Disease
Being able to identify the many types of lawn disease can be challenging, but there are some more prevalent than others.
Keep these names in mind if you believe you’ve spotted a disease taking over your lawn.
Dollar spot: Spots in the size of silver dollars may appear on your lawn and yellow spots develop on the grass blades.
Leaf spot: You may notice long purple-brown spots on the leaves of your grass, and rot spreading onto the roots.
Pythium: Blackened blades of grass that start to wither. You might also notice a greasy texture on the grass and that the blades are sticking together.
Brown patch: Large patches of dead and sunken grass that sometimes spreads up to three feet wide. The grass blades will wilt and die and then leave a large perimeter of grayness on the lawn.
Gray leaf: Starts with smaller irregular gray patches that eventually join together and cause widespread damage. Spots on the grass leaves can lose color and have a bleached look.
Rust: Rust disease can be spotted with thinning and weak grass that appears to be dying. You may also see orange-red pustules on the grass that transfer to your gardening tools.
Can You Cure Lawn Disease?
The best approach for treating lawn disease is to use a fungicide, as most of these conditions come from a fungal source.
However, if you’re not sure what category your lawn disease falls into, having an expert assess the grass is best.
A fungicide is used to treat fungal growth and lichen in the garden.
These treatments are applied to the top of fungal infections in the grass and they kill existing spores and reduce their spread and growth.
They achieve this by damaging the fungal cell membranes or preventing them from producing energy.
As with anything, preparation is the key to preventing lawn disease, and having a healthy lawn will be your best defense.
Fungal infections like this can grow with three main conditions: wet weather conditions, weak and susceptible grass, and disease pathogens, so if your lawn is kept hardy, especially during stressful seasons, there’s less chance it’ll be attacked.
How to Recover a Diseased Lawn
After applying a fungicide to the lawn and giving it time to work, you may need to regrow your lawn.
Depending on the damage done, you’ll have to assess whether this can be achieved with overseeding or if you’ll need to tear up the entire remaining lawn and overseed it completely.
With some diseases, treating them will be enough to eradicate the problem, and the damage is not too severe, they can return to their healthier state without needing to be removed.
This varies depending on what the disease was that inflicted it and how severe the infestation was.
Tips for Keeping Your Pets and Family Safe
One of the biggest concerns gardeners have when treating their lawns with various products is what kind of impact it will have on themselves, their families and their pets.
If you have children or animals that you want to keep safe but still pride yourself on taking care of your lawn, here are a few tips that will ease your mind.
Read the labels of any products before using them to make sure they’re suitable for households with animals and children. To reassure you, only use natural or organic weed and pest control products that are deemed safe.
If you’re going to use a new pesticide or herbicide and aren’t sure about the impact on your pets and family, have everyone leave for a day or two after it’s applied. If there’s any residue being blown or left behind, there’ll be nobody around to be bothered by it.
Cover up anything outside where children play or animals use, like play equipment or dog houses. This will give them further protection against whatever you are spraying or using around the garden.
Choose products that suit the plants you’re spraying them with, including whether it’s for the lawn or for vegetables. Not all pesticides and herbicides will be recommended for every application.
Although seemingly simple, there are lots of moving parts that go into taking care of a lawn and each is as important as the last.
To help you get better equipped for lawn maintenance, we’ve answered some commonly asked questions that can give you a push in the right direction.
Rebecca Vargas is an experienced gardener and landscaper and has been rendering professional services for many years. Her services cover both private homes and commercial properties. Leveraging that rich experience, Rebecca Vargas now dedicates a chunk of time to show just about anyone how to maintain their garden and yard, whether at home or workplace. GreenIQ is his way of reaching and teaching millions of homeowners across the globe about proper gardening and lawn care practices.