Weeds are basically unwanted plants or plants growing out of place. Proper identification and some understanding of how and why weeds are present in a lawn are important when selecting the best management tactics. All turf weeds can be grouped into one of three life cycles: annual, biennial, or perennial.
Annual: Produces seeds during one season only
Biennial: Produces seeds during two back-to-back seasons
Perennial: Produces seeds over many seasons
Knowing the types of weed previously present in an area also can help one to be better prepared and what control measures to employ in the future.
Weeds may appear in multiple categories, either broadleaf, grass, or Sedges/rushes.
Broadleaves, or dicotyledonous plants, have two cotyledons (seed leaves) when the weed seed germinates.
Appearance: Broad, flat leaves with net-like veins and usually have showy flowers.
Common types: Clover, ground ivy, dandelions, chickweed, plantain, henbit, beggarweed.
Grasses are monocotyledonous plants that have only one cotyledon, or seed leaf, present when seedlings emerge from the soil.
Appearance: Narrow leaves with parallel veins in their true leaves. Hollow rounded stems.
Common types: crabgrass, goosegrass, crowfoot grass, bull grass, annual bluegrass, alexander grass, cogon grass, torpedo grass, and smut grass.
Sedges/rushes. Both favor a moist habitat. Appearance: triangular-shaped, solid stems, while rush stems are round and solid.
Common types: yellow and purple nutsedge and, to some degree, globe, Texas, annual, and water sedge.
One of the first steps in managing weeds is to have a healthy dense lawn/ turf to provide shade that prevents seed germination. Having a healthy lawn depends on turf species selected – making sure you put the right plant and right place. Other factors that influence a heathy turf and a reduced amount of weeds include proper cultural control, fertilizing regularly, mowing at the appropriate height, watering deeply, reducing traffic, pest control, and sanitation. If you only have a few bothersome weeds in your lawn, you may be able to dig them up by hand—but if your lawn is overrun with weeds, you may need to start from scratch. If you decide to start from the beginning, you have a choice ahead of you. Do you want to lay down seed or sod? There are pros and cons to each.
Pros: Less expensive, more variety
Cons: Takes longer to germinate, can only lay at certain times of year depending on grass type
Pros: Instant grass, can lay any time of year, requires little maintenance
Cons: More costly, less variety in grass can mean less healthy lawn overall
To prepare the soil after either method, make sure you till it down to roughly 6 to 8 inches.
Summer should be the time to relax and enjoy the fruit of all the hard work performed in the landscape over the previous winter and spring. However, there are still some essential tasks that need to be completed during the summer. Perform them in short energy bursts early in the morning or late in the evening.
1. Aerate Your Lawn
If your yard is starting to look weak and thin, even with fertilizing and proper moisture, it may need aeration. Aeration, which is creating channels into your lawn, allows water and nutrients to reach the deep roots of your grass more efficiently.
To test if you need to aerate your lawn, shovel up a patch of grass to a depth of at least four inches. If the layer of thatch is a half-inch thick or higher, your yard would benefit from aeration. There are self-drive aeration machines and tractor-pulled devices you can rent to make quick work of large areas. For smaller areas, simply punching multiple holes with a pitchfork will do the job.
Turf grass often displays a yellow color during the mid-summer rainy seasons due to the heavy rains flushing nitrogen away from plant roots. If your lawn is looking sad and yellow, chelated iron can often give a temporary green-up. Iron is not a replacement for nitrogen, but it can work well during our summer rainy season.
If you soil test revealed a potassium or magnesium deficiency, summer is a good time to make the last corrective application. Potassium (K) is an essential macronutrient. Fertilizer bags typically show the percentage of potassium in a product as the third number displayed on the front of the bag (e.g., the “8” in 16-2-8). Potassium acts as a “vitamin” for turf grass, increasing root strength, disease resistance and cold hardiness.
Magnesium (Mg), also a macronutrient, is essential for the production of chlorophyll, necessary for photosynthesis, and also plays a part in the movement of carbohydrates from leaves to other parts of the plant.
3. Don’t Mow Too Short
It’s a natural inclination to want to mow your grass as short as you can, so you have the longest time until you have to mow it again. However, giving your grass a buzz cut every time you mow can hurt your lawn over time.
While some turf grasses can be mowed relatively short, like Bermudas and some Zoysias, most grass types shouldn’t be cut shorter than two-and-one-half to four inches high. Mowing shorter than that can damage the growth point and leave it susceptible to disease and pest infestation. It can also dehydrate the grass and lead to long term damage.
5. Water Infrequently but Deeply
One common mistake made by many is watering too often and too shallow. When only given frequent shallow waterings, grass will begin to grow their roots upwards to take advantage of the small amounts of water, which makes weak and unhealthy. The grass becomes even more dependent on water and very susceptible to disease and insect attack.
Try watering only once or twice a week, but for a considerably longer time so that the water can penetrate deeper into the soil and encourage downward roots. Ideally, each irrigation zone is calibrated to determine the length of time it take to deliver ½ – ¾ inch. Then set the system to run every 3-4 days for that number of minutes. While checking the irrigation delivery system, make sure the rain shut-off device is working and set to the same ½ – ¾ inch.
6. Prevent Mosquitoes
Summer rains on a nearly daily basis lead to lots of standing water. In less than one inch of water, hundreds of mosquitoes can hatch 3 -5 days later. Not only are these blood-sucking pests annoying, but they can also transmit dangerous diseases like West Nile and Zika Virus. Even without disease, their bites are painful and irritating.
To prevent mosquitoes, make sure no standing water is allowed to remain in your yard, either in low points or in empty containers like flower pots or wheelbarrows. Any amount of stagnant water is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. Take a walk around the yard, dumping out water and disturbing the oak and magnolia leaves that are acting a collection cup. Treat birdbaths and water features with floating “donuts” specifically designed to kill mosquito eggs.
While getting tasks done in quick morning trips to the yard, make sure to keep hydrated. Heat exhaustion can happen fast.
Dr. Bryan Unruh with robotic mower. Credit: UF/IFAS
With gas prices increasing, there are practical ways to reduce gasoline use in your own backyard.
There are electric, battery, solar powered and robotic (autonomous) lawnmowers. Do you remember the non-motorized reel mower? Or, you could use sheep. But, for the time being, most people have gasoline powered mowers. There are costs involved with mowing, including the cost of gas or diesel fuel.
Be smart as to where you grow grass. Use grass where it serves a purpose. Concentrate your efforts in growing grass where it will grow. It’s normal for lawns to decline in close proximity to large trees. As a lawn gives way to tree competition, do something else in that area. Use mulch under trees or plant shade tolerant plants.
Fertilize smart. Lawns need fertilizer. But, too much fertilizer, particularly too much nitrogen, results in excessive grass growth that requires more mowing.
Many homeowners overdo it with too much nitrogen and too little potassium. Fertilizers with the correct ratios of nitrogen to potassium will produce the right balance of shoot to root growth. Choose a fertilizer such as 15-0-15 or some similar analysis with some slow release nitrogen. Fertilize to produce adequate growth and the correct color. If your lawn is a healthy green and you’re mowing, mowing, mowing… why add more fertilizer?
Centipedegrass and bahiagrass will grow best with fewer problems when fertilized sparingly. This would be one or two light applications of fertilizer per year, or none at all if these grasses are performing well. St. Augustinegrass and zoysiagrass might get by on one spring application; however, it’s more common to apply a second time during summer.
Never apply more than the recommended amount of fertilizer per application. You can always split the total amount into two or more applications, which will produce more even growth and minimize sudden growth spurts.
Though it’s a popular practice, reconsider overseeding your lawn with ryegrass this fall. Weigh the desire to have a green lawn through winter with the extra time and costs (gas, fertilizer, water and pesticides) involved with maintaining it.
Finally, keep your gas-powered lawnmower in good working condition. It can make a difference in how efficiently it operates. Make sure the equipment is clean. Change the oil if needed. Replace or clean the air filter and spark plug. Keep lawnmower blades sharp. Basically, follow the owner’s manual for routine maintenance.
Implementing these ideas can help conserve fuel and result in a healthier lawn.
Hot, summer months are not the time to be using most lawn herbicides.
One issue is the heat of summer. Most lawn herbicide labels include statements such as the following.
“Do not apply when temperature exceeds 90°F.” “Do not broadcast apply this product when air temperatures are above 90°F (85°F for St. Augustinegrass) unless temporary turf injury can be tolerated.”
Every year we’ll see lawns that are injured or killed because of lawn herbicides being applied when temperatures are too hot.
Summer is usually a rainy and windy time of the year. Many lawn herbicide labels include statements such as the following.
“Allow 12 hours after application before watering lawn for maximum effectives on listed weeds.” “Apply only when wind is no more than 10 mph.” “Applying this product in calm weather when rain is not predicted for the next 24 hours will help to ensure that wind or rain does not blow or wash pesticide off the treatment area.”
It is critical to read and follow the label directions and precautions for any pesticide you use. Pesticide labels, including herbicides, include the following statements.
“To the extent consistent with applicable law, the buyer assumes all risks of use, storage, or handling of this product not in accordance with label directions.” “It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.”
Crabgrass growing in centipedegrass lawn. Photo credit: UF/IFAS Extension
By the time summer arrives, many of the lawn weeds are mature, which means they are well established with extensive root systems. These mature, well established weeds are much more difficult to control. They are more susceptible to herbicides when they are small, young, and not well established. Also, these mature weeds have been allowed to produce countless numbers of seeds as they move into summer. Most weeds are prolific seed producers. For example, a single crabgrass plant (a common summer lawn weed) can produce 150,000 seeds.
Applying a preemergence lawn herbicide in February to help prevent summer annual weeds such as crabgrass or applying a postemergence lawn herbicide during spring while the weather is mild and before the weeds are out of control simply makes more sense than waiting until summer.
The best options now with lawn weed control involve continuing to follow good mowing practices, maybe hand removal of some weeds, and just simply waiting it out until next February and spring to worry with the use of lawn herbicides.
In the meantime, you may want to read the following UF/IFAS Extension publication on lawn weed control.
Nearly everyone likes turfgrass lawns. They’re pretty and green. They filter water, chemicals, and nutrients before they enter our groundwater systems. They provide a recreation spot for people and pets. But lawns also come with maintenance tasks, one of which is weed control. Fortunately, keeping our common Centipedegrass lawns relatively weed free is as simple as smart management and utilizing herbicides effectively. Though the number of herbicides available for purchase can be overwhelming, you only need three to keep weeds at bay – a selective grass herbicide, a strong broadleaf herbicide, and a sedge herbicide!
Dollarweed, one of the toughest broadleaf weeds for homeowners to control. Picture courtesy of Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS.
First up on the essential herbicide list is the selective grass herbicide Sethoxydim. While most folks’ weed focus is centered on broadleaf weeds, grassy weeds like Crabgrass, Bahiagrass, Goosegrass, and others can be just as problematic and make for a very unsightly lawn. Enter Sethoxydim. Cheap and easy to find, Sethoxydim is offered as the active ingredient in many branded products like Fertilome Over the Top Grass Killer, Hi-Yield Grass Killer, and many more. These products control weedy grass species without seriously harming Centipedegrass or broadleaf ornamental trees and shrubs (Centipedegrass may temporarily be yellowed after sethoxydim application but will recover). Not only will it kill out the unwanted grass growing in your Centipede, but it will also remove these weeds from your flower beds!
Second, having a strong broadleaf herbicide on hand is necessary. I say “strong” because many of the homeowner grade products available at garden centers simply don’t have the “juice” to control tough broadleaf weeds like Dollarweed, Doveweed, Virginia Buttonweed, and others. For this job, I prefer to use a commercial grade 3-way product like Celsius WG by Bayer. Celsius WG is a 3-way combination herbicide with a healthy dose of Dicamba as its primary ingredient. Though Dicamba is a notoriously volatile chemical known to cause damage to unintended plants through drift in hot weather, combining it with the two other products in Celsius WG makes it safe to use in lawns, even in the heat of summer. While strong broadleaf herbicides like Celsius WG are expensive on the front end, don’t let that deter you. These products wind up being very cost effective in the long run due to minute mixing rates (one bottle goes a very long way in most residential lawns) and effectiveness – you simply will not need to waste time and money spraying lawn weeds over and over to obtain control like is necessary with lesser products – one or two applications will solve the toughest broadleaf weed problems.
Finally, any good lawn weed control program will include a quality sedge control herbicide. Sedges (often called “nutgrass”) look like grasses but are a completely different category of plants and as such, require specialized herbicide chemistries to achieve control. Sedge weeds prefer wetter areas of lawns, though they can occur in pretty much any lawn site and are very unsightly. For this weed category, there are several options available to homeowners. The one that consistently provides the best control in lawns is Halosulfuron-methyl, the active ingredient in the aptly named product Sedgehammer. Conveniently coming in individually pre-mixed packets for small lawns or a larger bottle when more acreage is to be treated, Sedgehammer couldn’t be easier to mix and use. While Sedgehammer and similar products are extremely effective in controlling various sedge weeds, they tend to work very slowly, and patience is required. Weeds immediately stop growing following a Sedgehammer application, but it can take up to three weeks to notice the sedges dying.
While having and using the above three herbicides can control almost any weed homeowners may encounter in their lawns, it is important to remember that herbicides are not substitutes for proper lawn management. When good cultural practices in lawns are followed, such as mowing at the correct height, only watering when necessary, following UF/IFAS fertilizer recommendations, etc., chemical weed control may not even be necessary in many cases! Also, once the decision to purchase and use chemical herbicides has been made, it is critical that one always read the label before using any herbicide product. This ensures safe and effective use of the product; the label is literally the law!
For assistance in choosing the correct herbicide for your lawn and other lawn care concerns, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office! Happy Gardening!
One of the most conspicuous outcomes from Hurricane Michael was the complete disruption of local lawns and landscapes. Giant holes where tree roots once existed, ruts and compacted ground from clean-up equipment, and formerly shaded acres flooded with fresh sunshine were three very common situations property owners suddenly found themselves faced with. An unforeseen consequence of all this newly bare ground ripe was the intrusion by a variety of very aggressive weeds. One invasive exotic weed that has made itself right at home in many county landscapes following Michael and that I’ve seen lots of lately is Torpedograss (Panicum repens).
Often brought into landscapes with “fill-dirt” and “topsoil” applications or spread through mowing, Torpedograss is an aggressive perennial grass in the same plant family as Bermudagrass and Cogongrass. Like many invasive exotic species, Torpedograss was introduced into the United States in the late 1800’s from its native Africa and Asia as a potential forage crop. Unlike its cousin Cogongrass, the Torpedograss is highly palatable to cattle and so gained a quick following among the ranching community. Unfortunately, over the next century, Torpedograss had left the pasture and turned into one of the biggest pest plants in Florida, ruining many a lawn, taking over 70% of the state’s public waterways, disrupting native marshlands, and costing Florida over $2 million a year to control!
Torpedograss growing in a Calhoun County gravel driveway. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
Torpedograss spreads rapidly through underground, sharply pointed, white-colored, “torpedo-like” growing tips and can dominate wet or dry areas in short order. The species often hides in lawns when mixed in and mowed with other turfgrasses (especially Zoysiagrass, which it closely resembles), growing unnoticed until infestations are severe and control options are few. This makes scouting for the weed and accurate identification crucial! Torpedograss can be identified by its bluish-green leaf and stem color, hairy leaf edges, stiff overall appearance, distinctive panicle-type flowers, and can grow quickly to 3’ or so in height, spreading indefinitely. Though it initially can resemble other turf species, once you know what you’re looking for, Torpedograss stands out visually amongst its competitors.
After identifying Torpedograss, control methods can be chosen depending on the site it has infested. In lawns, options vary based on turf species. If infestation occurs in the common Centipedegrass and Bahiagrass lawns of the Panhandle, options are few. Products with the active ingredient Sethoxydim (Poast, Fertilome Over the Top, Southern Ag Grass Killer, etc.) can suppress Torpedograss growth in these situations but will not destroy it and are not permanent options. If the area infested is not large, killing the whole spot out with a non-selective herbicide like Glyphosate (Roundup and generics) and then resodding is probably a better option. In Bermudagrass or Zoysiagrass lawns, products with the active ingredient quinclorac (Drive and generics) are very effective at controlling Torpedograss without having to go the “nuclear” glyphosate route. Unfortunately, there are no effective controls for Torpedograss in St. Augustinegrass lawns.
In landscaped beds, Torpedograss is somewhat easier to control. Hand pulling in beds can be effective where new invasions occur but are impractical once the weeds gain a strong foothold. Once that occurs, chemical control is required. In bare or mulched areas away from plants, careful spot spraying in bare areas with a 2-3% glyphosate solution is extremely effective. Where the Torpedograss has grown into and through landscape plants, an “over-the-top” application of fluazifop (Fusilade) will take out the weed without harming most ornamental plant species! (Be sure to check the Fusilade label to make sure your ornamental plant species are safe to apply to!)
Torpedograss is one of the most serious, yet overlooked, invasive plants that occurs in Florida. However, through prevention and control techniques like cleaning mowers when mowing infested areas, accurate identification, and prompt, effective herbicide use, you can keep the weed from taking over your lawn and landscape! For assistance in identifying and controlling Torpedograss and other lawn weeds, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office! Happy gardening!