How one gardener deals with weeds in the lawn

When your lawn is invaded by nutsedge, oxalis, and other weeds, what do you do? One gardener picks her battles.

Courtesy of Helen Yoest
Oxalis is a frequently seen lawn weed. Whether it bothers you enough to try to deal with it is another matter. With small amounts, you may just leave it alone.
Courtesy of Helen Yoest
Nutsedge may look like grass, but it's actually a sedge. It's brighter green than most grass and grows faster than grass. It can easily invade flower beds, where its rhizomes make it difficult to control.

Weeding is a necessary evil. Some gardeners actually find weeding therapeutic. Others appear not to care at all -- judging from the amount of weeds in their gardens!

In my home garden, Helen's Haven, I don’t like weeds and work hard to keep them from germinating in the first place.

Two main ways I do this is by limiting the sun exposure my soil receives -- with minimal disruptions when holes are dug and I add an adequate mulch layer (about three to four inches of composted leaf mulch) each year.

This helps tremendously in my beds, but the lawn area is full of weeds.

Although there's a current movement to get rid of or replace lawns, I happen to be in the camp of people who like a little lawn. Not only do I find it the perfect foil for my garden beds, but my kids like to play on the grass.

I don’t use chemicals for weed control, so weeds have to be managed some other way. If I remember, I’ll put down a pre-emergent organic compound, such as corn gluten. A pre-emergent keeps seeds from germinating.

The application has to be timed for specific weeds though, since germination times vary.

To remember when to control crabgrass is easy since, in Raleigh, N.C., where I live, it’s applied when the forsythia blooms.

But then I have to think about when in August to put it down to keep the Poa annua (annual bluegrass) from germinating. I really don’t like Poa annua. The timing of this gets tricky since I will also reseed my tall fescue each fall. Pre-emergent works to keep seeds from germinating, it doesn’t care it it’s an annual bluegrass or a crabgrass or a fescue.

If I put pre-emergent down too early, it may not be effective on Poa annua, but will not affect the fescue. If I put it down too late, it would be better for the Poa annua, but causes me to delay reseeding the fescue, which lessens the time fescue has to get a good start before winter arrives. Icarumba! It all gets so tedious.

But, if I time it right, I eliminate two big sets of problems.

As summer progresses, I find a menagerie of menacing weeds I have to deal with. Clover, oxalis, nutsedge, and Bermuda, just to name a few, seem to like making hay in my lawn.

I’ve studied the aesthetics of each of these to better understand my disdain and to see if we can come together somehow and live in harmony. I found out that with lawn weeds, it’s like a game -- you win some and you lose some.

Here's what has happened with the weeds that pop up most often in my lawn:


I love clover in lawns, Clover even has a pretty flower that the bees love. But when there's lots of clover, the kids can’t go barefoot in the lawn or they risk getting stung by a bee. The truth is, given that Helen's Haven is a wildlife habitat, we are routinely stung, particularly when we rub against a salvia nodding across the path. When that happens, I’m willing to risk the stings, but not so much with regards to frolicking barefoot on the cool grass of summer, so I cut the clover flowers, especially in the main running areas. Helen -- win.


I have a so-so relationship with Oxalis [see first photo at top]. While I loathe having it in my garden beds and I do have quite a bit of it, I find it so-so in my lawn. At first I hated it, but I have decided to live with Oxalis. There, I said it. It can stay in my lawn. Oxalis -- win.


I didn't have to spend much time around nutsedge to decide it was my personal scourge. It’s horrid. It spouts up, branches out, and takes over an entire lawn, if you let it. [See second photo above; click on arrow at right base of first photo.] I’ve tried everything. Many gardeners will tell you that pulling it will only cause three more to grow in its place (or is that gray hairs?) But pull it I do.

Since I decided that there was no way this weed would live in my lawn, I’ve taking a very calm approach to it. Removing nutsedge is very therapeutic for me now. Bring it on baby; make my day. I lie in wait for a nice summer shower, then in the early morning or the cool of the evening, I grab a bucket, pronged weeder, and plop myself down in the lawn. I start at one end and traverse the lawn until all the nutsedge is removed. Now, I wouldn’t grow nutsedge just to get that feeling of satisfaction, but now that I have a plan, I make it relaxing. It no longer bothers me. Helen -- win.


Bermuda is one of those unreasonable grasses. If it were at all well behaved, it would actually be the best grass, IMHO. But to a gardener protecting her beds, Bermuda is an invader. It’s not enough that it can have all the lawn area, it wants the beds, too. Controlling Bermuda is just too hard to do, though; I’ve tried. The fight is over; it’s just not worth it. Bermuda -- win.

Finding a happy medium in my lawn wasn’t a goal; it was a challenge. I rose to the challenge and can honestly say that I much happier with what I see and how I handled it. In the fight with lawn weeds, some you win, some you lose. It’s all a matter of picking your battles.


Helen Yoest lives in North Carolina and writes about Gardening With Confidence. She's a garden writer, speaker, and garden coach. She's also a field editor for Better Homes and Gardens and Country Gardens magazines and serves on the board of advisors for the JC Raulston Arboretum. You can follow Helen on Twitter and Facebook. To read more by Helen here at Diggin' It, click here.

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