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Weed War One: Prevention


Dandelions, crab grass, broadleaf plantain, clover... weeds are the bane of many home owners' existence. Americans spend millions of dollars each year on herbicides to keep lawns weed-free. But just when you think you've won, more pop up and the battle starts all over.

What's a weary lawn-warrior to do?

Ever hear the saying "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?" When it comes to weeds, prevention really is the best method of control.

Healthy soil

Just like a house needs a solid foundation, a lawn needs a solid foundation of healthy soil. Healthy soil creates healthy grass that can resist weeds. Most weedy yards don't have enough grass per square foot, leaving more room for unwanted intruders.

Here's what to do.

* Take a Test. The first step should be testing the soil to measure its pH. A lot of weeds thrive in acidic soils with a pH of 6 or lower. And some weeds also thrive in alkaline soils with a pH of 7.5 or higher. Most turf grasses prefer a neutral pH. You can use alkaline sulfur to lower the pH or agricultural lime to raise it. When the soil pH is ideal, grass roots can absorb the nutrients they need and weeds don't have ideal conditions to grow.

* Mow to Grow. Cutting the grass too short lets in enough light to allow weed seeds to grow. Raising the blade on your mower lets the grass grow a little higher, cutting back on weeds. It also allows the grass to develop deeper roots, resulting in a healthier plant.

* Mulch-n-Mow. Instead of bagging grass clippings, leave them as a thin layer of mulch on the soil surface. The clippings prevent weed seeds from germinating and they provide nutrients back into the soil, making it healthier.

* Feed the Need. Fertilizing the lawn in the spring and the fall gives grass the nutrients it needs to grow vigorously and keep the weeds out. There are traditional chemical fertilizers that work quickly and are effective. If you're concerned about using chemicals, consider natural organic fertilizers. They're made from naturally occurring elements such as bat guano, blood or bone meal, feather meal, and fish meal. These tend to have a slower release rate, so you may need to reapply more often. Manufactured organic fertilizers vary in release and nutrient rates, so be sure to read the packaging carefully.


In the spring, treat the lawn with a pre-emergent to prevent new weeds from sprouting. Commercial weed-and-feed products let you lay down pre-emergents as you fertilize. For a more natural approach, consider corn gluten. It's a by-product of corn milling that stops a new weed root from establishing itself in the soil. It works on the majority of emerging lawn weeds-not ones that are already established. It's effective for five to six weeks, so a late summer application will be necessary.

A little prevention can go a long way toward winning the war on weeds and creating a beautiful, healthy lawn.

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