Those pesky weeds. As sure as the days will get longer and the weather will get warmer, the presence of weeds will return, posing a challenge for homeowners to maintain the perfect lawn. So how do you eliminate weeds without the backbreaking effort of pulling them or with chemicals that can smell and harm the environment and your pets? Start early and start small, when the weeds are small anyway, and you’ll save a lot of effort. There’s plenty you can do outside as soon as the ground is cleared of the snow and the sun is shining.
First, what is a weed? A weed is a plant growing where it is not wanted. A plant can be a weed in some circumstances and not in others. Let’s just deal with plants that we all would recognize as a weed.
These are the most common in the Midwest: Wild Mustard, Musk or Nodding Thistle, Oxeye Daisy, Poison Hemlock, Wild Carrot, Purple Loosestrife, Wild Parsnip, Mile-a-minute weed, Russian Thistle, Cressleaf Groundsel, Shattercane, Johnson Grass, Grapevines, Canada Thistle.
When you are preparing for lawn care season, start with prevention. Add or refresh your mulch. It’s likely that mulch is your primary weed inhibitor. Paying attention to it early helps avoid weeds that would otherwise normally get a foot hold. Be cautious about mulching around perennials and bulbs, where you probably should open the mulch up over the roots as soon as weather is not likely to freeze so you can warm up the soil and the plant will come out. The mulch does its’ insulation job well and will keep the soil cold/frozen and delay the emergence.
Remember, you can use mini-cultivators or similar garden tools to refresh the mulch earlier on, and then add to the mulch later. Not only will your mulch look better earlier, but it also will be more effective, and you’ll need to add less to the existing mulch later on.
But, if you let it go, or if the weeds were established from the previous year, you’ll have to do more work.
Let’s group the weeds into where we are likely to find them:
Early spring weeds – Common Chickweed, Corn Speedwell, Common Chickweed
Lawn weeds – Crabgrass, Clover, Yellow Nut Sedge
Garden weeds: Lamb’s Quarter, Galinsoga
Annuals and perennials require different control techniques. With annuals, prevent seed production. With perennials, kill rhizomes/stolons/roots. Remember, when controlling annuals, hoe shallow and hoe often. The mini-cultivators really help accomplish this. Mulch and ground covers help, too, but you will still need to keep an eye on weeds to pull.
Effective weed pulling is an art. Never let the plant go to seed before pulling. It is best is to pull the plant as soon as you see it emerge. Other techniques are selective chemicals that terminate a specific weed or weed family. When using chemicals, make sure you correctly identify the weed and ensure that the chemical won’t kill the surrounding plants that you want to keep. In addition, chemicals frequently fail because of these factors: wrong time of plant growth cycle, wrong weather conditions, wrong soil conditions and type, and weed resistance to herbicides.
A new product, the NatureZap, uses heat energy to kill weeds. Others use propane, which is not exactly beneficial from a greenhouse perspective, but nonetheless can be effective. Be careful not to choose the open flame type. Stick to ones with an infrared heater. The NatureZap example uses clean electricity to kill a specific weed without killing the surrounding plants.
The trick to controlling weeds is frequency. Eliminate the weeds as they appear and you will have an easier time keeping your yard tidy.
Jon Jackson, founder and president of Global Neighbor Inc., has an affinity for creating innovative lawn care products that are friendly to the environment. He created the NatureCut®, a battery-operated alternative to traditional fossil-fuel lawn mowers, in 2006 and in 2008 debuted the NatureZap®, an electric weed elimination tool that uses heat to kill weeds at the root. In January 2010, he introduced the next generation NatureZap model.