Winter Weeds in the Lawn

— Written By Peg Godwin and last updated by
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The months of February, March, and April each year include many contacts by local residents expressing concern about weeds in their lawns. The first question usually asked is, “What should I spray to kill these weeds?” Chemicals are not the only option for managing weeds.

A lawn that is mowed at the proper height, aerated at the proper time, fertilized at the correct rates and times, and watered sufficiently will have fewer weeds. Weeds in a lawn indicate poor growing conditions for the grass.

Proper lawn care and a healthy lawn are the best ways to prevent weeds. Step one is to do a soil test to determine the needs of the turf. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is currently charging $4 per soil sample. The fee will continue through March 31, 2019. Soil boxes, paperwork, and information are all available at the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Lenoir County office at 1791 Hwy 11 & 55. Call the office at 252-527-2191 for more information.

Step two is to match the growing conditions to the best-suited turf. The recommendations for each turf are available in the publication Carolina Lawns. Turf grasses vary in the recommended fertility, soil pH and mowing height as well as temperatures. If an area is shaded, on a slope, or in a wet depression, grass may not be the best choice. Moss indicates excess shade, poor drainage, and compacted soils. Consider landscape options other than grass. Ornamental ground covers can be used for shaded areas and slopes.

Winter annual weeds start to germinate in September, grow slowly through January, and begin rapid growth and flowering in February and March. If you wait to control them until February, March, or April, most weeds have grown large enough that control is limited without costly and time consuming repeated applications. As flowers and seeds are formed, they are dispersed into the landscaping where they can remain for years. Mowing lawns to remove flowers of winter annuals will help reduce the formation of seeds.

When weeds occur in small numbers, pull or dig to remove the entire plant,   including the roots. Where weeds occur in large numbers or are difficult to control, herbicides can be used to manage weed growth while cultural practices are improved to develop healthier grass.