How to Reclaim a Weedy Yard
What do you do when the greenest things in your lawn are weeds? Jerry Cunningham wonders the same thing, so Gardening by the Yard host Paul James comes to the rescue with answers. The overall approach: Choke the weeds out not with chemicals, but by creating a new lush lawn of healthy grass.
Choose the Best Grass
Jerry's yard is full of mature trees, which help shade his landscape. Fescue would be a great option for him, because it does well in partially shaded areas. The grass will require a bit more watering than Jerry's current lawn, but he'll get better results.
Paul suggests Jerry use a mixture of fescue — two types of tall fescue and also a creeping red fescue, which is extremely shade tolerant; in areas of complete shade, the red fescue will help fill in the bare spots.
Let Air In
Aerating the soil brings oxygen to the soil and helps water seep farther down, which encourages more growth. Although there are aerating machines on the market, they're noisy, smelly and a little too much for an average size lawn. Paul suggests a manual tool instead.
How to Control Weeds 04:58
Sow Seed Correctly
When spreading seeds, it's important to make sure you don't throw too much into adjacent beds. Work side to side, and then work back over the same area at right angles to the original. You can either throw the seed out by hand or use a tool that helps relieve strain on your wrist. You can have too much of a good thing. Applying too much seed can create competition for the moisture and nutrients that feel the lawn.
Top-Dress With Compost
Top-dressings — such as a cow-manure/alfalfa mix — are underused in lawn care (such as after you've sown grass seed). Too bad, because they're full of organic matter that activates soil.
Note: Cow manure, like grass seed, can be overdone. A little will go a long way for the freshly laid seeds, so layer no more than 1/4 inch over the lawn. If you have any leftover, feed other trees and plants in your landscape.
Tip: Paul uses this handy perforated shovel to sift the compost over an area. The shovel is also good for working in water gardens.
Fertilize the New Lawn
Paul suggests an all-natural, bio-solid fertilizer for Jerry's new lawn. Because it's all-natural, he won't have to wait for the grass to germinate to use it. After a few weeks in the lawn, the fertilizer will break down and enter the root zone of the grass.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
This common weed bears clusters of creamy white flowers and has narrow, featherlike foliage that releases an aroma when crushed. It thrives in dry, arid, sandy conditions and often indicates a lack of nutrients in the soil. Pull out the rhizomes by hand. H: 20 inches; S: 12 inches
Daisy weed (Bellis perennis)
The most common perennial weed in lawns, daisies have white petals and a yellow center. They have green, spoon-shaped leaves that form clusters of rosettes in the grass. They are very resilient to close mowing, so use a daisy grubber to remove them. H: 3 inches; S: 6 inches
Creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense)
This weed is often a problem in recently seeded lawns or in bare patches in existing grass. It has light purple flowerheads and spiky, wavy, thistlelike leaves, which are unpleasant to sit or walk on. Dig them out using a daisy grubber or fork. H: 4 feet; S: 18 inches
Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
This persistent, spreading perennial bears clusters of violet-blue flowers that are held high above the round, glossy, scalloped leaves. The aromatic foliage has pronounced veins and surrounds the stems. If necessary, apply an appropriate weedkiller. H: 10 inches; S: 16 inches
Greater plantain (Plantago major)
This perennial has broad, oval-shaped foliage with pronounced rib markings; the leaves will rapidly smother the grass underneath. The flowers are pale greenish-gray, borne on single stems. Dig it out, then mow regularly to prevent the seed from spreading. H: 6 inches; S: 8 inches
Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris)
A member of the mint family, this perennial can rapidly colonize a lawn using its spreading, underground runners. It has attractive, purplish-blue hooded flowers, and the leaves are borne in pairs along its squarish stems. Apply an appropriate weedkiller. H: 8 inches; S: 12 inches
Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens)
Preferring damp soils, the buttercup is a good indicator that drainage may be required. It rapidly spreads using its creeping root system and has small, bright yellow flowers borne on erect stems with three-lobed, toothed foliage. Dig out established plants. H: 24 inches; S: 18 inches
Sheep's sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
A lover of dry, acidic soil conditions, this common perennial has unusual, arrow-shaped leaves and produces small, green flowers that turn to pinkish-red seedheads. Ensure that you dig out the entire taproot to prevent the plant from regenerating. H: 10 inches; S: 16 inches
Common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)
This biennial weed has bluish-green lobed leaves and bright yellow, star-shaped flowers. It seeds prolifically and so should be removed with a fork at an early stage of its growth. Because of the toxins it produces, wear gloves when weeding. H: 32 inches; S: 10 inches
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Producing single, bright yellow flowerheads that turn into balls of white, fluffy seedheads, this perennial weed has shiny, elongated, toothed rosettes of foliage. Its deep, fleshy taproot needs to be totally removed or it will rapidly regenerate. H: 12 inches; S: 8 inches
White clover (Trifolium repens)
A common weed, often found on nutrient-rich soil, white clover has small, three-lobed leaves and white or sometimes pinkish flowers. It is a perennial weed and spreads by runners that can quickly smother the lawn; lift these with a rake, then mow. H: 8 inches; S: 16 inches
Slender speedwell (Veronica filiformis)
This perennial has kidney-shaped leaves when young that develop into rounded, serrated foliage. Similar in appearance to ground ivy, it also bears blue-purplish flowers. It spreads by underground and overground runners; kill it using a hoe. H: 4 inches; S: 20 inches
Another thing about bio-solid fertilizers is that they contain iron — an element that will help Jerry "green-up" his lawn. And it's very versatile, so he can use it to fertilize garden beds, trees, shrubs and flowers.
Repeat fertilization twice a year — once in the spring, once in the fall.
Keep It Watered
Last but not least, Jerry gets one of the most critical lessons, and that's in watering. As his fescue germinates over the next 10 days or so, Jerry will need to water the lawn lightly once or twice a day so the seeds stay moist. The best time is in the early morning or at night.
Once the grass is up and has been mowed, he'll need to switch to deep soaking. This encourages newly formed roots to reach down into the soil in search of moisture. One good option for deep soaking is an oscillating sprinkler — it does all the work.