HGTV Answers Your Toughest Lawn-Care Questions
We asked readers what problems stood between them and the lawn of their dreams, and boy, did we get a lot of response! From ant hills to weeds, to standing water, your grass issues cover the gamut, and we've got solutions for all of them.
Photo By: ProvenWinners.com
Photo By: Julie Martens Forney
Photo By: Shutterstock/Ondrej Prosicky
Photo By: Julie Martens Forney
Photo By: Jim Hudgins for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at FWS.gov
Photo By: Bonnie Martens
Photo By: Shutterstock/ND700
Photo By: Krista Lundgren for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at FWS.gov
Photo By: Shutterstock/Artur Romanov
Photo By: Julie Martens Forney
Photo By: Shutterstock/Alina Bratosin
Photo By: Bonnie Martens
Photo By: Julie Martens Forney
Photo By: Shutterstock/Ancha Chiangmai
Photo By: Shutterstock/mykhailo pavlenko
Your Lawn Problems Solved
If the grass is greener next door, give your turf some TLC. Learn how to solve common lawn problems with easy, practical advice and you could be on your way to a toe-tickling lawn that’s the envy of the neighborhood.
The War On Weeds
Too many weeds and barely any grass. Since the whole yard used to be a garden before I bought it, it’s all uneven. Been trying to fix it up for my daughter, but it’s proving to be harder than I thought. —Sheila
Sheila, I’m not sure what kinds of weeds you’re dealing with, but when weeds outnumber grass, that’s usually a sign to start from scratch. First, eliminate the weeds with weed killer. Consider choosing one that doesn’t kill grass to avoid killing the lawn you have. Remove weeds after they’re dead, and level out the ground with a mix of equal parts topsoil and compost. Tamp that mix, water it, and add more as needed to get things level. Let that settle a day or two, and sow grass seed or sprigs. Check with a local garden center to get the best type of grass for your region. If your lawn is large, consider hiring a landscaper to help, or simply tackle the lawn in sections. It might take a few years, but you’ll have pretty grass before you know it. Time your planting efforts for when grass grows best—fall or spring for cool-season lawns, late spring for warm-season grasses.
We have lost the battle with the moles. Tried castor oil, grub treatment, pellets. They keep coming back and are taking over the lawn making unsightly mounds. What can I do to get rid of them? — Doris
Doris, it sounds like you’re doing everything right. Grub treatments using a combination of milky spore and nematodes usually takes out the mole’s food source. With castor oil, you need to apply the products liberally and frequently to get the stinky odor into the subsoil. Make sure you’re using castor oil products designed to drive out moles (the type for human use isn’t smelly enough). There’s a new organic mole treatment available called MoleZap, which floods tunnels with carbon dioxide, effectively smothering the critters. Try pairing that with some nematode treatments, and you might just win the war — and send those moles packing.
Crabby Over Crab Grass
Please settle the crab grass issue. Can the war be won or should I kill it off and re-sod my lawn? —Steve
Yes, Steve, you can defeat crabgrass — it just takes diligence. Start by committing to use a pre-emergent herbicide in spring. These are often sold as weed’n’feed products. The trick is timing — put it on your lawn when soil temps are in the 55-degree range. (Monitor soil temps online by searching for "local soil temperature." Several companies and the National Weather Service keep accurate data.) Follow the product instructions carefully. That application keeps seeds dispersed by last year's crab grass plants from germinating. Crab grass is an annual, so in fall, any existing plants die when frost occurs, leaving bare spots. Repair these spots by sowing grass seed (you may have to wait until early spring, depending on where you live). The best defense against crab grass, Steve, is a healthy lawn. Commit to feeding your turf regularly, as recommended by your local extension office. Also, don’t scalp your lawn. Mow it high, with your mower set at one of the two highest settings. If you have a crab grass infestation, it may take a few years, but you can turn your lawn around.
Chipmunks Gotta Go
I need to get rid of chipmunks! — Patricia
Patricia, I’m with you on that. Chipmunks may be cute, but they’re actually responsible for some of the costliest landscape repairs. Rule No. 1 with chipmunks: Don’t feed 'em. Remove any birdseed or feeders in your yard. Ditto for birdbaths and pet water or feeding bowls. Seal all potential food sources in pest-proof containers. Next, go to Rule No. 2: Trap and/or kill chipmunks. If it’s legal to relocate chipmunks where you live, you can use a live trap and relocate your chipmunks at least five miles from your home. Otherwise, snap rat traps and walk-the-plank-type trapping methods provide effective control. Another option for dealing with chipmunks is adopting a cat and letting it patrol your yard. Once chipmunks seem to be gone, block the entry holes to tunnels. The next time you spot any chipmunks (yes, they will return one day), start to deal with them before they can multiply.
Water, Water Everywhere
Is there an alternative to dry beds? A river runs through it. My yard that is. It’s a mosquito-infested swamp. Dry beds aren’t feasible and there are already three failed French drains. I’m at a loss. And I can’t even mow my back '40.’ —Jana
Jana, since it sounds like none of the traditional solutions for managing surface water have worked, it’s time to investigate the concept of a dry well. This type of water management system directs water into an underground storage area where it can slowly soak into soil. You can certainly dig one (or more) dry wells and line them with gravel. That’s a time-honored approach. If you’re dealing with clay soil, and I suspect you are, that’s a hard job. I suggest finding a professional landscaper who specializes in stormwater management using modern materials, like those manufactured by a company like NDS, Inc. Check out their systems and find an experienced landscaper who can install that type of water management system on your property.
A Disappearing Lawn
It’s so dry in Texas our lawn is sinking! The ground is shifting badly. All the grass is dead and the majority of what’s left is weeds! — Gareth
Gareth, the root of your problem is where you live. Many Texas soils have a high clay content, and when clay dries out, it contracts. That contraction can cause soil to look like it’s sinking. When the rains return, the clay will expand and things should shift back into place, more or less. Your lawn will likely need some leveling at that point. The best thing you can do to fight weeds and the sinking ground is grow a healthy stand of grass. In Texas, you’ll have to water at some point to keep your lawn growing strong, and that will keep the soil from contracting. If you can’t overhaul your lawn yourself, work with a local landscaper or lawn specialist who can help you eliminate weeds and seed or sprig grass. Or leave a traditional large lawn behind, and work with a professional landscaper to transform your yard into a native plant xeriscape. That type of landscape can include lawn; it's usually just in a smaller amount.
Ground Bees And Holes And Snakes—Oh My!
Lots of snakes in our yard. Holes everywhere! But believe it or not, that’s not the real problem. The problem is that ground bees find those holes and build their nests there. My husband and I have both been attacked by them when we’ve been unaware of their nests. Now we have to periodically walk through the yard to check before we do any kind of yard work. It’s terrible. — Sheila
Sheila, you are dealing with a dangerous situation when it comes to ground-nesting yellow jackets. You’re describing aggressive yellow jackets, a type of hornet that defends its nest vigorously. (True ground bees are docile, solitary creatures that do their work in spring.) By late summer, underground yellow jacket nests can host up to 2,000 insects, all of which can sting repeatedly. They’ll occupy any hole created by any critter, much like snakes, which don’t dig their own holes, either, by the way. They’re in your yard because there’s an available food source. If your yard is full of holes, it’s likely due to voles or chipmunks, which make good eating for snakes. The best way to proceed? Hire someone to catch the snakes. Remove any food sources for rodents, including pet food or birdseed. Trap the rodents, and/or adopt or borrow a cat to help. Walk through your yard and find the yellow jacket nests. At dawn when it’s cool, cover nest openings with a clear glass bowl. Take a partner with you armed with a can of non-stick cooking spray, which they can use to spray any hornets that might try to attack. The spray coats and kills them. Leave the bowl in place a few days, and the hornets will smother. When the snakes and yellow jackets are gone, fill in all the holes.
Grass In The Gravel
I have a gravel driveway, and grass keeps growing in it. Is there any way I can permanently remove it? Or do I have to keep spraying it with weed killer? — Patty
Patty, weed killer is typically the first line of defense with a gravel driveway. If lawn bordering the driveway is creeping in, dig a trench edge along the driveway that’s 4" wide and 6" deep. That’s wide enough to keep grass from sending tiller stems (underground runners) into the gravel. You’ll need to string trim the edge on occasion to keep the area clean. It’s also worth tossing granulated pre-emergent herbicide into the trench and on the driveway to keep grass or weed seed from germinating. Otherwise, having someone run a grader blade up and down the driveway knocks down grass for a while. But consider this: Another option is letting grass grow until it’s high enough to mow. At that point, your driveway is on trend with modern permeable paver surfaces that are purposely sown with grass seed to create a green driveway. And, the stones in a gravel-lawn driveway won’t wash away in record-breaking rains.
Beating Creeping Charlie And Clover
How do I get rid of creeping Charlie? My backyard is 75 percent clover — Jerrod
Jerrod, these weeds are invasive and tough to beat because they spread by seed and stems that root as they grow along the ground. The best way to eliminate them is by growing a healthy lawn that crowds out weeds. That means regular fertilizing and mowing at the right height — no scalping. Creeping Charlie likes shade and moisture. If it’s growing under trees, thin the trees to let more sun reach the lawn beneath, which will help the grass grow, too. Overseed the lawn if it’s thin. The chemical control for creeping Charlie should contain triclopyr or dicamba. For clover, use granular lawn products you apply with a spreader (some might be weed 'n’ feed types). Whenever you use weed killers, always follow label instructions carefully. Hand-weeding also works well for both of these weeds. Pull when the soil is moist. Take care to dispose of the plants so they can’t re-root in your yard.
Ants In The Grass
I have a lot of small ant hills. - Laura
Laura, to get rid of ant hills, you can use commercial chemical baits or one of these options. Mix boric acid with a sugar solution to form a paste and place it around the hills. The ants carry the tainted sugar into the nest, and the boric acid kills the colony. (Be careful not to spill pure boric acid on the lawn, because it can harm grass.) Or sprinkle diatomaceous earth on the hill. As ants walk through the earth, they’ll carry it into the colony, where it dries out ant bodies, causing death. Another option is to pour several large pots of boiling water with soap added over ant hills. Do this up to three times a day until ant activity stops. When ants are dead, rake the hills into surrounding grass. An ant hill is soil that’s been excavated from the ant colony underground, so spreading it around on the lawn in a thin layer won’t hurt the grass. If you’re dealing with fire ants, use a hand spreader to broadcast ant bait (Amdro) on the lawn.
Gone To The Dogs
We have a male rescue dog that pees a gallon at a time. Burns HUGE spots all over the yard. — Mary
Mary, tackle this problem with a three-step approach. First, encourage your dog to drink more water. It sounds counter-intuitive, but if he drinks more, his urine will be more diluted and have less of an impact on your lawn. Second, immediately after your dog does his business on the lawn, pour on a few cups of water to dilute the nitrogen-rich urine. Third (this is the long-term solution), train your dog to go in a place that won’t damage the lawn. Maybe even create a pit stop just for Fido—a pea gravel- or mulch-covered area works for most dogs. Plan to reseed any lawn spots that are currently bare. Look for commercial bagged seed blends developed specifically for repairing urine-caused spots. These blends contain grasses that are more urine-resistant, such as perennial ryegrass and fescues.
Pick Your Poison
How to get rid of poison ivy...every year I get exposed to it somehow when cleaning along a fence line, no matter how safe I am. — Genet
Genet (Gene T?), the best way to eliminate poison ivy is to pull it or kill it. When pulling, be sure to cover your body if you’re sensitive to it (it sounds like you are). Try to tackle this job in early spring, when it’s just starting to grow. Brush up on your poison ivy id skills to make sure you can spot it. You can find lots of great pictures online. Remember that the oils remain on clothing, garden gloves and tools, so everything that comes in contact with poison ivy needs to be cleaned or washed. To kill poison ivy on a fence line, you’ll probably have best results by spraying it with brush killer. Follow the label directions carefully. Many internet threads suggest using boiling water, but be careful doing this. The steam can cause poison ivy oils to enter the air, which means you can breathe them.
Don’t Feed The Birds
How do you prevent birds from eating the seeds? — Jane
Jane, if your grass seed is the only food available, birds will descend to gobble the tasty treat. But you can outsmart bird brains using some of these tricks. Sow coated or pelleted seed (much commercial bagged grass seed is this type). Birds typically turn their beaks up to these seeds. Hide seed with wheat straw, a light layer of weed-free compost or a biodegradable germination or seed starter mat. You can always add a few pinwheels or temporary wind chimes to the area to scare birds away. Or, do what many homeowners do and sow extra seed assuming the birds will nibble a few.
There’s a ton of fungus in our St. Augustine yard from record rain. Most of the grass (or what used to be) is nothing more than brown runners, no grass. How do we correct this? — Jan
Jan, record rain creates just-right conditions for massive fungus outbreaks in all lawns, but especially in St. Augustine grass. The first step is to stop any additional watering with an irrigation system. Specific fungicide treatments vary depending on what type of fungus you have. Contact a local licensed lawn care professional for advice and fungicide treatment options. Until then, follow these steps: Aerate the affected parts of the lawn to help get more air to grass roots. Stop fertilizing, and wash lawn clippings off the mower after each mowing to avoid spreading the disease.