Managing Home Lawns

— Written By and last updated by Tamara Carawan
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picture of centipede grass
With warm weather and slightly drier conditions this past week, several calls came into the Extension Office in regards to home lawn care and weed control. Let us address these issues in this week’s column and help get those lawns back to green and growing.

Weeds can be categorized as either warm or cool season annuals and perennials. Annuals grow from seed, flower, and produce new seed within one growing season. Warm season annuals perform this life cycle during warm weather, and cool season annuals during cool weather. Perennials remain active through vegetative plant parts all year long. With this basic understanding we can identify and choose strategies to control weeds.

picture of a dandelion

Currently, most homeowners will notice a mixture of warm season annuals and perennial plants in their lawns. Perennial plants like Dallisgrass and Florida Betony are difficult to control and timing of control strategies will determine how effective control measures will be. Annuals are usually easier to control, but the larger they become the more difficult that will be to manage. The best option homeowners have to encourage turf growth over weeds is to mow. Determine your turf type (Centipede, St. Augustine, Zoysia, Bermuda) and mow to the correct height.
Centipede is the most common turf type we see and prefers a mowing height of 1-1.5 inches. By mowing often, we can remove the vegetative and reproductive parts of many weeds, which limits their ability to grow and reproduce. This also encourages turfgrasses to branch and creep along the ground, helping to outcompete these weeds.

When growing conditions limit turfgrass growth, weeds begin to outcompete turfgrass for space and resources, creating patches of weeds. Turfgrass needs about 8 hours of direct sunlight for optimum growth. Heavy shade will limit growth leading to thin turf. Be mindful of how much shade exists in your yard from trees and structures. Turfgrass may grow in and around trees, but it will never grow well directly under them.

Water is important, and many yards may have seen some evidence of drought conditions this past week. As turfgrass loses water, the leaves begin to roll and lose color. When you step on the grass your footprints will remain for extended periods. These are all signs telling you that your grass needs water. Areas of Pamlico County that have heavy sand or lighter soils that contain little organic matter can dry out quickly. These areas might include locations along Hwy. 306, and areas in Arapahoe, Minnesott, Grantsboro, and Reelsboro. Poor growth is common in
these areas that do not have irrigation. No amount of herbicide or fertilizer can overcome the lack of water.

Herbicides are effective tools that can be used to manage weeds to allow turfgrass to thrive. However, if you do not address any of these poor growing conditions mentioned above, you cannot spray your way to a healthy lawn. When using herbicides always READ AND FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS. Ensure that your turf type and the weeds you are trying to control are also on the label. Spraying a broadleaf weed killer on a grass weed will typically provide little to no control. To help identify weeds and choose herbicide products that are effective against these weeds, visit the NC State Extension TurfFiles website.

This website contains a Weeds section with notes on numerous weeds species provided with photographs, plant descriptions, and control options. Common herbicides for homeowners include broadleaf weed products like Ortho Weed B Gone, Trimec Southern, and Speedzone Southern. These products contain a mixture of broadleaf weed killers that will work on common broadleaf weeds like dandelion, spotted spurge, and lespedeza. However, these products will not control most grass species.

For annual grasses our options become more limited, especially for centipede and St. Augustine grass. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet herbicide for all weeds. Selectively removing annual grasses from turf requires planning, and recommendations need to be specific to your turf and weed species. Early herbicide applications in the spring are the most effective for annual grasses. Perennial grasses can be difficult to control, and often few options are available. For this article, I will refer readers to the NC State Extension TurfFiles website for recommendations specific to your grass weed control needs. Since most grass control products have limitations on the turf types which they can be used on, listing product names may create some confusion.

Please call me at 252-745-4121 or email me at to discuss specific recommendations for your yard.