The Spring Clean for Summer Turf

— Written By and last updated by Tamara Carawan
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man pushing lawn mower

With residential turf beginning to make the transition from winter dormancy to spring green up, many of our lawn weeds are also in transition. While it might be tempting to make a quick purchase of a lawn herbicide to hasten their demise, not all weeds can be controlled so easily. Let us discuss a few simple tips that will encourage healthy turf with fewer weeds.

All turf varieties require the same basic elements of sufficient sunlight, adequate moisture (water), and a fertile soil that supplies nutrients in the proper amounts. If you can provide these elements, then your turf can often outcompete weeds for growing space. Eliminate one of the elements or provide excessive amounts, and weeds are likely to take advantage. Areas of your lawn that are shaded or are wet and low will always have less turfgrass and more weeds. Similarly, areas under and around large trees and home foundations will be likely spots for poor turf growth and increased weed volume. There are also locations in Pamlico County that have naturally sandy soils with little organic matter needed to retain moisture. Without irrigation, these locations will struggle to produce a thick lawn with deep roots. No amount of herbicide or fertilizer will correct any of these poor growing conditions.

Now that our warm season grasses (centipede, zoysia, Bermuda, St. Augustine) have begun to green up, many homeowners have had the opportunity to mow this new growth. Mowing is an excellent way to help reduce weed competition and encourage new growth of turfgrass. Mowing weeds before they have an opportunity to set seed can reduce the number of weeds in the future. Mowing also discourages shading from weeds that can slow down spring green up. Proper mowing height is also important, as some weeds can be controlled by the lower mowing heights we use in warm season grasses. Other than St. Augustine, warm season grasses need to be mowed between 1”-2” to encourage lateral growth and reduce thatch development. Our modern mowing machines have gotten larger and heavier, and this can sometimes create difficulties. Many current mowers only mow around 1.5” at their lowest setting, so consider this fact when it is time to mow the lawn. If you have been mowing higher than 2”, consider slowly lowering the mowing height over several trips around the yard. For more information on care and maintenance of you turf, review the NC State Extension publication titled Carolina Lawns.

Finally, herbicides are an effective tool for the removal of weeds. However, they are not magic bullets that can be applied one time for an instant lush lawn. If your yard is mostly weeds with difficult growing conditions (wet, dry, shade), then no amount of herbicide will resolve this issue. Weeds can be categorized in several ways; by their life cycle (annual, perennial, biennial), growing season (winter, summer), and physiology (grasses, sedges, broadleaf). Annual plants can be easier to control and have a shorter period of growth. Perennial plants can be present all year long and are more difficult to control. Proper weed identification will help you select a herbicide that is most effective against these plants, and will also help you select herbicides that are safe for your lawn. Refer to the NC State University Turffiles website to help identify weeds in your lawn.

Please remember that not all weeds can be easily controlled by a single herbicide application. Grassy weeds (crabgrass, fescue, bahiagrass, etc.) are difficult to remove from a lawn and many herbicides that control grassy weeds may also harm your turf. Broadleaf weed control products are the most abundant herbicides you find on shelves, but pay close attention to the lawns and rates for which they can be applied. Herbicides often fail in residential settings because homeowners do not follow the label directions. Either the weed they are trying to control is not on the label (not effective against that weed) or they use an improper application rate. Harder to control weeds will often need repeat applications of herbicide to see results. Be patient, follow the directions, and be persistent. Lastly, be cautious when using herbicides. While they are effective tools, misapplication can result in damage to turf. Applying rates higher than those listed on the label can result in turf injury. For more information on using herbicides in turfgrass refer to the NC State Extension publication titled Pest Control for Professional Turfgrass Managers. Use the PDF link to view the publication.

Cover of Turf Pest Control Manual

If you have questions about turfgrass or weed control, please contact Daniel Simpson at 252-745-4121 or