Weeds can tell you a lot about the condition of your lawn and indicate what you need to do to grow healthy grass that is naturally resistant to weeds and pest problems. Learn to “read your weeds” for what they indicate about your lawn care practices and soil conditions, and you’ll be on your way to creating a healthy lawn that will be less work in the long run.
Reading weeds is actually very simple. Weeds thrive in soil that is compacted, poorly fertilized, and not pH balanced, and in lawns that are improperly watered, seeded, or mowed.
Use this Read Your Weeds chart to identify common weeds you may have in your lawn and find simple ways to alter the conditions (compaction, mowing height, pH, fertility, watering, and drainage) that are promoting them.
Check out the Maine Natural Areas Program's presentation on managing invasive species.
Remember, many plants that are considered weeds have beneficial qualities.
Try to develop a tolerance for some weeds. For instance, clover – considered a typical turf weed – takes free nitrogen from the atmosphere and distributes it to the grass, which helps it grow. Clover roots are extensive and extremely drought resistant, providing significant resources to soil organisms, and clover will stay green long after turf goes naturally dormant. Crabgrass provides erosion control; dandelions’ deep roots return nutrients to the surface; and plantains are edible!
Patching bare spots
At the first sign of thinning or bare spots in the lawn, loosen the soil with a rake or similar tool and apply perennial ryegrass at a rate of about 7 seeds per square inch, with nitrogen fertilizer at one-third the labeled rate. Ryegrass will germinate quickly (7–10 days), before the weeds get a chance to invade. Do this every few weeks in early spring and late summer. Overseeding is also an inexpensive method for replacing high-maintenance grass varieties with lower ones. Watch this video for more information.