Lawn Mayhem

Wednesday, July 20, 2011
The late Alan King once did a monologue about moving to the suburbs for peace and quiet only to discover mayhem. From his point of view as a nightclub comedian who never got to sleep before 4am, the sound of lawnmowers and such at 7am was hideous. He described it in a cascade of adjectives ranging from cacophony and horrible din to shrieking and howling engines. He was livid at his neighbors and further enraged to know he would eventually have to mow his own lawn. He ends the piece by wondering how his neighbors would react if he turned the lights on when he got home at 3am and started mowing then. These days some neighborhoods have covenants that restrict the times when power equipment can be used outdoors. In my own urban neighborhood, hot weather starts an informal competition to see who can start the earliest. Once a mower is cranked up, others emerge, coffee in hand, ready for the noisy fray. A few times a year, like last week, the morning water break conversation turns to weed control.
Everyone who ever mowed a lawn develops an attitude toward the weeds that inevitably appear. Some ignore them; deciding that whatever is green is good. Most can go that route for a while, but take action when big areas give way to crabgrass, dollarweed or any of a score of other common invaders. The reason the weeds are there is that they are opportunistic, ready to take advantage of underlying issues facing your lawn grass. Crabgrass, for example, is favored when the lawn area is dry and thatch is thin.  
Dollarweed is another lawn invader and represents one of three round leafed weeds that plague lawns in the South. Shiny green on top with vigorous white rhizomes below, dollarweed advances each time you pull it up and is favored over lawngrass in damp areas. It spreads through lawn thatch as easily as it does through mulch and sometimes digging up the entire area seems the only option. Instead, begin with physical control by gently lifting the rhizomes out with a sharp pointed tool. As soon as new sprouts appear, paint them with an herbicide. Over time, you will win the battle. 
Go figure. Southern gardeners pull up dichondra anytime they see it in the lawn, while Californians grow it as a lawn alternative. Small and round, dark green leaves spring up in clusters and spread rapidly. When it grows very dense, it may be wise to spot treat the dichondra with glyphosate and replant the lawn. Dull green and scalloped, ground ivy can be the most difficult of the round-leafed weeds to control. It takes over in areas that are too shady and damp for lawngrass to grow well, as does green moss. Brady Watts says, “Green moss likes shade and acid soil, so people put out lime to suppress it. But the lawn doesn’t grow back because of the shade.” When the shade loving weeds dominate an area, homeowners have two choices: thin the tree canopy above or put in a garden bed. Lawngrass cannot grow in the shade.
Even if you meet the basic needs of lawngrass, even if you mow regularly and return the clippings to nourish the thatch, you will eventually face down lawn weeds. Get to know which weeds are a serious problem for your lawn, particularly those that spread both by seeds and rhizomes. Decide what steps you want to take to control them, then consult the horticulturist at your local independent garden center for an action plan. In the long run, grow the lawn to its best and let it beat up on the weeds for you.  
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