How to Solve All the Most Common Lawn Problems

Arricca Elin Sansone
·4 min read
Photo credit: Ali Majdfar - Getty Images
Photo credit: Ali Majdfar - Getty Images

You’ve worked hard to create a lawn that’s lush, green, and gorgeous. But now those weeds popping up are eyesores and an offense to all your hard work. And once they get a foothold, they proliferate! “Weeds are fighting for light, water and nutrients with desirable turfgrass,” says Matt Elmore, PhD, assistant extension specialist in weed science at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. “Growing dense, healthy turf is the best defense to keep weeds under control.” The biggest offenders in most lawns? Dandelions, crabgrass, clover, and nutsedge.

Here’s how to tackle the most common weed problems in your yard:

Mow at the right height

Each type of turfgrass (the term for grasses that form a lawn) has an ideal mowing height. One size doesn’t fit all for every species! For example, zoysia is between 1 to ½ inches, while Kentucky blue is between 2.5 and 3.5 inches. Make sure to mow at the higher end of that range to help keep grass strong and shade out weed seeds. Research shows mowing high reduces some weed infestations, such as crabgrass. If you’re not sure what kind of grass you have, check with your local university coop extension service (find yours here).

Water correctly

Water deeply when grass begins to wilt (or looks like it’s turning in on itself), when it turns blue-gray, or when footprints remain after walking across the lawn, says Elmore. Frequent, light watering encourages weeds to pop up and turfgrass roots to root shallowly. (For more guidance on watering, read our complete rundown here).

Stop crabgrass with a preemergent herbicide


“Crabgrass is a summer annual, so you won’t notice it’s a problem in your lawn until July and August,” says Elmore. “Then, it sets seed in late summer for next year’s crop.” If crabgrass has been a problem in years past, put down a preemergent herbicide in the spring before crabgrass germinates. This product is designed to kill annual weeds which pop up from seed.

Crabgrass germinates at around 55 degrees no matter where you live, so watch soil temperatures and apply at the ideal time (search for “soil temperature map near me” or check here). Typically, that’s sometime around when forsythia, those bright yellow flowering shrubs, bloom. Be careful if you’re planning to patch bare spots because a preemerge will prevent grass seeds from sprouting.

Tackle dandelions and clover later

Preemergent products don’t control perennial weeds such as dandelions and clover. You’ll need to use a postemergent product in granular or spray form for these weeds. “Be sure to choose one that’s selective, which means it will not kill the surrounding grass you do want,” says Elmore. Read the product instructions and follow exactly.

Clover may be more difficult to control than dandelions. Broadleaf weed herbicides usually do the trick, but it’s also not completely necessary to eradicate clover. For one thing, clover supports pollinator populations. Plus, it’s also a nitrogen fixer, meaning it converts unusable nitrogen from the atmosphere into nitrogen in a form that’s available to plants, says Elmore.

Another less-recognized weed is nutsedge (also called nut grass). It looks like grass but actually is a different type of plant with triangular-shaped yellowish leaves. Nutsedge isn’t controlled by annual grass weed or broadleaf weed herbicides, so you’ll need a different product. Read the label to ensure it specifically treats nutsedge.

Dig up weeds

You also can hand dig dandelions for a more natural approach, but be sure to get the entire long tap root. Do it when they’re young and before they go to seed. You also can hand dig nutsedge, if you only have a few plants, but be sure to remove the underground tubers, too.

Do an attitude adjustment

Sadly, as with most things in life, perfection is not attainable. You’ll likely always have a few weeds here and there throughout your lawn. Besides, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? In some cultures, in fact, dandelions are considered edible! Not all “weeds” necessarily have to go. “A weed is just a plant that’s out of place,” says Elmore. “If you can tolerate some clover in your lawn, for example, it usually coexists fine with turfgrass.”

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