Reclaiming a Weedy Lawn

Reclaiming a Weedy Lawn

Part of Ep. 403 Lawn Care Special

Using a "freedom lawn" at the O. J. Noer Turfgrass Center, Amy Sausen discusses what works and what doesn't when dealing with a weed infested lawn.

Premiere date: Jul 31, 1996

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Here at O.J. Noer turfgrass center they realize that not everybody can start out right for a perfect lawn. I'm with UW-Madison outreach specialist, Amy Sausen. What are you working on, here?

Amy Sausen:
Well, Shelley, this area of the Noer facility is our freedom lawn. We call it that because it's completely free of all inputs, whether they be chemical, fertilizer or water. The only thing we've done for the past four years is mow it.

Shelley:
So, this is the kind of lawn we could inherit if we moved to new property or place in the country. This is what we'd be stuck with.

Amy:
Exactly. This is pretty well-infested with a lot of weeds that are pretty common to most home lawns.

Shelley:
Let's take a look at the weeds.

Amy:
First, we have the common dandelion. Everybody recognizes it's yellow flower and white seed head in the middle of the summer.

Shelley:
It spreads pretty easily, too.

Amy:
Oh, exactly. And being that it's a perennial, it's back every year. This is something that we had a pretty heavy infestation of. This is black medic. It's identified by the three leaflets at the end of each stem and these small, yellow cup flowers at the end of the stem. It is an annual, though, and only establishes itself by seed.

Shelley:
All right, so that's a seed spreader. This looks very familiar.

Amy:
This is actually white clover. You can identify white clover by the three leaflets, also, and by the white flower at the very top that the bumblebees seem to like a lot.

Shelley:
You see this around a lot.

Amy:
Yeah, white clover used to be used a lot in seed mixtures because it established so well and it's green. So, in old seed mixtures, it was often commonly seeded right into the lawn.

Shelley:
Do we fight these weeds basically the same for all three weeds?

Amy:
Yeah. You're generally going to want to consider a herbicide application in the fall to make sure that it's going to eliminate your problem.

Shelley:
You've been doing some experimenting with what works and what doesn't. What have you done in this plot?

Amy:
Well, in this plot, we've fertilized the area. And as you can see, while it's improved the quality of the turf it's also improved the health and vigor of the lawn weeds.

Shelley:
So, it's greener, but everybody's happy: weeds, turf, everything.

Amy:
Exactly.

Shelley:
And what about here?

Amy:
Well, in this spot, what we've done is in addition to the fertilizer application, we've made an herbicide application to eliminate the competition posed by the weeds.

Shelley:
So, we've gotten rid of the weeds, but it looks very bare in spots, like right here.

Amy:
Yeah, exactly. Those are the areas that were taken over by the weeds. And now that we've eliminated the weeds, they're thin.

Shelley:
So, what are the solutions, then, if we really want an ideal, pretty perfect lawn?

Amy:
Well, there are three things to consider in a management program. You want to consider fertilizing, of course, herbicide application and some form of over seeding.

Shelley:
We'll talk about fertilizer later, so let's look at over seeding first. This would be pretty much the first step, anyhow, to take care of the thin spots.

Amy:
Yeah, certainly, it's going to be the most important step in improving the density of the turf. What we've done here is we've compared several different over seeding methods. And you can see we've got the old familiar bucket method with the seed and the soil mixed in the bucket, where you just disperse them over the lawn evenly.

Shelley:
So, this is just soil and lawn seed.

Amy:
Exactly.

Shelley:
It's a pretty good idea for a small area, but I wouldn't want to do this all over my entire lawn.
Amy:
It becomes very difficult to get a constant spread of seed and soil across an entire lawn.

Shelley:
What would be the solution for my big yard?

Amy:
There's a couple of options available. Most involve renting something from a rental center. In this particular plot, we used an aerator. That's the item over here.

Shelley:
That massive thing?

Amy:
Exactly.

Shelley:
What does that actually do to improve my lawn?

Amy:
An aerator pokes holes into the turf and it pulls cores of soil up onto the lawn and leaves that soil on top of the turf.

Shelley:
So, you're pulling up fresh soil to the top?

Amy:
Exactly.

Shelley:
Then, what would you do?

Amy:
In order to make that soil usable, we macerate it with a lawn mower and go over it and pulverize the whole area to get a nice, dense, uniform top dressing of soil.

Shelley:
Okay, and that's when we would re-seed?

Amy:
Then, consider going over it with a regular lawn seeder, just as you would seed any bare area.

Shelley:
So, with a spreader like, this we're going to get a bit more even coverage?

Amy:
Exactly.
Shelley:
Now, are there any other options for people? Something more high tech?

Amy:
Certainly. There's always something on the horizon, of course. This item, right here, is what we call a slit seeder. A slit seeder slices little slits into the lawn and it drops the seed into the slits. So, hopefully, what will happen, is it will get that good seed-to-soil contact for you.

Shelley:
Now, in experimenting with all of these different choices, do you have a preference?

Amy:
Well, I guess I can tell you that out here at the noer facility, we have had the best success using the aerator and the over seeding method.

Shelley:
Okay. But this is still an option, too. So, there's a good time of year to over seed?

Amy:
Exactly. Of course, like with any seeding, the best time of year to seed is from august 15th to september 15th in the Wisconsin area.

Shelley:
What about weed control?

Amy:
Well, our research shows that the most effective method is to make a single herbicide application. And of course, timed properly.

Shelley:
And a good time of year to do that, as well, usually is?

Amy:
Generally, it's going to be in the fall for most weeds.

Shelley:
You've got a selection here. How do I pick one of these? Which one works?

Amy:
The most important thing to do is to properly identify the weed you're combatting.

Shelley:
Know the enemy.

Amy:
Exactly. And then go ahead and find a product on the garden center shelf that has that weed on the label.

Shelley:
And so, if you're trying to deal with three weeds, find all three on the label.

Amy:
If you can, it certainly avoids over application.

Shelley:
Which is better, granular or liquid? What's the best way to get rid of it with an herbicide?

Amy:
I prefer a liquid application, personally. It seems to allow a greater window of opportunity of when to get the chemical down. Our results show that you do generally get better coverage.

Shelley:
With the liquid, then? Okay, so, we've talked about over seeding and we've talked about herbicides. What else?

Amy:
Fertilizing is the next step. Depending on exactly what type of lawn the homeowner is looking for at the end of all of this, you can choose exactly how much you want to put into it, and whether that's the rate of fertilizer or the amount of applications you can make in a year.

Shelley:
So, you can do a lot or have minimal effort.

Amy:
Exactly.

Shelley:
Okay, great. Thanks, Amy.

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