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Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Knowledgebase record #39

PAL Question 

I am renovating a lawn that has been completely ignored for a long time--dandelions 3 per square foot, for example. I need to know if I should use something like weed-and-feed now to kill the 1000s of weeds and wait till spring to aerate, remove the top 1/2-inch of the lawn, fertilize and re-seed. Do I need to get on this before the first frost?


Regarding your questions about lawn renovation, I have found a few options for you:

1. If the weed-and-feed product is for pre-emergent weeds, this would not work on your lawn, which already has dandelions growing actively. If the product is post-emergent, it will kill the dandelions, but if you are planning to sow grass seed, you will need to wait before sowing (different products have different guidelines, so check the directions on the package carefully). According to The Lawn Bible (by David R. Mellor, 2003), you should also make sure that the herbicide will target the weeds you have. Do not spray in windy conditions, and only treat areas which need it.

Overuse of herbicide destroys valuable bacteria and insects in the soil, so prevention is the best: mow the lawn high, which will keep weeds from getting established, as they need light to thrive; don't scalp the lawn; water only when it is too difficult to press a screwdriver into the top 2 inches of the soil.

2. There are less toxic alternatives. Some sources say that corn gluten prevents weed seeds from sprouting. They must be wet to be activated. (It won't work on dandelions which are already thriving in your lawn.) Please note that subsequent research suggests corn gluten may be ineffective as a weed control method. See this Oregon State University study.

According to Ann Lovejoy's book, The Handbook of Northwest Gardening, corn gluten should be spread at a rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet of lawn. Do this two or three times a year (in spring and fall, with a summer booster as needed). For ongoing weed suppression, apply it in small amounts whenever you pull up weeds (make a paste of corn gluten and water).

3. The Lovejoy book also has a recipe for fall lawn renovation:
a. Mow the existing grass as short as possible.
b. Spread 1 inch of clean crushed quarter-ten gravel (not pea gravel) evenly over the entire surface.
c. Spread 1 inch of compost over the gravel.
d. Top-seed with a regionally appropriate blend if the lawn is thin and spotty.
e. Wait 6-7 weeks before mowing again.

A criticism of weed-and-feed products is that they will add excessive amounts of phosphorus to your lawn, which will actually encourage weed growth once the herbicide breaks down.

The Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides has good information about controlling dandelions without using weed-and-feed products (originally published in the Journal of Pesticide Reform, Fall 2001).

Toxic-Free Future (formerly known as Washington Toxics Coalition) has information on an overall approach to weed control and lawn care

Keywords Weed control, Lawns--Care and maintenance
Season All Season
Date 2007-12-06

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