Weed vs. Lawn—The Green Way to Win
When you buy a net-zero home from Tommy Williams Homes, you’re helping reduce your carbon footprint on the earth. So naturally, you’ll want your landscape to reflect sustainable gardening practices.
One good place to do that is in the area of weeding. Of course, few of us have the time or patience to get down on our knees and pull out each unwanted weed by hand (although it can be a very Zen-type of practice).
But surrendering our lawns and gardens to the chemical companies isn’t the most desirable route, either.
The problem with lawns
Lawns are unnatural patches of a single plant (grass) that crowds out natural plants that would otherwise fill the space. The idea was originally imported from England, where wealthy aristocrats had sheep and servants with scythes to carve a wide, flat, green area around their estates.
Besides the lack of biodiversity in the average lawn, there is also the problem of the water it takes to maintain them, the fertilizer it takes to keep them green, and the chemicals it takes to keep them weed- and pest-free. Due to storm run-off, the fertilizer and chemicals eventually find their way into a waterway, where they contribute to algae blooms and other undesirable results.
Rules win the argument
Unfortunately, modern society has been trained to believe that an Astro-turf-appearing lawn is the most desirable setting for our yards. In years to come, this may change, but homeowners associations (HOAs) and local and city governments often have covenants and regulations that require the appearance of a “lush lawn.”
And anything resembling a weed just has to go (a “weed” being defined as any plant that isn’t grass).
First, we’d like to challenge the notion that a lawn should be weed-free. The healthiest lawns will contain a certain amount of weeds. Clover, for example, is a low-growing weed that provides nectar for bees (have you ever had clover honey?), as well as nutrients for the lawn. Some weeds, of course, you really don’t want: poison ivy, English ivy, and creeping Charlie, to name just a few.
Other less-invasive weeds, however, increase organic matter, break up the soil, and encourage beneficial microbes. So if you can convince your HOA to ease up a bit on low-profile weeds, so much the better. If not, you’ll have to get rid of everything but the grass.
But before you reach for the spray bottle, try these alternatives.
Weeding without chemicals
Keep it healthy
The number-one way to avoid weeds in the lawn is to maintain a healthy lawn. A thriving lawn will crowd out weeds. This means planting the right type of grass for your climate, mowing it to the proper height (three inches), aerating it in the spring and fall, and watering it properly (an inch or so a week, depending on rainfall, and deep-soaking vs. shallow watering).
The presence of large numbers of weeds in a lawn is an indicator of poor soil. Individual weeds can even tell you what’s wrong with your soil. Oxeye daisy, for example, signals that the soil is low in phosphorus, high in potassium, and high in magnesium.
Stop weeds from sprouting
For large lawn areas, the best way to control weeds sustainably is to stop them before they start. Corn gluten meal is an effective organic pre-emergent weed control for crabgrass and dandelions.
Natural weed killers
If you’re trying to spot-kill weeds, such as at the edge of the lawn or in cracks in the sidewalk, there are several effective weed killers that won’t harm the environment:
- Vinegar will burn weeds as well as commercial chemicals. Try a mix of a gallon of vinegar, a cup of salt, and a tablespoon of dishwashing soap. Just don’t get any on desirable plants, and be prepared to apply it more than once on deep-rooted weeds like dandelions or poison ivy.
- Vodka or rubbing alcohol will also dry out weeds and kill them. The recipe is two ounces of one or the other to two cups of water and a few drops of dishwashing soap.
- Boiling water is a quick-kill method for just about any undesirable weed. Some people resort to flame torches to scorch weeds, but this method can be dangerous and requires training to use safely. They may also be illegal where you live, so check local ordinances.
For more guidance, check the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Extension website.
And for the finest in sustainable living, come to Tommy Williams Homes, Gainesville’s most experienced green builder.