25 March 2009

Evil Crabgrass and How to Banish It

Crabgrass is evil. You can mow your lawn all the way down to a quarter inch, killing it, and the crabgrass will survive. It's seeds can sit up to four years, waiting, waiting, waiting...I think it's related to cockroaches. They can survive anything, too.

My hubby says, "It's green, leave it alone," every single year and I, in reply, remind him that it's an annual, dies in the fall, leaves big bare dirt patches that turn into mud during the winter and spring and then require seeding.

I do everything I can to stop, kill and prevent it. Winning the fight against crabgrass requires a multi-plan attack.

I pull crabgrass by hand. It grows out sideways like a fanned out hand and has a slightly different color from my lawn grass. Every week end I walk in rows, scanning my lawn for crabgrass and pull. I usually check out the front and side lawns on Saturday and the back lawn on Sunday. I also check out the mulch beds. Sometimes crabgrass tries to be sneaky and start growing right next to the base of a bush. A few days after a rain when the ground is still soft but no longer muddy is the best time for pulling. In the summer, morning is best before it gets too hot outside. The best way to pull crabgrass is to use one of those hand cultivators (looks like a claw on a short handle) to pull up all the lateral branches. Then grab them with your hand and slowly pull. If you only pull on a few of the branches, there's the chance they'll break off, leaving the root and remaining branches behind.

In am in Pennsylvania. During the first two weeks of Spring, I put down a pre-emergent control. You might want to do this in January if you live in southern states. Out here they call it "Weed and Feed" - it's a granular mix of fertilizer and something that inhibits seed germination. Many different companies make crabgrass preventer. You can get a bag of this at the nursery - just make sure it says "pre-emergent" and "crabgrass." Most products allow you reapply it six weeks later, maybe at 4 weeks if you've received alot of rain. Note - it stops all seeds from germinating as well as bulbs. Don't use a pre-emergent if you've got crocus or other bulbs planted. They will become weakened and eventually die. Another note - use a hand or push broadcaster. Don't use your bare hands with chemicals.

There are also sprays for crabgrass. They come full strength and concentrated and can be found in the herbicide section of your nursery or hardware store. It will weaken your lawn, making it look a little yellow, but it should recover. Sprays are good for when the soil is too hard for pulling and when you have just a little bit of crabgrass here and there. I don't recommend sprays for large areas or if you live where the rain water in your yard runs off into the storm sewers or a creek. Don't want years of accumulation destroying the frogs, fish and other creatures that live near the water.

If you have a patch that's kind of large, just dig the whole thing up with a shovel. Break the soil up and rake out all the grass. Break the clumps into smooth soil and even the ground out. If some regular grass clumps survive, replant them. Sprinkle some grass seed and water as directed.

If you have BIG areas of crabgrass, it's best to cook them. Yes, I said "cook." Get a black plastic garbage bag and lay it over the affected area. Hold the edges down with rocks and wait about two weeks. Heat will build up underneath and kill everything. Then you can break up the ground, remove the dead grasses, and start anew.

If your whole yard is a crabgrass festival, then go with using pre-emergent and making your grass as healthy as possible. Seed heavily in the fall as soon as you start getting cool nights. Crabgrass does not germinate in the fall.

Making my lawn as healthy as possible is the final part of my attack. A lawn that grows vigorously is a good defense. Regular feeding, deep watering, aeration/thatch reduction, weeding and seeding in the fall keep my lawn at it's best. I have a mulching lawn mower which is great - it breaks the blades of grass into powder-sized pieces that fall to the ground and decompose, feeding the soil. I know my soil is in good shape because I find worms whenever I dig. Yes, worms are a sign of good soil.

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