Doing a bit of weeding in early autumn, before the leaves begin to fall, can mean fewer weeds and perhaps less plant disease in your lawn’s future. It will not eliminate every weed, but you may find they are relatively easy to cull in the fall.
By the end of summer, many warm season weeds like nipplewort, milkweed, dockweed, fireweed, thistle and oxalis have spread and already gone to seed. Some may be sporting coats of powdery mildew whose spores will rest in the soil over winter, patiently waiting to infect your spring lawn. Even if you have been vigilant about pulling all season, odds are a few have escaped notice. Eradicating them now — before autumnal leaf drop buries them in layers of luscious foliage – makes for easy work and helps ensure you can find them all before they hunker down and attempt to live until next spring.
As the days become crisp and the rains return, cool season weeds like shotweed (aka pop-in-your-eye weed, or cress weed) will be re-emerging from seed. They too, should be eradicated as you put your lawn to bed for winter.
- Has your weed already gone to seed? If the weed has seeds, grasp the top of the plant, and cover the seeds in your fist. Snap off the seed head and insert that in your yard waste bin (not your compost). Removing seeds first and doing it carefully helps reduce how many seeds get dispersed as you pull your weeds.
- Minimize soil disturbance:Every time you churn up a bit of soil, you are likely exposing more seeds to sunlight where they will germinate. Less disturbance means less seeds will grow into more weeds.
- What kind of root does your weed have? Always resist the urge to rip and tear the top off a weed; this will just encourage the plant to grow back.
- Taproots: If you are pulling dockweed, dandelion or other plants with carrot-like taproots, be sure to slide your tool down the shaft of the root and carefully loosen it before pulling. Breaking a taproot may encourage more weeds rather than less.
- Shallow, spidery roots: Weeds like shotweed and nipplewort have shallow roots. A quick tip of your tool will lift these out easily.
- Travelling roots: Oxalisweeds are often mistaken for clover or shamrocks. Like clover and the much-hated field bindweed, its roots will travel down and outward. To remove it, loosen the soil and follow the roots through the soil. Remove everything.
- Does your weed have nasty self-protection mechanisms?
- Poky, spiny tops: Blackberry and thistle have nasty, painful spines. If the plants are young, the soil is moist and loose, and your hands are well gloved, you may be able to pull these weeds by grasping the plant at the base (where it enters the soil) and working it out using your tool. If not, you may need to cut off the top and then shovel out the roots with care.
- Burning, toxic saps & dangerous toxins: Euphorbias contain a milky sap that can produce dangerous chemical burns. Some Euphorbia are desirable; others are weeds. All have the potential to burn you. Glove up, avoid the sap, wash it off carefully if it touches your skin, get medical help immediately if you feel ill or develop burns or rashes after working with Euphorbia – or anything else in the garden. Giant Hogweed is so dangerous it may leave the unsuspecting blinded; consult a pro before touching this one. Got Hemlock? Poison Hemlock can kill you dead. Although it is important to eradicate these dangerous weeds, check with a pro or your extension office before touching them.
- Water your weed patch: Sometimes, watering your weedy area the night before you plan to pull is a good idea. Moistening rock-hard, end-of-summer clay soils, can make pulling easier and more successful. If your soil is dry and sandy, skip the watering before weeding and just sift through the dusty stuff to expose the roots.
- Mulch much! Once you have cleared out your weed patches, cover the exposed soil with 2 to 3” of high-quality mulch material like arborist chips or compost. Not only will the mulch encourage soil microbial to keep your ground healthy and nutrient-rich, but it will also smother weed seeds, hold moisture for thirsty plants and protect roots from the cold months ahead.