Is your lawn looking sorry for itself? Identifying the weeds could be a clue as to which lawn treatments your grass needs.

Most lawn weeds are particular about their growing conditions

In the same way that garden flowers need certain soil conditions to flourish in, lawn weeds are fussy about where they grow. Which makes sense. After all, a weed is only a plant in the wrong place.

Modern lawn care is all about providing the right conditions for grasses to flourish. If your lawn isn’t quite as it should be, one of the diagnostic tools I use is weed identification. By discovering what enjoys growing in your sward, I can get an accurate idea of what is happening with the soil beneath your lawn.

Regular Premier Lawns customers will testify that I prefer not to use chemical weedkillers if I can avoid them. Instead, I use cultural controls to keep lawn weeds under control. In other words, I try to create conditions where lawn grasses outcompete any unwanted plants.

Interestingly enough, this is the complete opposite approach to growing a wildflower area. Managing wildflower meadows is all about creating conditions where grasses are kept under control so that broadleaved plants can flourish. A successful wildflower area needs low nutrient soil and infrequent mowing. A lawn needs plenty of feeding and regular trimming.

A wildflower lawn is the dream for some people – a nightmare for others. Whatever your personal taste, species rich lawns call require a very different maintenance regime to classic grass lawns.

If your lawn is poorly drained

Poorly drained soil results in compaction, lack of space for roots to breathe and expand and consequently the grass in your lawn doesn’t thrive. It’s easily out competed by weeds and prone to common lawn diseases.

Weeds in poorly drained soil

• Moss
• Bindweed
• Ground Ivy
• Violet
• Speedwell
• Poa annua (annual meadow grass)

Ground ivy, dandelions and clover tell me that this lawn has several things going on. Compaction, poor drainage and low nutrient levels are the likeliest culprits. A renovation programme for this lawn will address all of those problems.

If I spot any of the above weeds in a lawn, I’ll follow up with my ultimate test for compacted soil. I take my trusty 15cm flat head screwdriver and push it into the soil as far as it will go. The amount of effort needed is a measure of how compacted the soil is.

Aeration will relieve compaction and make the lawn less attractive to these weeds. Some of the imposters on this list are also fond of shade so wherever possible I’ll advise clients to prune trees and bushes and let more light into the area.

If your lawn is in need of a feed

Wildflowers (aka weeds) favour low nutrient soil whereas lawn grasses can be quite hungry. It stands to reason that if the soil is better suited to weeds than grass, the weeds will thrive at the expense of the grass. Remember – some weeds are perfectly happy to be mown on a regular basis, particularly if they are low growing

Weeds in hungry lawns

• Yarrow
• Ragwort
• Dandelion
• Thistle
• Plantain
• Clover
• Wild Carrot

lawn weeds plantains and clover
Ribwort Plantain, Clover and a little bit of Black Medick tell me that this lawn is in desperate need of feeding. It’s overlooked by a stately walnut tree which is probably competing for water and nutrients so once the weeds are gone I’d be looking at a more intensive feeding regime than normal.

Most of the weeds in this list have really long tap roots and can access water and nutrients from deep down in the soil. The exception to this is clover. Clover is a very clever plant. It’s a legume – which means that it can harvest the nitrogen gas in the air and fix it into the soil. The plant is naturally inclined to grow in (and improve) nutrient poor soil.

Spotting any of these in the lawn tell me straight away that it’s time for a feed and probably a run over with the slit aerator to disrupt root growth. I will confess though, that I might well spot treat them with a herbicide too for some of these can be remarkably stubborn.

Weeds in nutrient rich soil

Sometimes weeds in the lawn are not about the presence or absence of nutrients in the soil. They’re more an indication that the balance of plant nutrients is not quite right. Some off-the-shelf lawn feeds don’t contain the full range of nutrients that your lawn needs. It’s a manufacturers trick to save costs and tease consumers with seemingly low prices.

Imagine if you ate nothing but chocolate. No fruit, no veggies and no protein – just chocolate. Granted, it’s full of energy and you’d certainly grow – but would you be healthy? Some people can get away with it, others, like me, can’t. It’s just the same for your lawn. Some plants do better than others with an unbalanced diet, and if these weeds are thriving while the grass is floundering, I know that the soil needs rebalancing.

Weeds in imbalanced soil

• Plantain
• Thistle
• Dock
• Chickweed
• Foxtail grass

Another clue to an imbalance in soil nutrients is disease. For example, too much nitrogen in the soil in autumn time can lead to fusarium patch disease.

If I spot certain weeds or diseases in a lawn, I’ll try and get some kind of history – if there is one. It’s helpful to know what, if any, treatments the lawn has received in the last 12 – 18 months. Normally a couple of applications of a seaweed tonic will work wonders in conjunction with a complete lawn feed to help rebalance the soil over time.

How do mechanical lawn treatments control weeds?

Every lawn treatment carried out by Premier Lawns is tailored to the lawn we’re working on. We don’t offer “off the shelf” treatments because there is no such thing as a standard lawn.

Occasionally, we need to apply herbicides to get rid of weeds, but at the same time, we’ll be thinking about the lawn treatments to use so that those weeds don’t come back. Our methods are all about making the grass sward so healthy and so lush that there’s no space for weeds to infiltrate.

Scarifying – removes the layer of thatch where weed seeds so often lodge when they are blown in on the wind. It also gives the grass plenty of ventilation so that the plants are healthy and robust.

Aeration – does for the roots what scarification does for the leaves. It gives them room to breathe and grow.

Seaweed tonic – it’s like vitamin supplements for your lawn. Leaves are plumped up, plant cells are stronger and more dynamic and that shows in the colour and texture of your lawn. No self-respecting weed will dare to invade!

Regular feeding – The balance of nutrients in the soil beneath your lawn is crucial to keeping weeds under control. Poorly nourished lawns tend to have big gaps between grass plants and these gaps are heavenly places for weed seeds. Mother Nature hates bare patches – if she sees one, she’ll fill it with something and if grass isn’t going to be happy there – she’ll find something that is!

Mowing – how you mow your lawn plays a big part in keeping weeds at bay. Make sure that the mower blades are really sharp (blunt blades rip the grass and leave weaken the plants). Mow little and often – scalping the lawn stresses the grass. And most importantly, maintain your lawn at a height of around 5cm. That makes it harder for weeds to germinate, it also helps the grass keep its colour through the summer months.

Five Steps to a Perfect Lawn

Struggling with weeds in your lawn?

Using weeds in your lawn as a diagnostic tool means that I don’t just treat the problem – I treat the cause. It’s like going to the Doctor’s – do you want a pill to make the pain go away or would you rather find out what’s causing the pain and get that corrected? I know which I’d prefer.

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How to get rid of ugly weed grasses in your lawnwatch the video