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Sharp advice to follow

My wife and I have just moved into a new home. There are so many things to do! There is unpacking, organizing and remodeling, not to mention getting the lawn in order. I have been so busy on the first few things that I failed to realize we have a huge, I mean HUGE lawn burweed problem. I say problem because once you notice it in the spring of the year, there is very little that can be done about it. I give this advice every year but I usually do not have to follow it. I have four children that range in age from 3 to 13 —  that’s a lot of prickles in the feet for momma to fix. A little preparation and quick work will go a long way in helping with this problem.

Lawn burweed is a winter annual weed that grows unnoticed until the spiny seed begins to form in the spring. This weed germinates in the fall, lies mostly dormant through the winter, then grows like crazy when the weather gets warm in the spring. It grows prostrate along the ground, so mowing is largely ineffective. By the time the spiny seeds come out, the plant is nearly through its life cycle for the year. At this point, herbicides are completely ineffective as well.

There are is something you can do, however, that’s perhaps a little unorthodox and certainly not University researched, unbiased information — it’s just good old-fashioned common sense! Get a real fuzzy blanket and couple of cinder blocks (these can be used for exercise too during the quarantine). Fasten the blanket to your lawn mower and then place the bricks on top of the blanket. Ride over the lawn burweed, or hand pull, and the blanket will pick up many of the seeds. This does two things: it keeps the seeds from replenishing the soil seed bank and keeps those feet from being harmed.

If you really want to get rid of lawn burweed then you should use a pre-emergent herbicide between mid-September and mid-October to get it under control. This will keep the seed of this plant and many other grass and broadleaf winter annual weeds from being able to germinate in the first place. A follow-up application of a post-emergent herbicide may be necessary to get the weeds under control. This would be applied in mid-December of the same year.

In my case, I could host a weed identification class here at our new house. I will most likely need to have a follow-up application this year. Once the weeds are under control, these herbicide applications should not continue to be necessary every year. Be sure to research and select an herbicide that works with your turf. Read the entire label to make sure you are wearing the proper personal protective equipment, mixing correctly, applying the chemical correctly and to make sure when it is safe for children and pets to return to the application area. Oh, by the way, it is important to make sure the herbicide you are using kills the weeds you have. Don’t waste your money on something that isn’t labeled for your weeds.

The best way to protect your lawn from weed intruders is to promote a healthy stand of turf. Fertilize and lime your soil according to a North Carolina Department of Agriculture soil test every year. A soil test, taken every third year, is sufficient for your lawns’ needs. Perhaps the most important thing you can do on a regular basis is mow your grass at the correct height. Warm-season grass is so sensitive to shade that if it is allowed to grow too tall, it will actually shade itself out. This is very stressful for the turf and makes it look like you are scalping it nearly every time you mow the grass. Most warm-season grasses like to be kept in the 1-to-2 inch height range with the exception being St. Augustine grass. This grass performs really well if kept between 2.5 to 3.5 inches. If you have a question about the mowing height of your grass, the Carolina Lawns publication available from N.C. State University spells it out for each turf type. This publication also has information on establishing, restoring and maintaining your grass. There is a comparison of each of the cool- and warm-season grasses with cultural recommendations such as mowing height and irrigation amounts. This can be found online or a hard copy can be had from your local extension center.

Lastly, there are the Lawn Maintenance Calendars that can be found at www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/. These files have a quarterly schedule for what you can be doing to promote a healthy stand of turf at your home. Turffiles is a N.C. State University website that has information on grasses, weeds, diseases and insects that can be found specifically in turf. N.C. State University is known on the world‘s stage for its turf website and turf research information.

So, after the summer, when the weather begins to turn cool once again, remember — it is time to take care of that lawn burweed!

I have really good news to report for all of those folks who have been waiting for the NCDA&CS Agronomy lab to open back up: they are now excepting routine samples. The turn-around time may be a bit longer due to reduced staffing, but we can now send samples into the lab. So, if you have been waiting to get your samples in, now is the time.

If you have a question or concern involving horticulture, email gene_fox@ncsu.edu or call me at 252-946-0111. While our office is closed to the public, I am working and ready to help you. If you have a question, please send it in, you might even make the paper.

Gene Fox is the area consumer horticulture agent for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.