How to prevent crabgrass

Easter weekend is a great time to get your yard further in shape for summer. One of the questions I often get asked is about how to prevent crabgrass. To understand how to stop this weed, it’s important to understand in what conditions it likes to grow.

First, crabgrass thrives in compacted soil. It also will occur in lawns which are not very thick. If you can thicken your lawn with more desirable grasses and also decompact it, many of your crabgrass issues will disappear.

Crabgrass is an annual. It germinates in the spring, thrives through mid-August and begins to die in September. As crabgrass grows it sends out tenticles or tillers. The process is called tillering. Eventually these tillers send out long shoots with tiny flowers then these will release seeds. The seeds will rest dormant in your lawn until next spring when the entire procress starts over again.


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There are toxic chemicals on the market that prevent and kill crabgrass. You can also have your lawn sprayed with these potential carcinogens throughout the season. I don’t want to get too preachy about the use of chemicals. However, I would at least like you to be aware of the fact many of these products are very toxic and can do damage to the ecosystem. You are harming your soil when you add these products. Healthy soil leads to healthy strong plants and when you upset your soil’s balance problems result.
Putting down a synthetic pre-emergent on your lawn will leave a chemical residue. If your children or your pets play or even walk on the lawn you are subjecting them to these chemicals. Dogs that eat the grass on the lawn are also ingesting some of whatever you had sprayed there.
All of these grass control products are legal and widely available. I am recommending you don’t use them. They are not good for the environment and can upset the balance of your lawn’s ecosystem. I realize millions of people do use these products, but every person who doesn’t helps put fewer synthetic chemicals into places like our watershed.
Corn Gluten is used as an organic pre-emergent. This product has marginal effect on preventing crabgrass. Since crabgrass germinates throughout the season to be effective you’d end up putting down too much corn gluten. There is a lot of nitrogen in the corn gluten and an overabundance of nitrogen in a lawn causes its own issues. It’s also not good for the surrounding plants.
Early spring or later in the fall is a good time to aerate your lawn. By aerating the soil you can give your lawn a boost of oxygen. The added air dramatically increases soil health and therefore the heath of the grass. This will help thicken the lawn and decrease the available spots for crabgrass. In addition to aerating the soil, overseeding the lawn with new grass seed will also help create a thicker lawn. Fall is the best time to overseed your lawn, but you can also do it in spring.
If you have put down any pre-emergent to prevent crabgrass it will also prevent the grass from germinating. There are synthetic chemicals that stop crabgrass but allow turf grasses to germinate. However, this just means adding more chemicals.
Since the crabgrass needs light to germinate, keep your lawn on the longer side on the order of 3-4 inches long. If you cut your grass too short you gain open up pockets of light for the crabgrass to take hold.
If you still are fearful of crabgrass or you get it and want to get kill it, at least only spot treat the areas you need to. It’s certainly better to use a small amount of an herbicide in one small area rather than needlessly spreading chemicals over your entire lawn.
Grass is a plant and those plants need healthy soil to survive. You can have a thick green lawn without weeds and still be organic. Poisoning your soil with highly marketed products isn’t necessary. Many of the products you can buy here are banned in other parts of the world because of the toxicity of these chemicals.
Spring is a time of renewal. This year, think about going organic, I did it a few years ago and my lawn still looks great.

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