Time to spray for stickers and other weeds in the lawn, or not

Published 5:30 am Monday, January 30, 2023

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Time to spray for stickers and other weeds in the lawn. Or not.

Most gardeners aren’t really looking closely at our lawns right now. A few dandelions, wild onions and a few others are starting to poke up in the winter lawn, but they are only a problem for folks wandering around the yard with not much else on their minds. They’re not in our faces, we can spray them later, right?

Problem is, while winter and spring weeds are fairly easy to control with liquid sprays applied on warmish days in midwinter, when they get bigger and start sending energy up into flowers instead of down into roots, they are much harder to kill. Plus, as turfgrasses start greening up in March they will temporarily be in a very sensitive stage during which they are highly susceptible to herbicides they can normally tolerate. 

So the solution, for folks who want to have a monocrop grass lawn, is to be proactive, get busy now when the weeds are small and tender, not later when they start rearing up in earnest. 

This is especially true with stickers, AKA lawn burweed, which right now are smallish, ferny-parsley looking tufts of green. Easy to kill with any spray labeled for dandelions and clover. But in a matter of a month or so they will start having very tiny white flowers, followed by hard seeds that become the bane of bare feet (people or pets). Stickers. 

That’s when folks really want to do something. Problem is, by the time the seeds start sticking in Junior’s and Fido’s soles, the cold-season annuals will already be dying. No amount of weed killer will be of any use. Too late. 

So if you had problems with stickers last year, do something about it in the next month. Or get some flipflops. 

On the other hand, there’s another solution that works about as well, maybe better, without the expense and trouble and chemotherapy: do a better job this summer with your lawn, to thicken it up so you won’t have next year’s stickers in the first place. It is well-known in the lawn care and turf management community that stickers are a symptom of a thin, weak lawn, and the first line of defense is a well-managed lawn that will be less weedy in the first place. 

Sounds simplistic, but it’s true. If you mow your lawn at its preferred height (low for Bermuda, medium for zoysia and centipede, high for St. Augustine), and give the lawn a shot of good quality lawn food sometime in April or May, and water at least once a month when we get no rain, the lawn will be thick, durable, and able to shade out most of the weeds that sprout every year from seed. 

If you can’t do those three basic lawn care chores, buckle in for never-ending weeds and/or the regular use of herbicides. No other way around it. 

Luckily, for folks tired of the idealized but unsustainable “perfect lawn” rat race, there is a strong trend towards how lawns were treated before 2,4-d and other herbicides: Mow what grows. Raise your mower and embrace clover, dandelions, henbit, blue-eyed grass, spring beauty, pink oxalis, violets, and other low growing wildflowers as beautiful, colorful, and pollinator friendly. 

This may not be allowed in some neighborhoods where social pressures co-opt ecology, but it has worked well for centuries. 

How about a compromise? A smaller putting-green throw rug, mowed regularly, fertilized, watered, and treated for weeds, within a larger mow-what-grows flower lawn. 

Meanwhile, the choice is yours: Spray soon, or get flipflops.  

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to rushingfelder@yahoo.com.