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Control weeds without killing your grass

Aloha, I have a low, spreading plant with clusters of three leaves that has almost taken over my lawn. The question is: How to get rid of it without killing off the grass, too? Thanks, C.K.

The problem weed is in the clover family, it is categorized as a broadleaf weed.

The species is not important, but the type of leaf is. Distinguishing between a broadleaf weed and a grass weed will determine the appropriate herbicide.

Controlling a grassy weed in a lawn (grass) is difficult since most chemicals cannot distinguish between good and bad grass species.

Fortunately, certain herbicides can distinguish between grassy plants and broadleaves. It is the chemical composition of the herbicide and the morphology of the plant that will cause certain herbicides to affect broadleaf plants but not affect grasses. Therefore, controlling broadleaf weeds in a grassy environment is relatively easy.

Purchase an herbicide with the active ingredient 2,4-D, MCPP (mecoprop), or dicamba (Banvel). These products are often sold in combination, giving better management and a wider spectrum of the broadleaf weeds controlled.

For light weed infestations, spot-treating is more appropriate than treating the entire lawn. Apply just enough of the solution to wet the leaf, do not apply to the point that the herbicide is dripping off the leaf.

To insure maximum absorption, stop mowing two or three days before treatment and allow three or four days before mowing again. This allows sufficient time for the weeds to absorb the herbicide and transport it to their roots.

Caution: These materials are volitle, espectially 2,4-D. The drift can damage other valued broadleaf plants. Tomatoes and hibiscus are particularly sensitive.

Controlling weeds however, should begin long before chemical herbicide applications are considered. Cultural measures ought to be employed from the beginning.

These include:

— Proper irrigation: Weeds often invade lawns that are either overwatered or underwatered. Perhaps the worst, yet common, possible irrigation schedule is daily watering for 5-10 minutes. Light, frequent irrigation creates a shallow-rooted lawn which is more susceptible to weed invasion, as well as being less tolerant to drought. In dry areas where irrigation is employed, water should penetrate to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. The best practice is to allow the soil to partially dry out between irrigation. The top 1 to 2 inches should be fairly dry before watering again. For more information on irrigating lawns, see University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources publication, “Watering Lawns,” at http:// www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/site/info.aspx.

— Proper fertilization: Apply suitable amounts of fertilizer on a regular basis; nitrogen is the key nutrient for turf.

— Proper mowing heights: Each turfgrass species has an appropriate mowing height. Mowing some grasses too short can weaken the lawn and predispose it to weed invasion. A typical guide is to remove no more than one-third of the leaf blade at each mowing. If too much is removed, it will take more time for the grass to recover, giving weeds a chance to invade.

— Thatch is a layer of organic matter — stems, stolons, roots — that develops between the turfgrass blades and the soil surface. Regular thatch removal will help keep turfgrass healthy and competitive with weeds. See the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources publication, “Removing Thatch From Your Lawn,” for more information on this procedure.

— Any activities that lead to soil compaction will contribute significantly to turfgrass stress. This in turn, will make it easier for weeds to invade. These activities may include heavy foot traffic as well as vehicles traveling over the area.

It is impossible to get 100 percent weed control in your lawn. Weeds will occur, but the problems can be minimized with a well-managed, vigorously growing lawn. By combining cultural methods with herbicide applications when needed, weeds will be minimized.

Hilo resident Nick Sakovich is a professor emeritus of the University of California. He has worked in the field of agriculture for 30 years. Email your questions to Sakovich at askthegardenguy@earthlink.net.


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