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Lawn Problems and Cures

Weeds, Beetles, and Diseases

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Do you have lawn problems that need a cure? Walt Whitman called weeds "plants whose virtues have yet to be discovered." Lawn owners would surely agree with him!

Many lawn owners want opposing things—the perfect lawn and no chemicals. The key to a chemical-free lawn is patience. Soil that's been chemically treated has lost its naturally occurring, beneficial micro-organisms that nourish healthy plants. Like any addict, it will suffer withdrawal symptoms—in the case of a lawn, slow or patchy growth.

If you don't want to use chemicals on your lawn, the best defense is a good offense. A thin layer of compost, manure, or other organic material forestalls the common weeds, bugs, and diseases. When problems do arise in the lawn, the are many natural alternatives to using herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. Along the way to becoming chemical-free, you may even find a virtue or two in some common weeds.


Crabgrass, the weed everyone loves to hate, tops America's list of lawn complaints. The best crabgrass preventer is a healthy, thick lawn and soil with the proper pH balance (7.0-7.5). Perennial rye grass is the best competition for crabgrass. It also provides some insect control, as it emits a natural poison that gives some small, damaging bugs the "flu."

Fertilizing is key and must be done in the spring and in the fall. Crabgrass thrives in compacted lawns. Aeration can help. A mixture of 1 pint of hydrogen peroxide, diluted to 3 percent, per 100 square feet of lawn can help eradicate the pesky plant.

Corn gluten meal, a relatively new and increasingly popular natural herbicide, appears to be successful at preventing crabgrass and other common weeds. A by-product of milling corn, it is completely benign. A three-year systematic application can yield a nearly weed-free lawn. Research at Iowa State University showed that 60 percent of weeds are eliminated the first year, 80 percent the second, and 90 to 100 percent the third year of corn gluten meal application. Some companies sell a pelletized form containing potash and nitrogen, but you may have to search a bit or ask your retailers to stock it. (Gardens Alive! sells W.O.W. [Without Weeds] in a 50-pound bag, enough to treat a 2,500-square-foot lawn the first year. Call 812-537-8650 for details.)


Your neighbors probably wouldn't stand for a dandelion yard, but consider this: Dandelions make great wine, are a natural diuretic, can be dried and made into coffee, and can be braided into lovely necklaces. You can eat their young leaves in salads, and in fact, they were brought to this land as an exotic green. They're an excellent source of potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and vitamin A.

Not convinced and still want to get rid of your dandelions? Get a weeding fork. Dandelions have a two-year life cycle. When they're in the first year and appear as basal foliage, dig them out with a vengeance. It's great exercise. If you miss some and they flower the next year, dig them out before they reach the seed (white puffy) stage. If you let them go to seed and spread their progeny, you'll have to start the process all over again.

A thick, healthy lawn is again the best defense against dandelions, as it is for other common broadleaf weeds such as creeping charlie (jenny) and quack grass.

Grubs/Japanese Beetles

Insecticides or pesticides are hardly ever necessary to control the most common lawn pests. Japanese beetle grubs and their adult counterparts are a problem in much of the eastern United States. They cause lawns to turn yellow and die but are fairly easily controlled through nonpoisonous means. In the grub stage of late spring and fall (beetles have two life cycles per season), spray the lawn with 2 tablespoons of liquid dishwashing soap diluted in 1 gallon of water per 1,000 square feet. The grubs will surface and the birds will love you. Spray once each week until no more grubs surface. In the adult beetle stage, handpick them and squish them, or drop them into a bucket of soapy water.

Two biological controls for Japanese beetles are beneficial nematodes and milky spore disease. These will not harm people or pets. Milky spore disease is a bacterium that controls chewing insects, including beetles, and can be purchased under several brand names. Once established in your soil, it lasts up to 20 years as an effective beetle control. Buy it at your local garden center, follow the directions to the letter, and apply in late spring or fall.

Chinch Bugs

Chinch bugs are annoying creatures that smell bad when you crush them and make yellow or brown patches in your lawn, especially in dry conditions. Watering well for 3 to 4 weeks can keep them under control. Or soak the sod with a solution of 1 ounce of dish soap and 2 gallons of water, and cover the grass with a flannel sheet to catch the bugs as they flee. Experts agree that insecticides and human control have nearly the same efficacy against chinch bugs.


A spongy lawn indicates a thatch problem. This tightly intermingled layer of dead and decaying vegetation—an unhealthy build-up of organic matter that can cause brown patches in a lawn—indicates a pH imbalance. Thatch is a problem especially in lawns previously treated with chemicals where the grass's natural ability to decay has been destroyed. Dry thatch repels water, while wet thatch invites fungal diseases.

The best control is raising the lawn soil's pH level. One way to do this is to rent a power rake (inquire at your garden supply center), which uses rigid wire tines or steel blades that slice through the thatch and lift the debris and some soil to the surface to encourage natural decay. The best time to de-thatch is in late spring. Don't do it during midsummer, when the lawn may be stressed, or when the lawn is wet. Hand raking is less harsh but can be impractical and back-breaking work for large lawns. Molasses diluted with hot water and sprayed on the lawn can help stimulate natural organisms to eat the thatch layer.


Aeration also helps. Healthy soil should be 50% solid, 25% water, and 25% air. To achieve this ideal, improve overall lawn health, and help prevent fungal diseases, you can rent "plug" machines that take out chunks of soil and redeposit them on your lawn. Some catalogs sell aerating sandals with long spiked soles. Gardeners are meant to strap these scary-looking things to their feet and walk around on the lawn. Users claim, however, that they take far too much weight and leg strength to be effective.

You can manually aerate your lawn with a spading fork; experts recommend about one hole per every few inches of lawn. Get to work in the spring or whenever compacting and thatch seem to be a problem.

To obtain a free brochure on natural lawn care, contact American PIE, 124 High St., Box 340, Glastonbury, CT 06073-0340; 800-320-APIE (2743);

Four Steps to a Healthier Lawn

  • Test your soil: The pH balance should be 7.0 or more—6.2 to 6.7 puts your lawn at risk of fungal diseases. If the pH is too low, correct it with liming, best done in the fall.
  • Mow only when the grass is at least three inches tall. This encourages deep roots. Leave grass clippings on the lawn as a natural fertilizer.
  • Don't over-water. Make the lawn seek its own source of water, building longer and sturdier roots. Cut back on water especially in midsummer to let the lawn go dormant, strengthening it for fall and winter.
  • Control the weeds by promoting healthy lawn growth with natural fertilizers in spring and early fall.

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I am finding grayish/bluish

By Kathleen Lawson

I am finding grayish/bluish spots in my new sod. We live in Northern Nevada.

Don't use fertilizer. Or

By wealthyguy on March 8

Don't use fertilizer. Or chemical anything.
Organic simply means the way God gave it to us. Treat it with respect.; Seems to me that that is comment may not appear.

I heard you can green up

By michele hawkins

I heard you can green up brown spots with tide detergent and something mixed with it. Have you heard this and what is the mixture? Does it work and for how long?

Hi, Michele: Well ... kinda,

By Almanac Staff

Hi, Michele: Well ... kinda, maybe, sorta ... but it's not like you go around and pour detergent out of the bottle onto the brown spots (if you can afford to do that). It is true that many detergents (and thus the gray water that comes from washing with them) have elements (e.g., phosphorus), salts, and surfactants that can be beneficial to soil, but the key is to apply moderately and then watch for effect. Two teaspoons of liquid detergent in 1 gallon of water, lightly sprayed, is one way to start. Or, a light distribution of powdered detergent from a fertilizer spreader (or by hand, while you say, "Here, chick, chick, chickies"), followed by a light watering. Doing this once every 10 days for a month (i.e., three times) should give you an idea of whether it works for you.

I sprayed a weed and grass

By Donald W Duvall

I sprayed a weed and grass killer to any area I was clearing to put some benches and mulch. It must have blew on the the grass somehow. Up to 20 feet away the grass is dying and turning yellow! Will it ever grow back :( ????

I had a typo, I meant an area

By Donald W Duvall

I had a typo, I meant an area I was clearing ...not any area....

I have nutsledge , how do i

By Diane Mitchell

I have nutsledge , how do i get rid of it. Also why to the birds stay in my lawn

What is the best time to

By Kay Burns

What is the best time to apply corn gluten in the spring and fall. Thanks

Apply corn gluten in early

By Almanac Staff

Apply corn gluten in early spring, after the snow has melted as it has a slow-release period of six weeks.

In fall, you can't apply until the grass seed is established. Apply in late August if no grass seed has been put down. Otherwise the third application is done in mid-September to late October, after the grass seed is established, and late enough to be active in the very early spring. 

You can also apply corn gluten middle to the end of June to reduce weed seeds in late May.

Just an FYI to the author...

By ISU Student

Just an FYI to the author... it is NOT University of Iowa-Ames.... there is no such thing. It IS Iowa State University. Two very different schools with different focuses.

Thank you for bringing this

By Almanac Staff

Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

I have a new gardener and

By Monica p

I have a new gardener and both my front and back lawns have become spotted with dirt clods coming to the surface. Do you know what might cause this. Thanks,

if it looks like a very small

By Pat Helbert

if it looks like a very small clod of dirt - then it is earth worms, and it is very healthy for your yard.


By kellan


Hi- My front yard has been

By Rob P.

Hi- My front yard has been taking over by crabgrass and grubs. I plan to start a new lawn in the fall. My question is do I need to treat for both the grubs and crabgrass before reseeding, or will killing off the existing grass with RoundUp be sufficient?

Experts advise applying

By Almanac Staff

Experts advise applying preemergence crabgrass herbicides in early spring. You can apply at same time as lawn fertilizer if that's part of your lawn maintenance. Check with your local cooperative extension for best timing in your area.  It's normal to start seeing crabgrass in mid to late summer, however, remember that they are annual plants; they will die as temperatures drop in fall. Postemergence crabgrass herbicides need to be applied when crabgrass plants are very small; typically crabgrass is noticed too late for these to be effective.

I live in Michigan, and have

By John Stevenson

I live in Michigan, and have spots of quack grass in my yard. NOT crabgrass, I have that under control.

How can I get rid of quack grass without cutting it out?

There is a professional-grade

By Almanac Staff

There is a professional-grade herbicide called Certainty that will selectively remove the quackgrass without killing the rest of your grass. Make two applications on a 14-day interval. Otherwise, if you don't engage professionals, you'd hit it with 2 applications of Roundup--which is not selective and will kill the patch so you'd need to reseed. Some folks chose to mask and minimize the present of quackgrass with increased nitrogen fertilization and increased mowing frequency. Fertilize with 0.25 to 0.5 lbs. N\1000 sq. ft. every two weeks during the growing season. The quackgrass patches will get darker green and the patches will get smaller next spring and less noticeable.

I have very large needle

By Dan Hines

I have very large needle bearing evergreens around my house, and the needles seem to inhibit the growth of most everything they fall on or around. Are there any remedies for this?....I would have to move 3 tons of dirt :-)

The needles make the soil

By Almanac Staff

The needles make the soil acidic, so your best bet is to try planting things that love acidic soil such as blueberries, azaleas, rhododendron, bugleweed, columbine, summersweet, foxglove, mountain laurel and many more.

i have small holes all over

By help

i have small holes all over my yard about the size of a dime and 8 to 10 inches deep. it is killing my grass.

It would help us to know

By Almanac Staff

It would help us to know where you live--and whether there is a mound next to the hole--and if there are any other plants nearby that the pest might like. As it's early spring, it could be a vole?

When is the best time to

By T. Donehue

When is the best time to reseed your yard in the spring? We live in central Missouri, Jefferson City to be exact. Is there an optimum time to plant?

In general, fall seeding and

By Almanac Staff

In general, fall seeding and sodding is best. Prepare seedbed in August. Overseed thin spots in March. Before growth starts, heartily rake to remove old growth.

garden has a brook running at

By jay clapton

garden has a brook running at the bottom, brook is approx 10" - 12" deep, top of the water is 2' below the lawn level. houses were built 10 years ago. i was wondering wether if i raise the lawn area with new top soil and turf this may help but am at a loss

my lawn is always soggy, how

By jay clapton

my lawn is always soggy, how can i get a healthy green DRY lawn? is there anything i can mix with new top soil prior to laying new turf?

If you have a lot of clay in

By shaggys

If you have a lot of clay in your soil you can put down gypsum

It depends on why it is

By Almanac Staff

It depends on why it is soggy. If it a low spot? (Then water has to go some place.) Are you near a wetland area? A high water table? Is your soil hard pan? Then the water won't drain. You could try drilling holes to help it aerate. If the area is level but always wet, then you need to regrade it and redirect the water away. Adding material would not help and could even make it soggier. You need to understand why it is wet and troubleshoot first.

Getting the teens to mow the

By Tom Nealaus

Getting the teens to mow the lawn is the hardest part! ;)

Help! I purchased a yard with

By Marygrace

Help! I purchased a yard with 3 acres and have onions (scallions?)popping up all over the place! How can I get rid of it naturally?

Sounds as if you have wild

By Almanac Staff

Sounds as if you have wild onions. They are perennials that are now coming up. There's not much you could have done to prevent them. And it doesn't usually help to pull them nor mow them. Options are: 1. Dig them out with a thin trowel. 2. If it's invasive, start an herbicide spraying program in March and November. Use an herbicide that contains Imazaquin such as the IMAGE Kills Nutsedge product (do a Google search). When you apply, it may help to mow right before. After application, do not mow for at least two weeks. Take care if you have other types of grass to read directions carefully. Good luck!

Hi! I'd like to try that

By Realdeal

Hi! I'd like to try that crabgrass remedy but am not sure how to dilute the hydrogen peroxide to 3%.. can someone walk me through it?

 Diluted hydrogen peroxide is

By Almanac Staff

 Diluted hydrogen peroxide is a common household item, and is normally available from 3% to 10% solutions

We have a large lawn .. and a

By Loxie Nance

We have a large lawn .. and a lot of creeping charlie...anyone have a geat solution on getting rid of them besides dig up the whole yare!!!!

Creeping Charlie likes the

By Almanac Staff

Creeping Charlie likes the shade. It will help if you can create more light by trimming trees and bushes. Use a rake to pull up the weed with its roots. Don't chop with a hoe. A healthy lawn will grow into areas where you have the weeds. Add nutrients and appropriate grass seed to your lawn.

what does crabgrass look

By Barry Mohler

what does crabgrass look like?

Hi, Barry, here are photos of

By Catherine Boeckmann

Hi, Barry, here are photos of crabgrass/weeds:

How to get rid of creeping

By Darnley Holder

How to get rid of creeping Carley

You can use an herbicide if

By Almanac Staff

You can use an herbicide if the Creeping Charlie has already emerged. Here's more information:

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