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Looking for suggestions on the best course of action for our lawn scattered with weeds. Our property is about 1 acre in Greenfield, MA and there are several patches with particularly high weed density. We tried to redo some of these patches in May or June by completely digging out the top few inches of soil (which was a lot of work!) and fresh seeding. We watered twice daily. However, the weeds soon took over and there were only little new grass here and there in the area we seeded. We gave up thinking as long as the land is green.. However, the weeds are dying(?) leaving big patches of brown. I think the dying ones are mostly crabgrass.

How should we go about this? Now it's perhaps a little late, but is Fall or Spring a better time to tackle this? Is there a good way to rejuvenate the worst patches without sacrificing the better parts? Or should we just completely start from scratch?

We are not seeking picture perfect lawn in our relatively rural area, but willing to put in the efforts and reasonable money. I read that you generally kill the weeds with herbicide, rake the dead debris away, and then seed, fertilize and water. (I always wondered why bother with the herbicide if we had to dig away the dead weeds anyway?) We did skip the herbicide application, but the plants in the soil were completely removed. Should we have done entire sections of the lawn instead of patches within? But seeds from our neighbors' would still be able to migrate over, I assume? A little more than a year home-ownership and very puzzled. Any help greatly appreciated!

UPDATED: Here are some pictures to show the great variety of weeds: clover, crabgrass, dandelions, ... (do not judge, please :) Clover is mostly concentrated towards the edge of the lawn (near driveway), visually at a glance isn't that unappealing. And dandelion looks just like grass when I cut them regularly. So for now crabgrass is our enemy number one.

Clover Dandelion Crabgrass1 Crabgrass2

  • A photos would help, if you have one of the weeds. Before you can address a weed problem, you must know the name of the weed(s) you're dealing with. For example, dealing with a patch of lawn containing dandelions, plantain, and wood sorrel is not the same as dealing with a patch of lawn containing crab grass and wood sorrel. – Jurp Oct 2 at 11:20
  • @Jurp Photos added. The ones that are dying out brown appear to be mostly crabgrass. – Roc White Oct 2 at 22:36
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The crabgrass makes your situation a little harder to deal with, since the easiest way to prevent them (by applying a pre-emergent herbicide in the spring) will also prevent grass seed from sprouting). The other weeds are less of a problem.

For the crabgrass patches, I recommend that you:

  1. Do not use a mulching mower on those patches until you finish step 2.
  2. Remove the dying crabgrass and all seedheads ASAP. You should still be able to prevent most of the seeds from dropping on your lawn. This will reduce the crabgrass problem a bit next year. Do NOT put this into a compost heap unless you are positive that the heap gets hot enough to kill the seeds (I give my seeds to the city during the monthly "brush pickup").
  3. This fall, as soon as possible, lightly till the patches, raking up any leftover green material.
  4. Re-seed, using a seed mix appropriate to the sunlight that this area gets. I would use a blend of fescues, ryegrass and bluegrass (in the percentages appropriate for sun or shade) rather than a straight bluegrass mix.
  5. Next spring, apply the pre-emergent to these areas at the time of the year recommended by the manufacturer.

The non-crabgrass areas seem to have a lot of clover, which you may want to consider NOT a weed (it fixes nitrogen for the lawn but can easily crowd out lawn grasses. It's also great for pollinators when in bloom). Clover cannot easily be killed by manual removal because of the hard-to-see stolons running under the canopy of the lawn).

For broadleaf weeds:

  1. Personally, I like a little broadleaf herbicide like Weed-B-Gone in these situations, so I'd spot-spray the weeds; if your tastes run more organic than mine, then manually pull the weeds. Note that there are some weeds that broadleaf herbicides don't easily kill, like violets and Queen Anne's Lace, and other weeds, like plantain, that take all summer to die and will still flower and set seed even when dying. Those weeds I always manually pull.
  2. to repeat from above... Re-seed, using a seed mix appropriate to the sunlight that this area gets. I would use a blend of fescues, ryegrass and bluegrass (in the percentages appropriate for sun or shade) rather than a straight bluegrass mix.
  3. Next spring, apply the pre-emergent to these areas when recommended by the manufacturer.
  4. Spray or manually pull weeds as needed.

There's an organization called The Lawn Institute that has tons of helpful information that you may also find helpful.

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  • Thanks for the detailed steps! It helps a lot organizing bits of information I read here and there. Clover is mostly concentrated towards the edge of the lawn (near driveway), visually at a glance isn't that unappealing. And dandelion looks just like grass when I cut them regularly. Crabgrass is our enemy number one before anything else. Is reseeding still at least partially feasible? We have lowest of 36 F in the forecast for the next 3 weeks. The high temperature is 65 -- 70 F. – Roc White Oct 3 at 15:17
  • Reseeding is best in September (in Wisconsin), but I had success last year with an early-mid October seeding. Just make sure you water it well daily until after it sprouts (cold-season grasses sprout well at the temps you listed). You should see fescue/ryegrass seedlings about a week after seeding; bluegrass takes about 3 weeks to sprout. – Jurp Oct 3 at 15:56
  • I just rushed to reseed a big patch. Hopefully they will have enough time to grow before colder temperatures. I'll leave the question open for a few more days before accepting your answer. Thanks again for your suggestions! – Roc White Oct 4 at 13:41
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Another philosopy to consider is that one person's weedy lawn is another person's wildflower meadow. Instead of expending money, effort and chemicals on getting rid of "weeds", regard the "weeds" as wild flowers and manage your lawn as a meadow. At its most basic, this involves regularly mowing a network of grassy paths and cutting the whole area once or twice a year in the summer/autumn. Here's a link, but there's loads of information online. Do you have local, decent wildflower gardens open to the public? If so, visit for ideas.

If you're more ambitious, have different mowing regimes for different areas. Plant drifts of spring and summer flowering bulbs. Maybe a few trees for shade loving wild flowers. Part of the pleasure of gardening is the anticipation of what's to come. We have a tiny back garden, but in the dark days of winter we get so much pleasure from watching the first bulbs emerge through the turf as early harbingers of spring. Teach yourself the names of the wild flowers. Mark the passing of the seasons by what's in flower. Enjoy what you've got.

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  • Thanks for the nice link!! Indeed many creative ideas. To let the weeds in our lawn grow from their current state to the wildflower height would take some serious commitment and family buy-in though.. – Roc White Oct 2 at 22:40

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