Spreading seed is an inexpensive way to grow a lush lawn, but exposed soil between germination and establishment makes it vulnerable to weeds. Although chemical weed preventers have different mixtures and instructions, you should not apply them while seeding or immediately afterward. You must allow one to four months between applying this type of chemical and spreading seed.
Chemical weed preventers, also called preemergent herbicides, are usually granules or liquids, but both require water to work. As the preventer soaks into the ground, it leaves a residual film in the top 1-inch of soil. Because most seeds germinate at or just below the soil’s surface, these preemergent herbicides remain active against any germination processes for up to four months, depending on the chemicals involved. Organic weed preventers work in a similar way. With many weeds being members of the grass family, all seeds, including desired lawn species, fail to germinate and sprout after you’ve used a weed preventer.
Cool-season grasses are usually seeded, as opposed to warm-season grasses that usually need to be grown from sod or plugs. Because cool-season grass seeds germinate best in fall, apply your chemical preventer in spring to actively kill off weeds in spring and summer. In general, temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit are good for weed preventer application. Hot days often cause the chemicals to vaporize into the atmosphere, reducing their effectiveness. By the time fall seeding weather arrives, the chemicals are no longer active and the grass seeds will be able to sprout.
Avoid the need for weed preventers by keeping your lawn healthy. Once established, only water your turf once a week during the growing season. Up to 1 inch of water during this watering session allows roots to search deeply for moisture to create strong grass. Shallow grass roots die in stressful conditions, like drought, and allow weeds to grow in thinned spots. Allow your turf to grow to a healthy height as well, typically between 1 and 3 inches, depending on the species. Long grass blades mean the grass can produce enough energy to stay healthy and compete with weeds. In short, healthy and well-maintained grass has less problems with weed growth.
Even if you time your weed preventer and seeding periods correctly, you need to do the job right to get an even lawn with no bare patches. Apply seeds uniformly across your yard using a drop spreader on a mild fall day. Spread up to 1-inch of organic mulch over the seeds to conserve moisture and encourage germination. Water the seeds at least twice a day for short, 10-minute sessions. You do not want to wash away the seeds, but they need consistent moisture to grow. Hand pull any weeds that appear while the grass seedlings develop. Do not apply any chemicals for weed control.
In short, here’s what you should do if you encounter weeds in your newly seeded lawn:
Although this can be frustrating and we can appreciate that a quick solution will be desired, the good news about these types of weeds is that they are largely shallow rooting and should come out with the first mow at the 6-8 week mark after sowing. If they don’t, they should be easy to pull out of the turf.
If you find that the weeds are recurring past the 6-8-week mark, you may wish to consider using a selective herbicide to spot spray your weeds. Some weed killers such as glyphosate (Roundup) kill more than just weeds, so it is important to not apply these as if they are not done precisely, they can kill your grass. Shop bought selective weed killers will recommend when to apply their product and how often and you should read the instructions thoroughly and adhere to them.
However, you can get rid of these weeds just as fast as they have appeared.
The important thing to remember when new weeds appear in your newly sown lawn is not to act hastily – do not apply a Feed, Weed and Moss Killer type product of any kind on a newly sown lawn.
If you find that when the lawn is at least six months old and has been taken over by weeds or moss, you can use a Feed, Weed and Moss Killer product.
It is important to know what kind of grass you have growing or want to have growing. Certain chemicals act differently on different species of grass and weeds. For example, the common herbicide 2,4-D is toxic to some cultivars of St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum), which grows in the area roughly covered by U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10. Another common herbicide, atrazine, is potentially lethal to grass when applied in temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the instructions on the bag of each weed and feed product to determine how it will affect seeding.
Herbicides can target weeds before they germinate from seed – pre-emergent – or as developed plants – post-emergent. Before you seed, you can use a non-selective, post-emergent herbicide to control any weeds in the area to be seeded. Most of these can be applied up to two weeks before seeding to control any existing weeds. Herbicides should not be used after seeding until the new seedlings are established. Mowing and spot treatments can be used to control weeds until the seeded area is actively growing and requires only maintenance watering. Establishment times vary depending on the type of seed you use and your weather conditions.
Only use a weed and feed if the weed infestation is completely uniform over the entire lawn and all species of weeds targeted will be affected by the herbicide in the weed and feed. This scenario doesn’t occur often, so it is more likely the use of an herbicide and a fertilizer separately will be needed. If the weeds are uniformly spread over the area to be treated, match the appropriate weed and feed product to your grass, the seed you have recently applied or want to apply, and the time of year.
Using Weed and Feed
Weed and feed fertilizers are often used in combination with seeding. Weed and feed formulations consist of two components: a herbicide to kill weeds and a fertilizer to strengthen the turf. The herbicide will weaken the grass as well as the weeds and the fertilizer will strengthen the weeds as well as the grass. When applying seed over a weed and feed application, remember that some weed and feeds can prevent grass seeds from growing.
It’s important to know a little about herbicides so you can make the best choice for when to apply seed in an area that has been treated for weeds. The most common types of herbicide in weed and feed products are selective and systemic. Selective herbicides target a species of plant to kill while systemic herbicides work by being absorbed though the roots and then transported throughout the plant, killing it from within. Read the bag label to see what kind of herbicide is used in the weed and feed you are considering using or have used. The bag label will tell you how many days you must wait before applying seed to a lawn that has been treated with that product.
Sara DeBerry is a graduate of the University of Florida holding a masters degree in environmental horticulture and a minor in entomology and nematology. DeBerry has been writing for government agencies since 2004 and has published peer reviewed scientific articles during her studies at UF.