The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 25, 2006


The Country Gardener Crabgrass and clover

Dear Alison,

We just moved from Boston to Carlisle at the end of June. We are so happy with our move to Carlisle and were glad to read your article about weeds in the Mosquito (July 28). We have gone from small windowsill gardens to a vast lawn that is seriously challenged by crabgrass and clover. We would appreciate any helpful advice on how to get rid of the crabgrass and clover!

Sincerely, Jane

Dear Jane,

I really dislike crabgrass, so I appreciate your asking for advice on how to get rid of it. On the other hand, I love clover. I deliberately add it to my lawn seed mixtures. It is a lovely deep green, it is low growing, and it "fixes" nitrogen, making it a fertilize-manufacturing machine. Some people object to the flowers and subsequent pollinating insects, but I like those too. Admittedly. I prefer my clover to grow away from the flower beds as it is a little too creepy to be a good neighbor to flowers and mulched edges.

Crabgrass loves sunshine and warm weather. Lawn grass loves a little shade and cool weather. If you start a new lawn in the spring or have holes in your existing lawn come spring, the crabgrass will win the battle to germinate first and shade out the lawn grass. I needed to start some lawns this year in the spring, and I have more crabgrass in the lawns that I started later and very little crabgrass in the lawns I started very early. This means that I too am fighting crabgrass in some of my lawn areas.

One thing I always keep in mind is that my lawn standards vary depending on their proximity to the front door. I fuss more with the lawns near the door than the areas further away. I expect the lawns that my family and guests look at most to be mostly grass. I expect the lawns that are far away to give the appearance of grass, but I don't really care what actually grows there. Keep mowing weeds and the only survivors tend to be grasses and grass look-alikes. This is where clover is useful. It stays green when normal grass browns out into its dormant state. I doubt that the grass growing over the leaching field will ever look good without some helpful clover.

My plan is to do nothing during the hot days of August other than mowing the lawn back to three inches when it gets too high. As the weather cools off, I will hand-weed the most offensive specimens of crabgrass in the front-view areas. Sometime in September I plan to overseed all the crabgrass-infested areas. This way the lawn grass will grow while the crabgrass is dying. I'll head over to Agway in North Chelmsford and buy a big bag of the best grass seed they sell. I might end up buying two bags of seed one for sunny areas, another for shade. I'll use my smaller hand-held spreader or even my bare hands. There is no such thing as too much grass seed, so I'll not fuss over spread rates and such. I'll sprinkle 1/4 to 1/2 inch of compost over all the seed I scatter. The compost is useful for sheltering the seed from birds, giving the seed a moisture retentive coating, and providing some gentle nutrients for the baby grass. I'll keep these areas watered daily until they germinate. I'll make sure they have water every few days until they need their first mowing.

In lawn areas that do not need overseeding, I plan to spread WOW! a pre-emergent organic herbicide which is a byproduct of corn syrup production, available from

This product will stop dandelions, plantains and other interlopers from germinating. As the product breaks down into nitrogen, it feeds the established lawn grass.

Next spring the crabgrass cycle will begin again in any lawn area left sunny and bare. Hopefully there will be no bare spots because I took care of them in the fall. If some were missed, then I will, in very early spring, patch-seed these holes with newly purchased grass seed and again cover them with compost. I will spread WOW! on all the remaining areas, especially in the areas I overseeded with grass seed last fall.

I'm trying to avoid being preachy, Jane. There are other ways to handle crabgrass in lawns, but most require chemicals, professionals or expenses that I find unnecessary and dangerous.

Mosquito readers are invited to e-mail Alison Saylor with their gardening questions at

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito