Get a Jump on Winter Weeds

Winter weeds can be an issue in our lawns, but a proactive management plan will limit their germination and growth throughout the dormant season.

Fall and winter in South Texas means a break from the sweltering heat and humidity, but don’t get too comfortable — annual winter weeds are paying your yard a visit this season.

The best way to control these species is to limit their growth at the beginning of their life cycles. There are several options to control and prevent winter weeds.

Limit watering

One of the best things you can do for your lawn and garden is to eliminate excess watering. This means turning off your irrigation systems between November and March. Most landscape plants and turf grasses are dormant during this period. Also, spread two inches of mulch around plants in your landscape beds and/or plant an evergreen groundcover such as silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea).

“Natural” Pre-emergent

Corn gluten meal, not to be confused with corn meal, is a natural product that inhibits root formation of seed sprouts when thinly applied over the soil and/or turf and gently watered in. Using a hand seed spreader is recommended to avoid over-applying the product. Follow up by watering the product in with a garden hose and nozzle on the “mist” setting, using caution not to wash away the product from the soil surface.

The recommended rate of application is 10-20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Note: this product does contain nitrogen and should not be overused due to the possibility of runoff contaminating waterways. Nitrogen and other fertilizer elements in the corn gluten meal are linked to lowered dissolved oxygen levels, which can potentially contribute to fish kills.

When used responsibly, corn gluten meal is a great alternative to conventional herbicide use. If you purchase it, make sure the label states that it’s a “pre-emergent” as other products labeled with this title contain different levels of protein and are used as livestock supplements. Also, avoid use where desirable seeds, such as bluebonnets, have been sown as this soil amendment can inhibit their growth. Corn gluten meal remains effective in the soil for four to six weeks.

Conventional Pre-emergent

Other more conventional forms of pre-emergent products can be purchased at your nearby hardware or garden supply store. Many chemicals are available and often target certain weeds. Make sure to thoroughly read the label and follow directions carefully as some of these products may be toxic to your family, pets and beneficial wildlife.

Once weeds are actively growing in your garden or lawn they need to be removed prior to setting seed. This will prevent further generations of these plants popping up on your property. Some methods include consistent (weekly) mowing at the recommended height, this varies from grass species to species. Other options include hand-pulling or herbicide application. A simple, and less toxic herbicide can be made at home using orange oil, horticultural grade vinegar and dish soap.

Winter weeds can be an issue in our lawns, but a proactive management plan will limit their germination and growth throughout the dormant season.

Picture of Sarah Galvan
Sarah Galvan
Sarah Galvan has been passionate about gardening since she was a child. She’s an arborist, herbalist, Texas master naturalist, a former SAWS conservation consultant and holds native landscape certification. Galvan worked as a native landscape designer where she focused on supporting native bird and pollinator populations. When she’s not answering gardening questions or working on her biology degree, Galvan enjoys hiking, kayaking, bird and butterfly watching, and competing in plant identification competitions.
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