If you’ve spent any time on the internet, you know humans are combative. We can turn the most benign opinion into a civil war – people have gone to blows over everything from eating habits to drawing x-es. But sometimes, we disagree on things that are less black-and-white.
Things like indoor vs outdoor pets. Or pro/anti-weed-and-feed. These are crucial matters. And there are valid arguments on both sides, meaning there’s no right or wrong answer. So we’re going to dig into both angles … to weed and feed or not to weed and feed your lawn?
Lawn Weed and Feed
Tip #1: Understand Why You Should
The practice of weeding and feeding your lawn is driven convenience. But the term ‘lawn weed and feed’ is a generic one. It describes any product that combines herbicides and fertilisers in a single product. Weed and feed products generally kill weeds but save grass.
They’re formulated to attack specific types of weeds like clovers and dandelions. It targets the most common types of weed using herbicide ingredients like MCPP, 4-D, and Dicamba. By weeding and fertilising at the same time, you can get your garden work done faster.
Tip #2: Understand Why You Shouldn’t
From an agricultural perspective, weeding and feeding are separate tasks and shouldn’t be combined. We do it simultaneously for speed and convenience, but it’s not the intuitive way to look after your lawn. But ‘unnaturalness’ aside, weed and feed products are synthetic.
This means they’re potentially toxic to kids and pets. Plus, they can leach into your vegetables and fruits if it rains. The runoff from these chemicals can also flow into food farms and communal water sources. This type of pollution spreads far and moves quickly.
Tip #3: Use the Right Dispenser
Lawn weed and feed products can be liquid or granular. The formula kills specific weeds while fertilising the grass. The label will usually explain what weeds it kills and what plants it feeds. So avoid straying into your flower garden or vegetable patch. This is just for the grass. For liquid lawn weed and feed, a sprayer or a designated sprinkler system works best.
For granular weed and feed, you can use a spreader that deposits grains closer to the plant. Rotary dispensers send the grains further away. In all cases, weed and feed is topical. It sits on the leaves of your weeds and ‘stops them breathing’ while seeping in to feed the grass. Dry weed and feed can be applied as it is. Liquid weed and feed must be diluted with water first.
Tip #4: Separate the Processes
You don’t necessarily need to buy a combined product. Even if you want to lawn weed and feed during the same garden session, do it in sequence. First, mow the lawn to make it neat and even. Then, lop the tops off any weeds that survived your lawn-mowing motors.
Next, apply the weed-killing product and/or uproot each weed manually. Then you can finish with a mixed-release fertiliser. You could decide to buy your ‘grass food’ and weed killer from the same brand. This way, you’ll be sure the formulations don’t counteract each other.
Tip #5: Time It Right
If you do choose to lawn weed and feed, talk to the experts. Ideally, you want to get rid of weeds before adding fertiliser. Otherwise, you’re just making the weeds healthier. For flower gardens, you manually uproot weeds on a daily or weekly basis before they overwhelm you.
But for grass, it may be harder to spot individual weeds. Cut the grass to make the weeds more visible. The best time to feed your lawn is early spring (March to April) or late summer (May to August). Never fertilise in the fall or during heavy rain – it will all wash away. If you’re using a combined lawn weed and feed product, early Spring is the best time for it.
Tip #6: Confirm the Location
In some parts of the world, lawn weed and feed products are banned. Canada is a top example. Other places allow it, but with certain restrictions. In the UK, there’s no blanket ban on weeding and feeding, but many landscapers advise against it. Too risky for your lawn.
Consider your circumstances as well. If you grow edible fruit and vegetables, you don’t want to risk tainting them with toxic herbicides. Pets and small kids might ingest those chemicals. Or touch the grass and get some in their eyes. So don’t rush to weed and feed.
Tip #7: Mix and Match
Typical lawn weed and feed products have a high concentration of nitrates. This is because nitrogen boosts leaf growth. Other key fertilisers target different parts of the plant. So while nitrogen will make you grass green and voluminous, it’s a short-term aesthetic effect.
For a truly healthy lawn, you want a balanced dose of potassium for root development and phosphorous for general plant nutrition. So check that your lawn weed and feed product isn’t all nitrate. Get one with a reasonable mix of potassium and phosphates. Something like 15-5-10. This brand mixes 15 parts nitrate, 5 parts phosphorous, and 10 parts potassium.
Tip #8: Pick Pre or Post
Lawn weed and feed products can be pre-emergent or post-emergent. Post-emergent weed killers are the most common. They’re defined as broad-leaf herbicides and they get absorbed through the leaves. So you can only apply them after visible weeds have visibly sprouted.
Pre-emergent herbicides kill the weeds before they pop out of the soil. You need to apply it at least once a year. Follow up with watering to sink and seal the chemicals into the soil. Pre-emergent weed and feed can sometimes be damaged by sunlight or affected by soil type.
Tip #9: Go For Mixed Release
You’ve heard the jokes and rumours about it constantly raining in the UK. We live here, so we know we get a few sunny days a year. Maybe one or two. And if you have even a passing green thumb, you may have noticed your grass (and weeds) get healthier after the rain. No amount of sprinklers and watering can get your grass as green as an overnight drizzle.
This is because rainwater is more acidic than tap water so it releases macronutrient in the soil. The rainwater is infused with more oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide, which all promote plant growth. So when you introduce nitrogen-rich weed and feed, get one that mixes fast-release and slow-release nitrates. It’s less dramatic with more consistent results.
Tip #10: Consider the Long-Term
Instant gratification is the reason lawn weed and feed is so popular. The high nitrogen content makes your grass row bright and green seemingly overnight. But that speed is at the expense of plant health and your lawn could crash and burn in weeks, literally.
You’re better off using a dedicated fertiliser that gives slow, sustainable results. It means you’ll weed more often – maybe once a week. But your garden will be greener for longer. And the effect is less harmful to your other plants, pets, and kids playing in the grass.
Tip #11: Give Frequent Baths
What does household hygiene have to do with lawn weed and feed? If you use liquid products, they lie on the leaves and seep into the soil. So droplets could coat pet fur and kids clothes. Opting for dry weed and feed doesn’t fix the problem – it might make it worse.
Those herbicide grains easily stick to clothes, skin and fur. The chemicals then get dragged indoors and spread around the house, doing more damage. So using weed and feed means you’ll have to bathe your kids and pets every time they come inside. That’s no fun for anyone.
Tip #12: Save the Birds
Have you noticed your bird-bath emptying since you started using lawn weed and feed? It’s because birds ingest the herbicide. Especially if you’re using dry feed – they eat those chemical grains as grit. And even if the granules don’t hurt the birds, the toxins can spread.
As these birds fly off, their potentially poisonous droppings will extend the damage, passing it on to other yards. You’re better off with a liquid weed killer and solid fertiliser. After all, bird droppings are already nutrient-rich so non-toxic fertiliser just makes it better!
Tip #13: Apply it the Right Way
Garden chemical can be wet or dry. Wet weed and feed must be mixed with water while dry feed goes directly on the grass. But even granular weed and feed requires water to ‘seal it in’ so read the product label carefully before you open the bag or bottle. And wear gloves.
The instructions will explain how to mix the weed and feed, how to space it out, and what weeds the product targets. With granular chemicals, cut the grass two days before and water the lawn a day before. The moisture makes it easier for the product to stick to leafy weeds. Water the grass again two days after applying your dry weed and feed, but not too deep.
Tip #14: Slow Down
If the grass next door is greener, they may be using lawn weed and feed. Its results are quick and dramatic. Within a week or two, you’ll have a vibrant garden. But as we keep saying, grass that grows that fast will die just as fast. It looks good but it’s weak unhealthy grass.
So while that yard is envy-inducing right now, pun intended, it may be sparse and scraggly in another two weeks when the nitrates burn the blades and the sin dries it out. Growing that fast may also affect the ability of your grass to draw water and nutrients from the soil. The super-sped development means the plant’s transpiration pathways aren’t correctly formed.
Tip #15: Listen to the Experts
One of the best-selling lawn weed and feed brands is Scotts. And like many businesses, they started with a product then expanded into related services. Scotts now operates a landscaping business. And guess what … they don’t use weed and feed. Turns out they don’t drink their Kool-Aid. They sell you weed and feed … but they don’t use it when you hire them.
So maybe opt for safer alternatives. It may be twice the workload, but it’s healthier for your garden, your kids, your pets, and the environment in general. Consider spot-treating weeds with a liquid spray. Then you can follow up with dry non-toxic fertiliser for the grassy sections.
Tip #16: Opt for Liquids if you Must
Wastage is a big challenge when using dry weed and feed. Spreaders get the product everywhere. Even in places without weeds. That risks over-exposure and unintended damage. With a liquid product and a sprayer, you have a lot more control over application.
It may be easier to feed your product into the sprinkler system. But that creates the same problem as using automated spreaders. So use a spray bottle or garden hose instead. This way, you can manually direct your lawn weed and feed towards weed-infested areas. Some liquid lawn weed and feed brands come with a customised lid that’s ready for the hose.
Tip #17: Reseed Instead
A lot of people go for lawn weed and feed because they want fast results. But with patience and planning, you can get a healthier lawn. Start your ‘lawn repair’ earlier so that you can weed and feed in separate stages. Use a power rake to reseed your garden with fresh grass.
Apply fertiliser as you reseed to help it grow faster. It should take about a month to fill out. Give the garden a ‘buzz cut’ twice a week. It cuts the tops off emergent weeds and controls them without involving toxic chemicals. Also, if your grass is patchy and uneven in colour or volume, audit your sprinkler system. You’re probably watering unevenly so you need fix that.
Do you currently use lawn weed and feed techniques? Why (not)? Tell us in the comments!