Everyone likes to have a beautiful green, weed-free lawn and flowerbeds. We not only want our lawns to be beautiful so we can enjoy them, in some neighborhoods lawn beautification turns into a competition to see who can sport the most beautiful yard. In the quest for the perfect lawn we spray and sprinkle, water and mow, weed and feed those velvet-green spaces that surround our homes. We use every product that advertisers dazzle our eyes with, all the while not knowing how the trees in our yards are affected by the fertilizers and weed killer products that we lavish on the lawns.
The popular weed-and-feed product is a combination of weed killer and fertilizer that is designed to fertilize your grass while at the same time killing the weeds in the lawn. Such convenience has made these products very popular to use, even though these chemically-based products are some of the most toxic substances that are still legal to purchase. They are so bad that Canada has recently banned all weed-and-feed combination products.
Americans use an astounding 27 million pounds of weed-and-feed products every year wherever grass is found. But the short-term benefits do not outweigh the long-term effects of the chemicals on tree, grass and soil health.
Something many people do not do is read the instructions. The old saying, “If all else fails, read the instructions,” is the mantra of many. This includes the use of weed-and-feed products. But what those homeowners who don’t read labels may not know is that these products can kill their trees.
The makers of weed control and lawn fertilizer products know that the chemicals therein can harm trees. So they make a point of printing on the bag or container that you should not apply the product on or under the root zone of trees, flowers, shrubs, or any other plants.
The active ingredient in many, if not most, weed and feed products is Atrazine. It does the job well of killing weeds, but because it can kill weeds, it can kill other living plants as well, including trees. The tiny feeder roots of the trees pick up the chemical, which burns the roots, causing stress to the tree.
Atrazine shuts down the sugar-making process of the plant that absorbs the weed control product. For weeds that have a short life cycle anyway, this interruption of the photosynthesis process results in the death of the weed within a few weeks or even less. A large, healthy tree will likely be able to tolerate the chemical, even though the sugar making process is interrupted temporarily. If the soil around the base of the tree and covering the root zone is watered thoroughly, the chemical will be flushed from the root system and leached out of the soil. This can take up to a couple of months, however.
Do Weeds Win?
Just because you choose to stop using weed-and-feed products in order to protect the trees in your yard, along with the long-term health of the entire ecosystem of your yard, doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to tolerating a weedy lawn from now on. There are a number of ways to deal with weeds and save the trees.
How to Do It Right
Some people can use weed killer products for years and never have a problem with their trees, then suddenly a tree will nearly die within a matter of a few days. So what is the secret for having a weed-free lawn and still keep your trees alive? There are a couple of them.
Timing is one very important factor. Applying a weed-and-feed product to your yard in the springtime when the trees are just sending out their new leaves is the worst time of all. The tree is vulnerable at that time of year, so will be more susceptible to damage. The new leaves will be deformed and burned, and they will never recover through that whole summer season. If you will apply the weed-and-feed product in the summer when no growth is taking place, and the summer heat has shut down the tree’s photosynthesis process, the chemical may have little to no effect on the tree.
Another important factor to consider is the frequency of application. A healthy tree will usually tolerate one weed-and-feed application with few, if any, visual signs of distress. But two applications in one season will likely cause the tree’s canopy to begin to thin. Applying the weed-and-feed product for three or more years in a row can kill a tree.
Aside from these preventive measures, there are a few other, more gentle ways to eliminate weeds and protect your trees. If you have been fortunate enough to start out with a good lawn, just pull the few weeds that spring up from time to time. If they get ahead of you, spot-treat the weeds, rather than broadcasting the weed killer all around. I know, pulling weeds is no fun. But a good tool will make the job much easier. A beekeeper’s hive tool makes an excellent tool for pulling weeds. You can also purchase a dandelion fork designed to pull the most stubborn dandelions.
Check around and find an organic, nontoxic herbicide. Sometimes you can learn of common household products that you can use to help control weeds. Corn gluten meal is an organic substance that is a wonderful alternative to a weed-and-feed product. It’s completely natural and won’t harm your trees or any other part of your yard.
What can you do if you’ve been using all the wrong products in all the wrong ways? Are there any ways to restore health to your trees? Well, you can certainly try a few things. First of all, stop using the product if the instructions tell you to not use it near trees or shrubs. Then you should water the ground thoroughly all around the affected areas. If the temperature is above 75 degrees, you’ll want to water at least three times a week. All that water will dilute the chemicals. Apply compost tea and other organic nutrients will help absorb the weed and feed as well.
With just a little forethought and effort, you can have both a beautifully green, weed-free lawn, and beautifully healthy trees. And be the envy of your neighborhood!