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The War on Lawn Weeds: Confronting a Lawn Culture Mindset

Weeds. A word with various definitions, mine simply being an "unwelcomed plant". I will admit certain plants are not allowed to grow in my yard. I'm looking at you yellow nutsedge. However, you will find many common weeds are growing throughout my yard. Does this make me a lousy horticulturist? Perhaps.

The idea that me, someone who should know something about lawns, cares little about the dandelions, creeping Charlie, violets, snowdrops, bugleweed, annual bluegrass, and oh so many more "weeds" growing in my turf, flies in the face with what we see on television and the internet. Commercials for lawn care products feature people "conquering nature." TV gardening personalities have immaculate landscapes, and time to relax with a top-notch cocktail at the end of every show.

First, I have no desire to "conquer nature," instead I opt to work out a deal with nature. I allow pollinator and insect friendly flowering plants to grow in my lawn, and nature gives me a vibrant groundcover that all I have to do is mow. Second, those TV personalities have staff and assistants to take care of the weeds. My staff consists of three young boys and a large hound dog, all of them more interested in digging random holes in my yard. If I want to enjoy a tasty cocktail on my back patio at the end of the day, something has to give. It usually means the weeds are spared.

My laissez-faire approach to weed control can be viewed as an oddity, especially, considering how often I work with homeowners trying to eradicate weeds. In fact, over the years I have encountered many homeowners who feel an overwhelming pressure to have an immaculate lawn. Familiar stories include "I can't afford a lawn service, but the neighbors all have one. My lawn sticks out like a sore thumb!" The University of Illinois Extension can give homeowners the information they need to get the quality of lawn desired.

Even with all the horticultural knowledge, nature deals last. Despite our best efforts lawns can languish or get out of hand. We are dealing with living organisms that don't read the manuals. Plus, when pursuing the thrills of life or dealing with its sorrows, lawn care moves to the bottom of the priority list. Looking out over a weedy lawn can make those other stresses in life feel overwhelming. One thing I always add when helping folks with lawn weeds is to say "It's okay." Having dandelions in your yard is okay. It is okay that your lawn doesn't look like your neighbors.

Now, most homeowners have municipal codes or homeowners associations (HOA) that enforce rules on lawn care. I'm not saying to go and break the rules. Because 1) I have no authority in the matter 2) you understand my backyard is full of weeds right? And 3) my boss would be very upset.

I know. This article is in no way offering any solution to your weed woes. Next week and beyond, I promise we will resume business as usual with helpful gardening information. Truthfully, all I wanted to say this weekend was some comforting words to those learning the ins and outs of lawn care. Know that it is okay to have some weeds in the yard and that things are not going to be perfect. At least not our version of perfection. Nature sees to that and smiles at you with flowers. So smile back and enjoy your yard.