WEEDS VS LAWNS, WHO WINS? by Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent

Is it possible to have a weed-free yard? This is a good question to consider as you set out to achieve the weed-free yard.

A weed is simply a plant out-of-place or an unwanted plant. For example, bermudagrass is intentionally planted on some golf course greens. In this case it is wanted and is not considered out-of-place. But if bermudagrass is found growing in a vegetable garden, it is considered out-of-place and is unwanted.

Many of our lawn “weeds” are native to Florida. A few examples are Florida bellflower, Florida betony, Florida Pellitory and Florida Pusley. Our lawn grasses are not native.

Bermudagrass is native to Africa. Bahiagrass is native to South America. Centipedegrass was introduced from southeastern Asia. Carpetgrass was brought to the United States from the West Indies. Zoysiagrass is native to Asia. St. Augustinegrass was discovered growing in South Carolina in 1788. Its origin is not known prior to this time; however, it is believed to be native outside of the US.

Considering that a weed is a plant out-of-place, some people may rightly argue that the lawn grass is out-of-place in Florida and hence is the weed.

Florida of all the states has the greatest wealth of native plants suitable for use in our landscapes. Northwest Florida was basically a forest with a great diversity of native plant life.
In the native ecosystem, the diversity of plants provides natural pest control. Most pests have a certain group of plants on which they “feed.” When we remove the native forest and replace it with all the same plants; i.e., a lawn, we favor the few pests that feed on that one plant. The pest’s population explodes to unnaturally high numbers due to an unlimited food supply.

In addition, many of the weeds that we battle are doing nothing more than trying to regain their own territory. They were here first. Their seeds continually blow in, are brought in by birds and other wildlife, come up from dormant tubers and roots under the turf, are brought in by topsoil and other plants that you bring into your landscape, etc.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t grow lawns. But, perhaps our expectations for our lawns are too high. Use lawn grass where it serves a purpose and is needed. And even though we do have some tools to help battle the weeds and other lawn pests, if you set out to have that “perfect” lawn, be ready to do battle with nature, a continual and lifelong battle.

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