They’re out there. Waiting for their moment to strike. Then, when the time is right, they spring out in force. They are weeds—the not-so-silent menaces. Weeds may not have voices of their own, but if you’re an HOA Board Member in a condominium complex, that doesn’t stop you from hearing about them when you stop to get your mail or when someone flags you down as you drive through the complex. You have budgets to manage and committees to supervise. There’s enough to handle without having to hear about weeds at every turn. But weeds are more than just an inconvenience. They reduce the overall look of your community and may even threaten to bring down your property value. So, is there anything that you can you do about them? Absolutely! As an active HOA Board Member, you can make sure that your landscaping company is following the 10 Best Practices to Keep Weeds Out of Your Community Landscaping and keep your community looking its best year-round.
10 BEST PRACTICES
Fall Soil Testing
Making the effort to test your soil in the fall, before everything goes dormant, is critical. Tests for the soil are like blood tests for people. You can get a good idea of the soil’s overall health with just a small sample. These soil tests can show the current fertility levels, help guide the area plant selection and make diagnostic decisions. It takes about two months for ph treatments to react with the soil and treating in the fall sets your lawn up for success in the spring.
The soils on Long Island tend to be acidic (low ph), so we generally need to add lime, which is alkaline, to make it raise the ph and balance the soil. At a neutral ph level, soil nutrients are unlocked and grass and plants can take them in. Organic matter can be broken down. Microbes and worms thrive and fertilizer becomes more effective. When acidic soil is balanced, your plants and lawns become stronger, greener, and better able to fend off disease. Healthy grass is also thicker and tends to crowd out weeds. Lime also adds needed calcium to the soil, which is needed for optimum plant growth. Turf grass such as Kentucky bluegrass thrives at a ph level of 6.0 to 6.5. Tall fescue is more tolerant but also grows best within that range.
Over time, soil can become impacted from a number of factors, including having people or animals walking on top of it and heavy lawnmowers running over its surface. The air pockets that separated soil components can collapse, making your lawn’s roots work very hard to grow. Water and fertilizer are blocked from passing down to the roots. As your grass starves for nutrients, the weeds get the perfect opportunity to invade. Lawn aeration can also be called soil cultivation (coring, spiking and slicing) or core aeration. It restores the flow of air to the soil and allow the roots to move more freely and water and fertilizer to be more effective. A reputable landscaping company will have professional equipment to aerate your lawn with close, deep core holes.
The best time to seed Long Island lawns is from late August until late September, when temperatures start to cool, but soils are still warm and moist. Daytime temperatures are ideally between 60 and 75 degrees. After seeding, you will need to water the lawn lightly every day for three to five weeks. For condominium communities on Long Island, where water and fertilizer can be expensive, hardy tall fescues are a good, environmentally-friendly, low-maintenance choice. When properly seeded, they should germinate within 10-14 days. Fescue will thin out over time and overseeding is recommended to increase the density of your grass. Kentucky bluegrass is another popular choice for its deep green color and soft feel, but can need twice as much fertilizer and substantially more water, which can be cost-prohibitive for most HOAs. Bluegrass takes between 2 and 5 weeks to germinate and grow into a lawn. Bluegrass may develop thin spots over time. Overseeding is recommended to thicken those areas.
As the high summer temperatures fade, your grass starts to recover from the heat. This is the perfect time to give it some nitrogen to boost blade growth. As the air starts to turn crisp, phosphorus will help to stimulate root growth. This will strengthen the roots, setting your lawn up to explode with growth in the spring, and blanketing your common areas with thick, green, gorgeous grass.
Don’t Till The Weeds
It can be very tempting to grab a hoe and turn over the soil, but it’s one of the worst things you can do if you want to prevent more weeds. There are countless seeds spread by the wind, animals, gravity, water and other elements. Believe it or not, EVERY INCH of your lawn and flower beds have weed seeds, but when they don’t get the right combination of light, water and nutrients, they won’t sprout. When you turn over the soil, you unwittingly bring buried seeds to the surface, giving them the right conditions for growth. Instead of turning over the soil, try to disturb it as little as possible. Only dig where you have to and cover over the exposed area with mulch or plants to prevent new seeds from becoming seedlings.
Remove The Weeds
The best time to pull weeds by hand is after a heavy rain or watering. If it’s dry, slice the weeds below the soil line with a sharp-edged hoe. A knife works well in mulch to separate the weeds from their roots. Young weeds are easily removed with very little soil disturbance. It’s important to remove weeds that are already growing as soon as possible. Not only do they disturb the beauty of an orderly community, but if they go to seed, they will plant another crop of weeds to battle in the future.
Mulch helps to keep the soil cool, retain moisture and deprive weed seeds from the light that would make them sprout. Mulch can be made of many different materials, such as rock, straw, compost or bark, each with different pros and cons. Whichever type of mulch you use, depth is important. According to a 1993 mulch trial by University of California Farm Advisors, even one inch of mulch helps to suppress weeds, but 3-6 inches of mulch are 2 to 5 times more effective. An economical alternative is to cover the ground with biodegradable fabric, cardboard or newspaper, and then cover it with a layer of mulch. If you opt for landscaping fabric, be aware that eventually weed seeds will start to grow on top and will need to be pulled before they can take root.
As much as you might wish that the water you are paying top dollar for was only nourishing the plants you want, that’s not the case. When you water your lawn and plants, you’re also watering your weeds! Many people worry about not watering enough, but it is more common for lawns and plants to be damaged due to overwatering than underwatering. Turf only needs 1 inch of water per week. Using drip hoses underneath mulch can give plants much-needed moisture while depriving the weeds. Adding in strategies, such as this one, to target water delivery can reduce your weed germination by 50-70 percent.
Most homeowners are unaware that some weeds are actually beneficial. Clover, for example, is a great soil food. It infuses the soil with much-needed nitrogen and its deep root systems work to push through compressed soil. It also attracts beneficial insects that can help to make the landscape thrive. A description about the beneficial properties of clover in your community newsletter could go a long way toward reducing landscaping complaints. Better still would be to have a representative from your landscaping company attend your HOA Board meetings to field questions and address issues. As the largest line-items on your budget, landscaping and snow removal are typically the source for 70% of the complaints that you hear. You have enough to handle without having to juggle complaints about the lack of supervision of landscaping crews, confusion about scheduling or, worst of all, WEEDS. Instead of complaining to the board, your residents could go straight to the source. They would get a stronger sense of having their concerns heard and leave with the answers that they were looking for.
Vigilance Pays Off
Once weeds take root in your community, it may take some doing to get them out. But regular maintenance and following the 10 best practices can keep the weeds out and soothe even your prickliest residents. Who knows? You might even be able to get your mail without hearing any complaints!