It’s a familiar question heard by lawn care specialists everywhere: How do I get rid of crabgrass?

By this time of year, the answer isn’t what most homeowners want to hear: Pre-emergent application. In lay terms, what that means is that if you didn’t apply a late-spring application, getting rid of crabgrass this summer is going to be tough.

What is crabgrass?

In the early spring months, many homeowners often mistakenly identify tall fescue as crabgrass. What’s the difference? Next time you’re out for a country drive, look at the ditches with a turf man’s eye—you’ll see coarse, green blades everywhere, the type of grass that wasn’t ever the most comfortable to run barefoot through as a kid. That’s tall fescue. Now, take a look at your neighbor’s yard, the yard that harbors every weed imaginable, making your own lawn look something like the gardens at the Palace of Versailles. Most likely, somewhere in that weedy mess is a soft, wide grass that arrives in a neon green glory before eventually turning darker green as the summer heats up. That’s crabgrass, aptly named because any homeowner striving for a beautiful yard gets pretty crabby the moment this type of grass appears. And rightly so: As the summer days begin to shorten, crabgrass launches into a full-fledged survival mode, reseeding itself with an industrialized efficiency in order to secure its successful invasion of next year’s lawn. If you don’t plan to treat your lawn for crabgrass the following spring, you can be certain to see crabgrass next summer. Guaranteed.

Do late summer treatments work?

Because crabgrass typically germinates during the first two weeks of May, applying a pre-emergent before soil temperature reaches a mild 56 degrees is critical. If a pre-emergent is applied too early or too late, the only thing accomplished is a good waste of time, effort and product.

If you didn’t expect to see crabgrass this summer but are now staring out your window at a land sea of neon green, then you do have some control options. At this point, however, it’s important to realize that post-emergent applications provide minimal control. (Compare it to this: Exercising 3 times a week but eating a Big Mac for every breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you’re lucky, you might not have a heart attack.)

All post-emergent applications will treat the visible tissue, but because crabgrass has tremendous survival skills, you can rest assured: The amount of above-ground tissue that you see easily matches the amount of below-ground root. While you can purchase post-emergent products to assist your quest to eradicate crabgrass, be aware that the most effective control applications aren’t available to consumers.

In the meantime. . .

If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and sweat off a few pounds of winter weight, you can always dig up the areas of crabgrass, being sure to plant new grass in its place and cultivate healthy soil conditions (fertilize). As always, be sure to set mower blades no lower than 3”, and water during dry conditions.

If crabgrass isn’t properly controlled, it will continue to spread throughout your lawn. Ask your lawn care professional to schedule you for next year’s early spring pre-emergent application, or purchase a pre-emergent from your local gardening center. Just remember: proper timing is everything.

Throughout the next month, our Facebook page will be highlighting ways to effectively deal with crabgrass. If you’d like to join in on the discussion, please join us on Facebook at Premier Turf Management.

A lawn care specialist for over 30 years, Gene D. Pool has served as president and vice president of the Ohio Lawn Care Association and on the executive board of the Professional Lawn Care Associates of America (now known as PLANET), working to influence industry practice and legislation. He has served as a consultant, trainer and speaker for the lawn care industry, providing expertise on lawn disease and treatment.