What can I do about a wild plantain infestation in my newly seeded lawn?
I’m getting wild plantain infestation after amending and reseeding my 1,500-square-foot lawn this past spring. I’d like to topdress with compost and new grass seed at the end of this season. Can you recommend the “safest” selective herbicide to control this? Or would you recommend I start new with “safest” broad spectrum herbicide and a total reseed again? After a lot of hard work and money spent amending, tilling, seeding, and watering this past spring, these weeds being so aggressive is very demoralizing. Way too many to hand pluck (I’ve tried).
I intend to get a soil test in the meantime and begin your low input lawn recommendations once it’s established.
Caragh B. Fitzgerald, Associate Extension Professor
I’m sorry to hear about this reseeding problem. Tilling brings buried weed seeds to the surface where they can germinate. It’s not uncommon to see different weed problems after tilling than what you saw before tilling.
Common (or, broadleaf) plantain (Plantago major) is a perennial weed, but it’s one that spreads only by seed. Although an individual plant will come back year after year, it does not spread through runners or rhizomes. General good management of the lawn is always the first step for weed management. That will help the desired grasses to compete against weeds. Information can be found on the UMaine Extension website, Lawns. As you mention, this includes getting soil test results.
If you are interested in using a herbicide, a broadleaf herbicide would be a good choice in this situation especially since you have some grass already established. You’ll want to find something that is labelled for use on lawns and that includes plantain (or “perennial broadleaf weeds”) on the label. This could be a product with a single ingredient or with multiple herbicides. Some active ingredients that would be effective include 2,4-D, MCPP (mecoprop-p acid), or dicamba. Note that these products will also kill clover.
I don’t think a broad-spectrum herbicide would be more effective in the long run. That will kill the grass in addition to the plantain. You would then need to reseed the whole area. There would also be a waiting period after the application before reseeding. The time would depend on the specific material.
For any herbicide recommendation, be sure to read and follow all label directions. The label may include instructions about management before and after spraying. These could include not mowing for a certain number of days prior to application, timing with respect to anticipated rainfall, health of the weeds (usually need to be actively growing for a herbicide to be effective), and timing of replanting, if any is needed. Also follow any relevant local and state regulations about pesticide use. Safety information can be found at the National Pesticide Information Center. Some information about active ingredient toxicity or materials effective on plantain is also provided in this fact sheet, Pests in Gardens and Landscapes, from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Program.
As you mention, mechanical control options include pulling/digging, which can be difficult with a large infestation. You might want to look for a weed puller or digger that can be used from a standing position. That would be easier, but still might be too much work.