Pull up a chair. It’s time that we had our annual talk. It’s time to put your lawn in order.
Spring is arriving, and with it comes a big box of weeds. Not the weeds you can see out there now, but perhaps even worse, the weeds that await for late spring and summer: crabgrass and grassburs.
We call those “warm season” weeds. They germinate in the spring and then they grow during the hot months, making our lives miserable all the while. Pulling up crabgrass is bad enough, but pulling out grassburs is absolute agony.
That’s as in “out of our flesh.”
Warm-season weeds still exist only as seeds currently. For those of you who have been paying attention over the years, that means that an application of a pre-emergent herbicide will prevent the germination. And you probably remember that you will need a second application as a “booster shot” 90 days later. Pre-emergent products are only effective for about 100 days, and germination season runs for almost twice that long.
For the uninitiated, however, let me give a few more details. Pre-emergent weed killers form a layer across the top of the soil that attacks germinating seeds just as they sprout. Although there are sprays, I prefer to use granules. The most common types in the consumer market are Dimension, Halts and Balan, but there are certainly other good products as well.
Read and follow label directions carefully, but these materials can generally be applied to any type of lawngrass and beneath trees and shrubs without worry. However, they should not be used on new turf until it has been through its first winter. A new precaution for this spring due to the extreme cold, they should not be used on any turf (most likely St. Augustine) that may have to be replaced in a month or two due to freeze damage. Follow the application with a moderate watering to disperse the granules uniformly across the surface of the soil.
If you have weeds already growing in your lawn at this point, those are “cool-season” types that germinated in the fall and then started growing as weather warmed in January. They survived the cold and are now ready to take off.
Grassy cool-season weeds such as annual bluegrass, rescuegrass and ryegrass are just going to have to run their course. Pre-emergent granules applied just before Labor Day are your only hope with them. Once they are growing you get no second chance.
Broadleafed weeds (non-grassy types), on the other hand, can easily be controlled with a spray. Ask your nursery, hardware store or feed store professional to show you the various broadleafed weedkiller sprays. Most will contain 2,4-D. They’ll make easy work out of eliminating clover, dandelions, dichondra, thistles, plantain, henbit, chickweed, lawn burweed and other weeds that are not grasses. I prefer to apply them with a tank sprayer for best coverage with the least possible herbicide.
With all of the ice and snow this year, and with the surge of winter weeds, area lawns are looking a little unsightly currently. This would be the time you might consider scalping your lawn to even things up. Drop the mower down one notch to remove the browned stubble – and most of the weeds. It will involve a lot of bagging, but you do not want to leave all of that organic matter on the lawn. Do not, however, send the clippings to the landfill. It’s full of valuable organic matter and nutrients. Either put it in your compost pile or use it as a mulch beneath your shrubs. It’s also possible that your city has an organic waste composting facility. It would be fine to send it there.
If you do decide to scalp your lawn, be sure to wear goggles and a high-quality respirator. The dust created by scalping can be highly irritating. Scalping should be done before you apply the pre-emergent herbicide granules. Also, remember that scalping is essentially an aesthetic process. In most cases it is not a required activity for good lawn care.
Checking the sprinklers
If you have a sprinkler system, it’s critical that you do an irrigation audit very soon. Have someone in the house operate the system station by station so that you can see if all of the heads are functioning properly and if there are any leaks in the pipes or valves.
As you can imagine, sprinkler systems have been subject to as much freeze damage as city water systems. Plumbing repair parts remain in short supply, so know where the shut off valve is before you begin.
It is still too early to fertilize warm-season turf grasses including bermuda, St. Augustine and zoysia. That time will come in April, so we’ll reserve more details on that for a later time.
Planting new grass
By the same token, it’s four to eight weeks too early to be planting new grass. You could lay sod by late March if you absolutely had to (or, in a dire emergency such as need for a Certificate of Occupancy, even now), but late April would be better. May is the earliest you would want to plant bermudagrass seed.
If you are buying St. Augustine sod early this spring, check it carefully to be sure that it’s vigorous. There’s a possibility that sod farms, like home lawns, may have suffered some amount of freeze damage, and it’s going to be difficult to tell for a while. Buy from a reputable dealer.