With spring’s official kickoff just weeks away, lawns across Louisiana are answering their annual wake-up calls, as they respond by shooting forth sprigs of verdant emerald green. Well, that may be partly true. Our home lawns are certainly beginning to arise from their deep winter slumbers, but for those of us who imprudently chose not to seed rye grass in October or to apply late fall herbicides, the beautiful patches of green are in fact cool season remnants like dandelions, clovers, and chickweeds.
Louisiana gardeners though, have yet another chance to wipe the slates clean—make this growing season your best by starting with your lawn. By following a few helpful tips and exerting a little extra effort, you can have your lawn looking up to par in no time.
Weed & Feed Ins and Outs:
Winter weeds began germinating in October. Naturally, the first thing nursery retailers will be thrusting in your shopping carts this time of year is a 25 pound bag of commercial weed and feed. And rightly so. Weed and feed products are designed for the sole convenience of today’s home gardeners. With the herbicide and fertilizer mixed in one, the weed and feed essentially cuts the labor in half. The downfall however, is the timing; weed and feed products are seldom applied at times advantageous for both the weed killer and the fertilizer.
Louisiana lawns start greening up in March, but the best time to fertilize them is not until early to mid April. In April, warm season turf grasses like centipede, St. Augustine, Bermuda, and zoysia will have begun active growth and will have redeveloped sturdy root systems, both of which better enable them to absorb the extra nutrients provided by fertilizers. On the other hand, turf grasses in March are undergoing spring root decline, meaning the old root systems die, and the grasses grow new roots; solid root systems are not completely established until April. Early fertilization stimulates the lawn to initialize premature shoot growth when it should be building roots. Keep in mind that any nutrients absorbed at this time can make lawns more susceptible to later diseases like brown patch, a problem most common to St. Augustine grass. Likewise, should a late freeze blow through, any new growth will be burned.
Because winter weeds are sprouted and growing well before the lawns awaken, herbicides should be applied beginning in February or early March to be most effective. Not only is it easier to spot the weeds amid the winter-brown turf grass, but the chemicals work better when applied to small actively growing weeds, rather than those already matured and flowering. Remember also that as weeds set flowers, seeds are blown from these blooms, and are once again scattered through your lawn to double the weed infestation. Get control of your lawn early this year by applying tried and true herbicides like atrazine, Hi-Yield Turf and Ornamental Weed and Grass Stopper (a.k.a. Dimension), or Fertilome Weed Free Zone. Before applying any herbicides, make sure you know which type of lawn you have; atrazine would prove detrimental to Bermuda grass, but chemicals like 2,4-D or Trimec work fine.
Atrazine, the active ingredient found in most weed and feeds, also comes in a liquid form, which produces excellent results when sprayed early enough in the season. One of the best features about atrazine, in fact, is that it works on both emerged and non-emerged weeds. When applying the liquid form, use a pump-up sprayer, making sure to incorporate a spreader sticker to allow more uniform coverage. To enhance your winter weed control, add a broadleaf weed killer like 2,4-D or Fertilome Weed Free Zone to your tank of atrazine. In so doing, you can control the emerged broadleaf weeds, while at the same time, atrazine provides the added residual control. Make sure to check all chemical labels for specific application rates. Some of the weeds controlled by atrazine and the broadleaf weed killers include annual bluegrass, chickweeds, clovers, dandelion, dichondra, dollar weed, and thistles.
If you are in search of granular preemerge herbicide, try the Hi-Yield Dimension. It provides superior control of crabgrass, as well as many other annual grasses and broadleaf weeds in both turf and the ornamental landscape. For best results, kill existing weeds with Weed Free Zone or Trimec, and then apply Dimension to prevent any regermination. Keep in mind also that pre- and post-emerge herbicides should be applied a second or third time (depending on the infestation) in October.
Once the winter weeds have begun to die and your lawn has established a stronger root system, you can apply almost any commercial lawn fertilizer—preferably one designed to slowly release the nitrogen so as to ensure extended feeding. A typical analysis for the lawn might be 20-0-4 or 15-0-5, with the three parts consisting of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Fertilizers like 8-8-8 or 13-13-13 are not recommended for the lawn since they provide no extended feeding, no minor nutrients, and often burn grasses due to their quick release. Remember that when fertilizing your lawn, it proves most effective to mow first and to thoroughly water the grass after you have made the application.
If you prefer sticking to the weed and feed, wait to apply until late March or April. Make sure the herbicide included is labeled for your type of lawn, and for best results use a drop spreader, setting it at the rate listed on the bag. Consider using Fertilome Weed Out Plus Lawn Fertilizer (which contains Trimec) as a supplement to previous applications of atrazine or Dimension, since the Trimec proves an excellent late season broadleaf weed killer. Whichever brand you choose, remember that weed and feed methods best succeed when applied to actively growing grass and in conjunction with at least two other applications of herbicides in early spring and fall.