With temperatures still sometimes dipping below freezing at night, spring lawn care seems like a distant concern. Meanwhile, the bright green winter weeds erratically punctuating our dormant brown turf are a signal to begin paying attention to our lawns.
Weeds are annual, perennial and biannual. They reproduce vegetatively and by seed. Animals, birds, wind and ground water runoff distribute seeds. Weed seeds arrive in our yards with animals, on our shoes, clothing and hair. We bring them into our yards with nursery plants. As a result, getting rid of weeds is in ongoing endeavor.
Subfreezing nights notwithstanding, it is time to start your spring lawn care regimen with the application of pre-emergent. Use pre-emergent diligently in March and June to manage warm-season weeds and in September and December to help control cool-season weeds.
Read the information on the packaging before you select a pre-emergent for your lawn. Make sure the product you buy is safe for your type of turf. Once you have chosen the right product for your yard, follow the directions on the label.
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Stay away from weed and feed products. Weed and feed formulated for early spring application is a combination of pre-emergent and fertilizer. Pre-emergent should be applied to warm-season grasses (centipede, Bermuda, St. Augustine and zoysia) in March, but fertilizer not until after turf is fully greened up in late April or May.
In coastal Carolina, many of us have centipede grass. Its natural healthy summer color is Granny Smith apple green, not the lush dark green characteristic of northern turf grasses. Centipede is a low maintenance grass that is adapted to our infertile soil along the coast.
Over-watering and over-fertilizing cause a buildup of thatch, the lignin part of centipede that does not readily decompose. Excess thatch leads to increased weeds, insect problems and the ultimate decline of a centipede lawn. If necessary, remove thatch at the end of May.
Select a slow-release fertilizer for your turf that makes nutrients available to your lawn over a long period of time. If you are not following recommendations based on a soil test, use a 15-0-15 ratio, or 16-4-8 if your soil needs phosphorous. Don’t give your centipede extra nitrogen. If it is too yellow, apply iron.
Don’t use insecticide on your lawn unless you have an insect problem. Mole crickets are one of those problems. They are damaging insects that are most successfully treated in late May or June, after their eggs have hatched and the insects are in their nymph stage. Treatment this time of the year kills the nymphs before they can develop into adults and continue the egg-laying cycle.
The presence of earthworms and mole crickets is sometimes confused.
Mole crickets not only eat grass roots, but their tunneling exposes roots to the air, causing them to dry out and die. The insects leave small clods of earth and the swell of narrow (an inch or so) tunnels as evidence of their activity.
When earthworms wiggle their way to the surface of the soil, they leave small piles of earth and castings that look like crumbs of soil. There is no evidence of a tunnel associated with their work. The amount of soil they unearth is not significant. Earthworm action is usually good for soil because it provides aeration.
If you live on a retention pond, don’t apply granular products within 10 feet of the water line. After applying chemicals to your lawn, sweep the granules off sidewalks, driveways and pavement onto adjacent lawn areas. Help prevent pollution of our waterways by keeping chemicals on your lawn.
When the weather dries, avoid over-watering. Install a rain gauge in your yard. Warm-season turf needs 1 inch of water per week. If you have received that much rain, you do not need to water. Run your irrigation system only if necessary to supplement natural rainfall.
If your soil has not been analyzed in the past three years, have it done now. Test results will tell you soil pH and nutrient levels. More than that, you will learn what your soil needs to properly balance it for healthier grass. Google Clemson hgic 1652 for soil test information and instructions.