Lawn management, can be down right confusing. Most of the time, there appear to be more questions than answers.
What type of fertilize should I use? When do I apply lime? Which herbicide should I use to kill the weeds in my lawn? And to make matters worse, there are lawn products and services out there that all claim to produce the perfect lawn or solve all problems. In reality, lawn management is really very simple if you follow a few guidelines, pay attention to the details and ignore the advertising racket.
Each fall, homeowners hear and see commercials and products about winterizing the lawn and applying weed-and-feed products.My official recommendation is to ignore it and not fall for something that is not needed. If an appropriate amount of fertilizer was added this past summer to the lawn, it does not need to be winterized. Also, weed-and-feed products are not necessarily the best solution. Such combination products might seem convenient but rarely work, since the time for fertilizing and the time for preventing weeds differ greatly.
To help manage lawns, the following is a step-by-step yearly lawn management program based on Extension recommendations. These recommendations are for bermudagrass, zoysaigrass, centipedegrass and St. Augustinegrass lawns only. There will be exceptions for cool-season grasses. Always read the product labels for specific directions and limitations before applying.
When it comes to weed control, prevention must be a priority. In early November, apply a pre-emergence herbicide to prevent many of the winter annual weeds from coming up. Consumer herbicides – such as atrazine or benefin – can be used and do a good job controlling a wide variety of broadleaf weeds and annual grasses – such as henbit and dandelions. Commercial lawn care companies use simazine to achieve the same results. Unfortunately, atrazine is no longer labeled for bermudagrass lawns. Again, weed-and-feed products are not recommended for Alabama lawns. Stand-alone herbicide products are best.
Repeat with a second application of pre-emergence herbicide, such as atrazine or benefin. This will help prevent some of those late winter and summer weeds from sprouting. An application of a post-emergence herbicide might be needed for any winter weeds that did come up. Herbicide products containing 2-4-D are the most common on retail store shelves and are typically described as broadleaf weed control. Many today contain more than one chemical and are designed to control multiple types of weeds. Read the label, as the variable weather and temperatures during the winter could dictate when to apply and its ultimate success.
For control of summer annual grasses, including crabgrass, now is the time to apply a pre-emergence herbicide containing pendimethalin, benefin, dithiopyr or prodiamine. Application should be made in early spring before weed seeds germinate. Do scout for emerging spring weeds, like lawn burweed and clover, where action may be required to control it. No need to spray for mature annual weeds in late winter since they are beginning to die off; however, do not let them flower and go to seed. Avoid spring fever and the temptation of weed-and-feed products. Timing of effective weed control and fertilizing is separate. Control weeds now but fertilize later.
This is when to begin a lawn fertilization program based on a recent soil test. The month of May might seem awfully late, but waiting to fertilize the lawn will keep the lawn from greening up too early and getting hurt by a late spring frost. Remember bermudagrass will require more fertilization applications throughout the growing season, while centipedegrass is satisfied with just one application. Avoid fertilizer with lots of nitrogen – apply only what the soil test recommends. Putting out too much fertilizer early in the year can lead to insect and disease problems later on.
May through September
Apply a post-emergence herbicide, if weeds escape and manage to come up or if there are a few nuisance broadleaf weeds and grasses. During the growing and mowing season is when many perennial problem weeds may be managed and eradicated. In general, herbicides containing 2,4-D, MCPP, 2,4-DP and/or dicamba can be used on all four types of lawns, but check the label for correct usage. They control a wide variety of weeds, including the major summer weed chamberbitter.
For control of annual and perennial grasses, the herbicide quinclorac can be used on all lawns. Sethoxydim is labeled for centipedegrass lawns only and will control annual grasses like crabgrass and suppress bahiagrass. Many products have multiple chemicals for broader control and often conveniently are sold as an all-in-one.
October is a good time to apply lime if a lawn needs it. It will have plenty of time to soak in and take effect before spring. Refer to an official soil test to determine a lawn’s pH and appropriate lime recommendations. Get a soil test done if one hasn’t been.
Despite all the national TV ads telling us to winterize lawns in the fall, such hype doesn’t work on Alabama turfgrasses. Winterizing only applies to areas north that are able to grow cool-season lawns such as fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, bentgrass and ryegrass.
Alabama lawns do not grow in the winter but go dormant in the fall. There is absolutely no advantage to fertilizing a lawn in the fall. Doing so only makes the lawn vulnerable to getting killed by the first frost or freeze. It is a total waste of fertilizer.
Homeowners cannot guess when it comes to herbicide on their lawns. Purchasing and applying the wrong product and at the wrong time could not only mean no control of the weeds but may result in a dead lawn, too. This is one reason why Extension recommends separating the weed control and fertilizer into two separate applications. Timing is critical.
An educated or informed consumer is a great defense. Before entering the home improvement store, garden center or even hiring a lawn service, know what products work and which ones do not for this area. Know ahead of time the name and type of herbicide needed and what it is sold under. Ignore the fancy design, pretty pest graphics and name or phrase on the product. Look for the product’s active ingredient, usually in small print on the front. Peel off the back label and read it to determine whether this particular item will work to control pests on the lawn or not. Feel free to shop around; be informed; and don’t fall into a sales trap that another product will do or work just as well.
The bottom line for having a healthy and weed-free lawn is this: Stop guessing; take a soil test; follow the soil test; do not over-fertilize; mow frequently; water as needed, scout for insects and diseases, and wisely use pre-and post-emergence herbicides for controlling weeds that might occur if not choked out by a now-healthy lawn.
For additional help with home and garden information, contact a local county Extension office or visit aces.edu.
~ Shane Harris is the Tallapoosa County Extension Coordinator for the Alabama Cooperative Extension.