Now is not the time to fertilize

Published 12:42 am Sunday, February 20, 2011

Every year from mid February through March we will begin receiving numerous calls about managing winter lawns and weed control. I think I have written an article pertaining to this topic every year since I came to Natchez. So here are some of the most basic calls we receive each year that you should consider if you plan to have a beautiful lawn this spring.

Q. Should I begin fertilizing my lawn now?

A. For some reason, people sometimes think fertilizer stimulates turf growth without affecting weeds. Although there are some weed and feed products that benefit turf while killing weeds, for the average homeowner now is not the time to use that product.

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Right now all of our spring and summer grasses are fully dormant. Despite this warm weather we are still a good way from seeing lawns turn green. Therefore if we fertilize now we are only benefiting what is actively growing, which is winter weeds. Therefore if you plan on boosting your yard’s performance I would say focus on reducing weeds now which will reduce competition for nutrients later. Then once your St. Augustine or Bermuda grass emerges in the spring, then apply your fertilizer and your turf will get the full benefit of it at the proper time for maximum efficiency.

Q. Should I put out a post-emergence herbicide right now?

A. When soil temperatures reach 58 to 60 degrees we begin to see summer weeds begin to germinate. Not only do these temperatures make warm season weeds begin to germinate but they also force our current cool season weeds begin to mature. Then weeds drop millions of seeds to become next year’s winter weed crop.

The majority of home lawns in the Miss-Lou have St. Augustine grass as the primary turf species. The best herbicide to utilize that is safe for homeowner use is products containing atrazine. Applying atrazine now will provide a double impact by killing many of the existing winter weeds but also it will serve as a pre-emergence herbicide and kill many of the non germinated seeds as well. This will have a tremendous impact on your lawn by reducing all visible and non visible weeds for months ahead.

Q.Can I use 2,4-D as a herbicide?

A.Many of us that have spent time living in the country have used 2,4-D in pastures for weed control and most other places. I use it at my house because I have a Bermuda grass lawn. However 2,4-D is not labeled or safe for home use with St. Augustine lawns.

I went on a home visits last summer where a homeowner sprayed 2,4-D all over healthy St. Augustine to try to remove clover and crabgrass. Unfortunately, I think the St. Augustine was impacted more than the crabgrass. This is easy to prevent if you follow directions. Therefore let me strongly urge you to read the labels of every product you purchase. Every label will have what grasses are safe and what weed the product has activity on. It will also provide directions for activating the product if required and how best to get uniform coverage.

So good luck preparing your lawn for the spring and reducing next year’s weeds today!

David Carter is director of the Adams County Extension Service. He can be reached at 601-445-8201.