February Warm Season Lawn Maintenance
In order to maintain a healthy warm season lawn like bermuda, centipede, St. Augustine, or zoysia it is important to care for it year around. Since many cool season weeds grow actively in late February and March in eastern North Carolina, thoughts turn to them since they are visible in dormant lawns. This time of year you also see or hear advertisements for weed and feed products. Control the weeds and fertilize the lawn at the same time. It sounds reasonable enough. You accomplish twice the work in half the time. These products may work OK for cool season grasses but not for warm season grasses. Warm season grasses are still dormant and applying fertilizer with nitrogen now will be a waste of time, money, and potentially harmful to the environment due to runoff. Sometimes using these products can cause early greening of warm season grasses that may result in damage by freezing temperatures or diseases. Fertilization of most of these grasses doesn’t start until May.
Chickweed, dandelions, henbit, small hop clover, Carolina geranium and other winter broad leaf weeds can be controlled in warm season lawns before the lawns start to green up with commonly available broad leaf herbicides. Most of the products easily available for homeowners to use this time of year contain three ingredients in varying amounts. They are 2,4-D, mecoprop, and dicamba. Some products may contain a forth ingredient. Two applications two weeks apart may be needed for best control. Complete these applications before green up starts. These products will not control winter grass weeds like annual bluegrass, annual ryegrass, or tall fescue. Atrazine may provide some control of winter grass weeds and broad leaf weeds in centipede lawns. If atrazine is applied to other warm season grasses at this time of year green up may be delayed by six weeks. Another weed of concern is wild garlic or wild onion. Image can be used for this weed before lawn green up on all warm season grasses without problem. Always read herbicide labels to determine if the product will control your weed problem, if the product is safe for the type of grass you have, the proper amount to mix for your grass, and the proper safety precautions when mixing and applying.
If you have recurring weeds the problem may be poor growing conditions. Most annual weeds need a bare spot to get started. Shade, compacted soils, nutrient deficiencies, poor drainage, or dry soil are some of the reasons for poor lawn performance. Six hours of full sun is needed to grow a healthy lawn. Collecting soil for a soil sample by the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will help determine if pH or nutrient problems exist. When taking the sample you will know if the soil is compacted, if it is a heavy, poorly drained soil, or a very sandy soil. The report will tell you if the soil pH is correct and if nutrients are low. Apply what is recommended by the report and follow the recommendations you see here to have a healthy lawn. A well-managed lawn is the best defense against weeds. Soil test reports are now only available online. After sending a sample in you may go to www.ncagr.gov/agronomi and click on Find Your Report and search by your last name.
Watering is usually not necessary this time of year unless dormant sod has been recently put down. Too little water is not typically a problem in winter but March and April can get dry so watch the weather and water if needed.
February is a time when we should be thinking about lawn maintenance. Only fertilize tall fescue or other cool season grasses now. Control weeds as needed and follow label instructions. February is not a good time to plant lawns in eastern North Carolina. Wait until April to start planting bermuda, centipede, or zoysia from seed. Dormant warm season grasses (particularly bermuda) can be planted as sod now if kept watered to prevent drying but this situation is far from ideal. Next week I will go in depth on another good lawn chore for this time of year, preventing crabgrass.
If you are planning on renovating your old lawn, planting a new lawn, having problems with your lawn, or haven’t done a soil test in 2 to 3 years, find out about taking soil samples. If you need more information call the Pitt County Master Gardener Extension Volunteers at 902-1705 or email firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also find more information online at http://pitt.ces.ncsu.edu including links to our facebook, Twitter, and blogspot pages.