Answering readers questions this week

Published 3:31 pm Thursday, March 2, 2023

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When the weather is good, there are usually lots of questions that come in because folks have been itching to get outside. We do this in the spring, even though it isn’t spring yet. We want to get out there to get things cleaned up and looking good. I heard one of my neighbors mowing the grass this week already.

The first question I wanted to touch on was about turf. Common practice on Bermudagrass is to clean it up mid-winter using glyphosate (active ingredient in Round-up and other products). Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide that is used to kill multiple weeds (and those flowers your wife doesn’t want you to kill) from broadleaves to grasses. It is cheap, effective, and fairly easy to use. Most stores even carry REU (ready to use) packaging that is already mixed at the correct rate. A word of caution here, do not spray what you do not want to kill. That being said, glyphosate will not kill Bermudagrass when it is in dormancy. However, Bermudagrass in our area was not dormant for very long if at all this year. If you sprayed after mid-January, there is most likely going to be some damage that could delay green-up a bit in your lawn. If you apply now, there could be some extensive damage and your grass may not get green until well into June.

The next question was regarding what to grow in your lawn. One of the most recent trends is to add micro clover to your cool season lawn. This is a great practice and can help save money in the long run. Clover is a type of legume. Legumes pull Nitrogen from the air and deposit it in the soil. The Nitrogen can later be taken up by other plants. This is why we use legumes for our cover crops in the garden. However, in our area we can’t grow cool season grasses on a perennial basis. Really, cool season grasses are not recommended for use east of Highway 17 and there is discussion about changing that recommendation to Highway 95. This being said, the all clover or micro clover/fescue lawns would not work here. This leads into the next question, “How can I get the grass that is green all year long?”

The short answer is, these are cool season grasses like fescue and Kentucky 31. They can grow here on a short term basis but not as a perennial lawn. The reason is that they die out during our hot, humid summer days. In order to maintain a cool season lawn in our area you would need a cooler microclimate such as would be found on a North facing slope near the water. In this scenario it is possible, but would still require annual overseeding and other cultural practices. My go to slogan is “Right Plant, Right Place,” cool season grasses are not the right plant for our area. To save time and money, my advice is to not try and take on Mother Nature in all her glory.

There have also been lots of weed management questions; from turf to ornamentals. I took a little reconnaissance mission the other day to a few local stores to see what is on the shelves. One of our most recommended products has finally been removed from the shelves. The EPA changed the label of products containing the active ingredient atrazine a few years ago. When this happens, we are usually still able to use that product until the label actually changes. Well, that’s now happened. This was our go to product for centipede grass and St. Augustine grass. The alternative products are those containing the active ingredients simazine or mesotrione. Guess what, they were not on the shelves either! So now what do we do as homeowners? Look for products that are easy on centipede grass and St. Augustinians. Most notably, these are going to be 3 or 4-way products meaning they have several active ingredients. Try to stay away from those having quinclorac and/or 2, 4-D. While these are great chemicals and work really well on other grasses, centipede and St. Aug. are sensitive to them at best. The active ingredient 2,4-D can be very detrimental to St. Augustine grass. Make certain to do your homework and read all of the label before you spray anything! Above all, do not use weed and feed products on your warm season grasses! While pre-emergent herbicides can and should be used in some cases, they are not good on every turf type. This is also the absolute wrong time of year to fertilize warm season grass! Wait until we are through with green-up, sometime in early to mid-May.

If you would like more information on growing home lawns, sign up for my class on March 31st. This is a part of the “What you need to KNOW so you can GROW” series that will be taught every Friday from 9:00-11:00 a.m. throughout March. Call the office for more information and to register for the classes.

If you are having trouble with growing in your home landscape, call the Extension office at (252)946-0111 or email me at Save the date for April 14th at 9:00 when the Extension Master GardnerSM Volunteers will be having their annual vegetable transplant sale. Until then, Happy Gardening!