From winter dormancy, lawns spring to life

By Heather Kirk-Ballard

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

As spring approaches in Louisiana, it's time to shift our focus from the quiet dormancy of winter lawns to the vibrant growth season ahead. Soon enough, we will need to break out the lawnmowers if you haven’t already.

With the arrival of warmer weather, traditional lawns spring back to life, demanding attention to combat weeds and prepare for the growing season. Despite the dormant appearance of turfgrasses, weeds such as clover, lawn burweed and annual bluegrass remain active, stressing the need for early intervention.

Herbicides that include a combination of 2,4-D, dicamba and mecoprop have proven effective in controlling broadleaf weeds. It's advised to apply these from January through spring for optimal results.

Research conducted by LSU AgCenter weed scientist Ron Strahan suggests that a mixture of atrazine with this three-way herbicide formula along with a spreader sticker offers a highly effective solution. Once temperatures heat up above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, you need to stop using these products altogether, as they can burn your lawn.

Herbicides are helpful tools in controlling weeds and making landscaping efforts a little bit more manageable. When used responsibly and according to guidelines, the impact of herbicides on the environment and wildlife can be minimized.

Some safe alternatives to traditional herbicides include organic products that contain the active ingredient iron HEDTA, also called FeHEDTA. Products with this active ingredient have been shown to eliminate broadleaf weeds without damaging the grass.

One thing we want to avoid until the temperatures warm up is nitrogen fertilization on dormant turf to prevent fungal diseases and winter kill.

Lawns may show signs of green-up in southern Louisiana in late February. Do not push turfgrass growth with fertilizer at this time. Fertilizer applied too early will feed winter weeds and will result in lush turfgrass growth that is more susceptible to injury from late frosts and increased levels of brown patch disease. Lawns may be fertilized in the New Orleans area by late March, but delay fertilizing areas north of Baton Rouge until early April. Consider fertilizing lawns in north Louisiana around mid-April.

Soil testing offered by the LSU AgCenter provides valuable insights into your lawn's needs, guiding fertilization and maintenance strategies. Call the AgCenter office in your parish for information on this service.

It's advisable to delay permanent warm-season turfgrass establishment until after the spring green-up, focusing instead on controlling weeds and treating large patch and other fungal diseases to ensure a healthy regrowth.

For homeowners seeking a lower-maintenance and more environmentally friendly option, alternative lawns offer an appealing solution. Groundcovers and low-growing plants, including native and select nonnative species, can reduce the need for regular mowing, fertilization and weed control.

Shade-tolerant alternatives such as liriope and English ivy along with sun-loving sedums and dwarf lantanas cater to different areas of the garden, ensuring vibrancy and coverage regardless of sunlight exposure. For a more dynamic landscape, consider replacing large turf areas with wildflower meadows, annuals, perennials or a mix of shrubs and trees, inviting pollinators and adding color and texture to your outdoor space.

Choosing between a traditional lawn and an alternative landscape depends on your lifestyle, maintenance preferences and environmental concerns. While traditional lawns offer a classic look and recreational space, alternative lawns can provide a unique aesthetic with reduced water and chemical use.

Regardless of your choice, early-spring care is crucial for a healthy, resilient landscape.

Weeds growing in the ground.

Take care of cool-season winter weeds before lawns green up in the spring. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

A weed growing in the ground.

Control stickerweed before seeds set and become a literal pain in the spring. LSU AgCenter file photo

A weed growing in the ground.

Annual bluegrass thrives in winter. Control it before it sets seed that will be a problem next growing season. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

2/22/2024 4:07:14 PM
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