Winter might not seem to be a good time for many things, but it is an opportune time to perform certain management tasks in the home lawn to provide for healthier, more attractive turf next summer. Winter weed control is most desirable at this time of year.
Weed Control in Lawns
Broadleaf weeds are a common problem in lawns. They compete with lawn grass for nutrients, delay a full, early emergence of grasses, look unattractive and cause those nasty stickers that get into people’s bare feet all summer long.
Control these weeds as soon as they appear. Young weeds are easy to kill. Young weeds haven’t developed stickers, yet. Applying an herbicide when the weeds are susceptible and the lawn grass is dormant makes good sense. To avoid a temporary discoloration of lawn grass, apply the correct herbicide either before the lawn “greens up” or several weeks after green-up. Always use an herbicide that is labeled for your specific type of lawn grass.
There are many weeds in evidence in lawns at this time. Some of these are true grasses. One of the most common is annual bluegrass (Poa annua). By now it has been in the lawn for a long time. Most of it has already formed a seed head (the grass is short, green and the seed head is white). If annual bluegrass is in your lawn, it’s too late to worry about it. An application of a pre-emergence herbicide in November will help prevent it for next spring. Canary grass may also be present. Canary grass is a bunch grass that grows quite tall and will present a seed head that resembles a bottle brush. There are also other cool-season, annual grass species present, but like the annual bluegrass, their control period has already passed. All these species are going to mature, head-out and die in the next few weeks. All this should happen before St. Augustine lawns break dormancy. Try to remember to prevent these with an application of a labeled pre-emergence herbicide next fall.
Broadleaf weeds are a different story. The cool-season broadleaf weeds that we have now can effectively be controlled with post-emergence herbicides. Buttercup, clovers, vetch, wild geraniums and lawn bur weed (sticker weed) are quite common at this time. In addition, a timely application of a post-emergence broadleaf herbicide will also reduce the number of warm season broadleaf weeds for this summer. Even though the warm season weeds aren’t evident, many have already germinated and are waiting for warmer weather to grow.
Broadleaf weeds are usually controlled best by a herbicide that contains a combination of two or more formulations of 2,4-D and/or another herbicide. There are many on the market including Trimec and other broad leaf weed killers for southern lawns. These work best if the temperature is over 60 degrees F. Spray to wet the weed foliage, but don’t saturate the soil. Keep the herbicide away from vegetables, flowers and ornamental plants. Don’t apply any herbicide on a windy day. These herbicides can drift in the wind for a long distance. A second application may be needed on hard-to-control weeds in two to three weeks.
Try to get your weed control accomplished early in the season. Once summer lawns begin to “green up” in late March, they are susceptible to injury from herbicides. While this injury is usually only a temporary “burn”, it does make the lawn unattractive. If the winter weeds are tall and blooming, the best course may be to simply mow them. Once these annual weeds have bloomed, they will not return this spring if they are mown down.
If clovers are a problem in your lawn each spring, neither mowing nor herbicides will be a long-term solution. Clovers appear in lawns that are low in nitrogen. Being legumes, they can produce their own nitrogen. This gives them a competitive edge over lawn grasses in a low-nitrogen soil situation. Consider increasing your nitrogen fertilization this spring and summer, if you want to reduce clover competition.
Winter Lawn Fertilization
It’s still too early to fertilize summer lawns. Be patient until late March or April. If you planted ryegrass for a winter lawn, it will profit from an application of nitrogen fertilizer at this time. One pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn should be sufficient to meet the ryegrass needs through the remainder of its growing season. Make this application only if you want accelerated growth between now and April. If you’re tired of mowing in winter, skip it. If you want to fertilize your St. Augustine, Centipede or Bermuda grass, wait for another six weeks.
February Vegetable Gardening
Despite the dismal weather associated with this month, we are fortunate that even in February there are vegetables that can be planted.
1. Plant broccoli, Chinese cabbage and cauliflower in early February. These vegetables need time to produce their edible parts before temperatures go too high in the spring.
2. Cabbage can be transplanted. Bolting or seed head production often occurs when we have temperatures at 45 degrees or lower for several days in a row. This is a risk that we take by planting now. However, it doesn’t happen every year.
3. Shallots and Irish potatoes may also be planted. Irish potatoes may not produce large tubers planted this late. They will produce plenty of small “stolen potatoes” that taste so good when cooked with the first harvest of green beans in the spring. Be sure that you have good drainage and mulch with hay or straw on your potato rows.
5. Sweet corn planting in late February may seem abnormal. It does have its advantages. The plant flowers, “silks and tassels” in cool weather and has few skips in the kernel. Early corn usually has fewer insect pests to contend with. Corn ear worms and cucumber beetle damage is usually not as common on early season sweet corn. Early planting also allows for time to replant in March if you have a stand failure.