Spring Lawncare

Spring Lawncare, blog post

April is finally here, which means spring should be bringing in warmer weather. April is a good time to get out and start working in the lawn and garden to prepare our yards. To help ensure that you have the best lawn on the block, here are few tips to improve your lawn this spring.

April is a great time to overseed your lawn. If you had some spots that were flooded out last spring, now is a great time to get some new seed planted. The beginning part of April is best for seeding lawns, but it can be done until the end of the month. Frequent, light irrigation is necessary to keep newly seeded lawns moist. It may be necessary to water twice a day to keep it from drying out and dying. Straw mulch can be applied to keep the seedbed moist, but it is not necessary and can bring problems with weed seed that is often a contaminant of straw. Do not apply any pesticides to newly seeded lawn until you have completed 2-3 mowings. Also, do not try to overseed right before or right after applying crabgrass preventer as this chemical will prevent the germination of your desired grasses as well.

We often face difficulties with weeds in our lawns. The key to weed management is to keep your lawn healthy to avoid weed infestations and to identify the weed before chemical controls are used. Many of our herbicides are specific to either a grass weed or a broadleaf weed and won’t work on the other weed type. Also, you need to know the weed to know the lifecycle for when the best time is to manage that weed with a chemical. As I stated in my previous news column, henbit is a winter annual and should only be chemically controlled in the lawn in the fall, the spring is too late.

crabgrass, Joseph Berger, Bugwood

Crabgrass Photo By: Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org

Crabgrass pre-emergent herbicides need to be applied before crabgrass germinates, which is when the soil temperature is 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. This typically occurs toward the end of April. Applying this chemical too soon may cause the chemical to stop working earlier in the season when crabgrass may still be germinating. In this case an additional application may be necessary later in the spring, so it is best to wait until the correct time to only have to apply this one time per season. Broadleaf weeds, such as dandelions, clover, and ground ivy should be controlled in the fall for best control but can be managed in the spring with 2,4-D products.

Fertilizing turf can be done up to 4 times per growing season. Apply fertilizers at a rate of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet for each application. A good trick for remembering when to apply fertilizers is to fertilize with the holidays: Arbor Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Halloween.

Mower Collage

We are now getting to the time of year when we will have to start mowing our lawns. Prepare your lawn mower for the season before you start mowing. Start by sharpening the blades. Dull mowing blades can cause tearing to occur on the grass blades rather than a smooth cut. These tears can lead to more insect and disease problems. Change the oil in your lawn mower, if you didn’t do that in the fall. Check your spark plugs and tire pressure. Finally, make sure you clean under the deck for any grass that may still be stuck under there from last season. You can start mowing as soon as the grass starts growing. Remember to mow at a height of 2.5-3.5 inches and only cut off 1/3 of the grass blade each time you mow.

Henbit in the lawn

Henbit flower from canva

This time of the year is always fun. It is starting to warm up and we can begin to emerge from our winter hibernation indoors. However, with the movement outdoors come the calls to my office. People venture outdoors and begin to notice plants growing that were not intentionally planted. One of the most common nuisance plants that seems to plant itself in your beautiful lawn and is noticed early in the spring is Henbit.

Henbit is a plant in the mint family and therefore it has square stems. It grows to a height of 16 inches and has dark green leaves that are scalloped along the edges and arranged oppositely along the stem. The leaves are clasping below the flower cluster. It has a purple colored, tubular flower. This is a plant that spreads by seed but can quickly invade turf areas and invade into a flower or vegetable garden. Henbit is the plant that is often seen in masses of purple in fields very early in the spring.

Henbit in field from Purdue

Cornfields full of purple henbit (Purdue Agriculture photo/John Obermeyer)

Henbit is a winter annual plant, which means that it germinates in the fall or winter. It then grows for a period of time in the early winter, goes dormant in the very cold periods and resumes growth early in the spring to flower and produce seed. After flowering, it will die, because it has set seed for new plants for next fall and spring.

People typically only notice henbit in their lawns in the spring when it is flowering. However, the best time for management is in the fall when it is first germinating. If you use chemicals to control henbit in a lawn, it is best to do prior to flowering and seed production. In the spring, when most people see henbit, there is no need for chemical controls because the plant has already set seed for next year’s crop and the plants seen are on their way to death anyway.

Management can be successful without chemicals. Henbit is a plant that does well in the areas where our turf does not. It grows well in compacted soils, typically along the edges of sidewalks and driveways where it can easily outcompete our turf for the space. It also grows well where there is good soil moisture and shade. Because of this, it is easily managed by encouraging a dense, vigorous turf or to change the landscape by utilizing other plants besides turf or applying mulch in areas where turf struggles and henbit grows well. Henbit can also be hand-pulled for quick removal, this is the preferred method of control in the spring. If chemicals are necessary and desired for management of Henbit, they should be applied in the fall. Products that contain 2,4-D have the best control for Henbit.

henbit, steve dewey, Utah State Univ, Bugwood

Photo by: Steve Dewey, Utah State University, Bugwood.com

Henbit is often confused with Creeping Charlie, or Ground Ivy, because they are in the same family of plants and they both have similar flowers. Henbit is a winter annual, while Creeping Charlie is a perennial, so henbit will flower well before Creeping Charlie does in the spring. Also, Creeping Charlie tends to have more blue flowers while Henbit has more purple-lavender flowers. Henbit has clasping leaves below the flower cluster, while Creeping Charlie does not. Be sure you know which plant you are dealing with to achieve the best control.

Correct Timing for Spring Yardwork

Lilac- Glenn Kraeck, Flickr

Flickr image courtesy of Glenn Kraeck per CC license

It has been exceptionally warm so far this year. We haven’t had a lot of snow events yet and the weather has already hit the 70’s on multiple occasions. However, it is still too early to go out and do too much to your gardens, we could still face rather cold temperatures and possibly even snowy conditions yet this spring. So, I wanted to take the time to go over when the best time for garden preparations should begin.

2014-03-04 11.18.22Vegetable gardens are always a favorite of mine in the spring and summer for delicious homegrown crops. Potatoes and Peas can be planted in late March to early April. Other cool season crops should be planted in early to mid-April. We can start seeds for transplants for summer crops at this time. Begin seedlings 10 weeks prior to transplanting for slow growing plants such as broccoli, lettuce, and cabbage. Allow for 6-7 weeks of growth for new seedlings prior to transplanting for plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. And you only need to plant those fast growing species such as cucumbers, squash, and the melons 2-3 weeks in advance of transplanting. Remember, transplanting should occur no sooner than mother’s day, which is May 8th this year.

Turf can be overseeded or reseeded from the end of March through the beginning of April. We still need to wait until then to overseed, because with this early warm weather it may cause some to germinate and cold night temperatures could kill those young plants. Be sure that you are buying certified weed free seed. The best grass choices for eastern Nebraska are either 100% tall fescue, 90% tall fescue with 10% Kentucky bluegrass, 100% Kentucky bluegrass, or 100% buffalograss as a warm season grass choice. Mixes are fine to use in Nebraska, but you want to make sure it is a good mix. If you purchase a mix, avoid any that contain annual bluegrass, ‘Linn’ perennial ryegrass, or ‘Kenblue’ Kentucky bluegrass. Crabgrass preventer should not be applied until later April when the soil temperatures have warmed up. Don’t use crabgrass preventer on newly seeded lawns until you have mowed 3 times on the newly seeded grass.

Wait to uncover your perennials this spring. The mulch applied around the perennials in the winter is not meant to keep the plants warm, it is meant to keep the plants at a uniform temperature throughout the growing season. If you leave the mulch on in these warm days, this will help to keep your plants cold, and therefore, help them maintain their dormancy. The same goes with roses that were placed under rose cones in the fall. Leave those cones on as long as you can.

apples-A. Henneman flickr

Flickr image courtesy of Alice Henneman per CC license

We may have plants that break dormancy early with all of these warm temperatures. This may cause some dieback on the branches or stems and most likely these plants will survive. The bigger problem will be with plants that fruit such as strawberries or fruit trees. If these plants break dormancy and start to bud their buds may be damaged by a freeze event and then the plants will not produce fruit. Fruit trees cannot be discouraged from this occurrence, which is why we often have problems with low or no fruit on peaches and apricots with a late freeze event.