What to do in the Spring?

Spring Things Blog Post

Spring is here. That is wonderful for the weather and the desired plants and flowers, but it also means the insects and weeds are coming back. If you know what you are dealing with, management is achievable.  

Henbit

Henbit is one of those not so desirable weeds that shows up in our lawns in the spring. We don’t really notice it until it begins to bloom and at that point, it is too late for control. Henbit is the early spring weed that blooms purple along the edges of our sidewalks and driveways.

henbit, steve dewey, Utah State Univ, Bugwood

Photo of Henbit from Steve Dewey, Utah State University, Bugwood.org

Henbit is a winter annual. This means that henbit only lives for one growing season, but it’s development is different from something like crabgrass which is a summer annual. A winter annual is a plant that germinates in the fall and grows a bit before basically becoming dormant for the winter months. Very early in the spring, henbit will start to grow again, produce flowers and seed for the next year then it will die when the temperatures warm up. This is different from a summer annual which germinates in the spring and goes through its lifecycle through the summer months and dies with our fall frosts.

The problem with henbit is that by the time we see it, or rather see the purple flowers, it is too late to treat for the year. Once the flowers begin to show up, it is already producing seed for next year, so killing blooming henbit is unnecessary because it will die naturally and the chemicals won’t reduce production for next year. However, pulling the plant would be a fine management practice after blooming has begun. It can be sprayed with a 2,4-D product very early in the spring once it has greened up but before it blooms. If you know where it is you can spray it before it blooms. Otherwise, wait until this fall to spray those areas with a pre-emergent herbicide before it germinates in the fall.

Lawncare

This is the time of the year when we want to start seeing color in our lawns. We begin to think we need to fertilize, overseed, and use crabgrass control. Don’t get ahead of the weather with these things. It is still fairly early for overseeding, it can be done in April, but anytime by the end of April to the early part of May is still fine for overseeding. Overseeding too early could cause the seed to germinate in warmer weather. If that warm weather is followed by freezing temperatures, it could damage the newly emerged grass. Fertilization should not be applied until mid to late April when temperatures warm up more consistently.

Crabgrass preventer should not be applied too early in the year either or it will break down before the crabgrass begins to emerge. Crabgrass preventer should be applied when the soils are consistently at 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. A split application, applying more 6-8 weeks after the first application will ensure crabgrass control through the season.

Asparagus

green-asparagus-pixabayAsparagus is a great vegetable that many people enjoy growing and eating. Now is the time to clean up your asparagus beds if you haven’t done so already. It is a good practice to allow asparagus fronds to stand through the winter to help trap snow during the winter months, providing moisture for the crown of the plant as the snow melts.

If you are planting a new asparagus bed, dig a trench 6-8 inches deep and plant the crowns in that, only covering with a couple of inches of soil. As the plants grow up through the soil, continue to add a couple of inches of soil at a time until the soil in the trench is level with the surrounding soil. Wait for 3 years before you begin harvesting to allow the roots to get fully established.

Salt is not a recommended weed control for asparagus. Asparagus is a salt tolerant plant, but it doesn’t thrive in salty soil environments. Also, the salt in the soil can begin to break down the surrounding soil, leaving you with bad soil for the asparagus and other plants growing nearby. For weed control, it is best to use mulch throughout the season.

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Mulch

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When I think about spring, I always think about planting. It is fun, stress relieving, and rewarding for me to get my hands dirty and plant some new plants or change what I have in my garden. One thing to always remember when planting a garden or cleaning up an existing one is the mulch.

Mulch is a great benefit to our plants. Mulch can help work as insulation for our plants through the winter months, protect them from lawnmower blight, hold moisture near the plants, and reduce weed competition.

In the winter months, mulch is helpful to keep our plants insulated from freezing temperatures. However, mulch does not necessarily keep the roots of the plants warm, it keeps the temperatures from constantly freezing and thawing. In the winter months, freezing and thawing of the soil can push the plant out of the soil in a condition called frost heaving. This can expose the crown to winter temperatures and possibly kill the plant. We often add extra mulch during the winter months to help protect our plants more. The plants then are adjusted to growing in the conditions under the extra mulch, which is why it is important to wait to uncover them for the spring. If the plants start to green up under the mulch or pop through the mulch you can pull the mulch back away from the plants, leaving it nearby to cover the plants back up if freezing temperatures are predicted again. It is best to wait until early May to fully uncover those plants, once the threat of frost has passed for the year.

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Tree damage from Lawn Mower Blight

Mulch also helps protect our plants from a condition we refer to as ‘lawnmower blight’. Lawnmower blight often occurs to our trees and shrubs growing right in the turf with no mulch around them. It is when the mower or weed trimmer gets too close to plants damaging the trunk or branches of the shrub. This damage disrupts the flow of water and nutrients through the tree, but it usually does not kill the plant. Having the mulch ring will keep the lawn equipment back away from the tree.

 

Mulch is also great for our plants during the spring and summer months to help keep moisture near the plant and reduce competition from other plants around the tree or other desired plants. Wood chips will hold moisture that will eventually be released back out to the plants for extended water availability. The layer of mulch will also help reduce competition for water, nutrients, and space from other plants growing nearby. Turf is included as a competition for our landscape plants. It is best for the overall health of our desired plants to keep the competition limited around the roots.

Mulch needs to be applied correctly to help the plants, if applied incorrectly it can damage them. A layer of mulch 2-3 inches deep is the recommendation. Too deep and you can start to starve the roots of oxygen and the roots may begin to grow in the mulch out of the soil. If the mulch is applied to shallow, weeds will come up through it. Avoid mulch volcanoes which can cause a great deal of damage to the plant. Coarse textured mulches are better for plants than fine textured mulches which can become compacted, reduce oxygen to the plants, and allow more weeds to penetrate.

Organic mulches are preferred over inorganic mulches. Organic mulches would include wood chips, straw, leaves, and untreated grass clippings. Inorganic mulches such as rock or crushed rubber would not give the benefits to plants that organic mulches would. Inorganic mulches do not hold onto water and they make the plants and the roots much hotter in the summer and reflect that heat onto the plant causing more drought and heat stress to the plants. Inorganic mulches would be best used in xeric landscapes and rock gardens.