Last weekend was blessed with wonderful weather to draw us outside and enjoy. I know you are eager to say goodbye to winter and welcome spring.
A number of the annual rites of spring have already occurred. Nearly all the crape myrtles have been mutilated, or “crape murdered” as we call it. I used to get exercised about crape murder but I have come around to Dr. Kim Coder’s philosophy that “stupid is its own reward.” Why should I stand in the way of people who are proud of their botanical ignorance and want to shout it to the world?
The home and garden show is this weekend, which heralds the annual migration of the homeowner (Suburbanis suburbanis G.) to the big box and hardware stores foraging for fertilizer, mowers and weed killer. Over the next few weekends, lawnowners will be applying weed and feed to their lawns because it was on sale. Even though this product was designed for application to St. Augustine and Bermuda lawns in the middle of the summer, it will be applied to these turfs and centipede lawns way too early and result in creating lawn problems that did not previously exist. This will require the S. suburbanis to retrace its spring migration route throughout the summer to forage for more and different lawn candy to counter the problems created by the weed and feed application made in February or March.
Several of these diligent foragers will be so thorough in derailing their lawns that I will be rewarded with their pleading calls: “Why oh why has my lawn turned orange?” This starts my own rite of spring — the standard call-and-response to folk who have applied atrazine to centipede turf during greenup.
Call: “Why has my lawn turned orange”?
Response: “Do you have a centipede lawn”?
Response: “Did you apply a weed and feed this spring?”
Response: “Was it Scotts Bonus S?”
Call: “Yes, how’d you know?”
Response: “Because atrazine turns centipede orange if applied during greenup.”
Call: “What can I do now?”
Response: “Water and mow it as you normally would. It should eventually come out of it. But you are done with fertilizer this year. You put your whole year’s supply of nitrogen out in one dose. If you put any more nitrogen on this year, you could well lose the lawn.”
Now, I have some years on me. In fact, if you cut me in half and count the rings it will require more than three of you to take off your shoes and socks to count them all. So I know from experience that telling S. suburbanis in April to not put any more fertilizer on their lawn is like telling somebody not to think of a pink elephant. S. suburbanis will try to comply, but by May the sweat will break out on their foreheads. By July they will get the shakes passing by a stack of fertilizer bags. By August it will be too much to bear, and on Labor Day weekend another pound of nitrogen will get spread on the lawn.
The grass will go into winter much too succulent and the first frosts will cause ice crystals to form in the grass cells, slicing, tearing and ripping membranes and start the winter kill cycle. By next spring the lawn is a shadow of its former self. Weeds start filling in the gaps, and S. suburbanis forages for weed killer. Maybe even some weed and feed because the grass obviously needs fertilizer too!
The mismanagement of centipede lawns by S.suburbanis has led to the belief that centipede lawns only last a few years and then decline. Well, yes, but not due to any defect in the turf. The problem is the turf keeper is killing the lawn with ignorance. Under proper management a centipede lawn can last decades.
So here we go again. Go ahead and rake your yard and clean for spring. Buy fertilizer if you want to, but do not apply any fertilizer to your lawn until May. If you have a St. Augustine lawn, apply fertilizer, preferably with a slow-release form of nitrogen, at a rate of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet in May, June, July and September. No fertilizer before May. No fertilizer after September.
If you have a centipede lawn, apply half-pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, preferably with a slow-release form of nitrogen, in May and again in July. You could try a quarter-pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet in May, June, July and August if you like. No fertilizer before May. No fertilizer after August.
Now I just have to wait for the orange yard calls.
Gardner lives in Keller and is the UGA extension agent for Glynn County, serving South Bryan.