It has been another warm winter. At least this year, we got some rain and have a water deficit of less than half an inch so far in January.
After we get past the Super Bowl, folks will start looking for things to do outside. This is about the time the big box stores will start putting the weed and feed (lawn fertilizer with herbicide added) on display. Many people think that if the weed and feed is on display, then it must be time to put it out. Not true. Act in haste and repent at leisure. Weed and feed products can be an excellent tool in the middle of the growing season — June through August — when post-emerge control of summer weeds may be needed.
So why is the weed and feed on display so early in the year? Merchants are in the business of selling you what you want to buy. Folks who visit the garden center between New Year’s and St. Patrick’s Day have cabin fever and are looking for something they can buy to get them out into the yard and garden.
Don’t blame the stores. If you want to see the problem, just find the closest mirror. I am not saying to not buy weed and feed in February. Buy all you want. Just don’t put it out on your lawn before June, and you will be just fine. Those who apply weed-and-feed fertilizer to their warm-season lawns before May either are putting the fertilizer out too early or the herbicide too late. Put atrazine on a centipede lawn during green-up and watch it turn orange. Tennessee grads may like that.
If you have not done so already, winter is a good time to do a water audit of your irrigation system and get it tuned up for spring. Put out a half-dozen flat-bottomed, straight-sided cans and run the system. Measure the depth of water in each can and determine the mean water depth for that zone. Adjust the zone duration and or the nozzle size so you get half an inch of water applied for lawn areas.
If you do not have an in-ground irrigation system and have decided you want a top-notch lawn, winter is a good time to have a system installed so it is ready for this year’s growing season. Regular application of adequate water is the single biggest factor in developing a good lawn. One can drive down any street in a subdivision and readily tell which lawns have functional irrigation systems from those that do not. The ones with good quality turf have irrigation systems installed and working. Drive past my house and you readily will see that my next-door neighbors have installed irrigation systems. Both have great turf with few weeds. That’s not me; I’m the one with the wide array of winter and summer weeds.
It helps me keep up on my weed identification and testing out new products. For instance, when Celsius herbicide came out, I tried it out on my lawn. Applying an herbicide to mature weeds is a severe test for any herbicide. We are supposed to hit weeds when they are young for best control. Pre-emerge herbicides kill weeds just as they germinate and are our most effective chemical controls.
Here along coastal Georgia, pre-emerge for winter weeds should be applied in October, while pre-emerge for summer weeds should be applied in December. I sprayed Celsius in April to see what it would do. Celsius kills weeds slowly, but thoroughly. It knocked out every weed in my lawn in the course of three weeks except one species, which is pretty darned good.
But the label also said not to apply Celsius to a lawn that previously had any other herbicide applied that season. I had spot-sprayed for weeds with another product a month before applying the Celsius. Once it had killed the weeds, the Celsius proceeded to kill the grass in all the spots I had sprayed the previous month. That warning was on the label for a very good reason.
That experience has helped me prevent others from making my mistake, so I see it as a successful failure. “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgment.” If that is true, I rapidly am becoming a better and better judge every day. I’m the guy scraping his shoe off on the curb pointing out to you where the doggie land mines are so you don’t step in them, too.
Gardner lives in Keller and is the UGA extension agent for Glynn County, serving South Bryan.