You know that you missed the chance to address your fescue lawn last fall, and now you want to know what you should do. This is a discussion that we have on an almost daily basis. Someone comes in and admits that they know they need to get on a healthy maintenance schedule, but they don’t know if they should start now or just wait until next fall.
The answer may surprise you. There is never a bad time to start a lawn maintenance plan (unless it is one of those rare years that we actually get some snow and ice here in Atlanta). OK, so that may not necessarily be 100% accurate. You probably don’t want to do anything from late November to early February. Other than that, you can jump in at any time to develop the healthy habits that you need to ensure a healthy lawn.
Spring is for Pre-Emergents
There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that if you take the time to apply pre-emergents at the right time, you will kill the weed seeds as they try to germinate. Most people think of weed killers as the answer. They see the weed and want to kill it now. Weed preventers need to be applied just before the soil gets warm. The bad news is that we’ve had a very early spring here in Atlanta, which means the soil has long been warm. This equates to weeds that have already germinated and emerged. You can use spot killers now, but be sure to use a product that will not kill your grass as well.
Here in Atlanta and north Georgia, crabgrass preventer is what you need to apply in late February to late March. This prevents crabgrass and other annual weedy grasses while promoting a lush, green lawn. Often, these applications include a slow-release nitrogen that will feed your turf. Best practice is to apply it when the surface soil temperatures reach 55 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 straight days or more.
Typically, April welcomes the opportunity to put out some weed & feed. We sell Green Thumb and Scotts weed & feed, but most weed & feed brands will control common broadleaf weeds, including dandelion, plantain, chickweed, knotweed, henbit, and spurge. They also have a high nitrogen content (that first number in the product description, such as 29-0-3.) Slow release nitrogen will promote foliage growth.
Recommendations are that you apply weed & feed 6 to 8 weeks after your last application of crabgrass preventer. If you’re deciding that now is the time to develop a healthy maintenance schedule, this is the product you want to start with right now (Today being April 2, 2012.) I will warn you not to be disappointed with the results of this one application. You will not spread this product on your turf and see immediate results. However, you are creating the habit of getting on a schedule. You are also kickstarting your lawn on a healthy diet of fertilizers.
Over the next few months and into the summer, you’ll want to follow up with fertilizers that add sulfur and iron to your lawn. This will continue to improve the growth of your lawn and will add a deep green color.
We’re used to watering restrictions here in Atlanta, but that is no excuse for giving up and not watering at all. Even if we are on restrictions due to drought, you will likely be allowed to water every other day. If this is the case, it is even more important to ensure that you are watering efficiently and correctly.
Morning (before noon) is best because it allows the grass to dry before nightfall. Over the course of a week, it is best if your lawn gets an inch of water. It is better to spread the waterings over a couple times per week. Be sure to take into account any rainfall that may occur.
The optimal time for seeding fescue in Atlanta is the fall. There is no way around that. With the heat that we get in the summer, if you don’t allow enough time for your new fescue seed to develop a strong root system, it will turn yellow and die. If you absolutely feel like you must plant this spring, soil preparation and timing is everything. You must break up the
soil clay and will probably need to add some loose top soil that will give it a chance to germinate and have a good foundation for root growth. Aerating the lawn might be something to consider if your ground is hard and packed.
Another frequently asked question is how much seed should be thrown out. A lot of folks think that if you throw more seed out, it will give the grass a better chance to survive. The opposite is true. You actually invite disease and fungus by not allowing the seed some space to grow.
What else Bugs You?
Another need that many people fail to recognize is the application of late spring and summer lawn insect control. Most people tend to address insect control like they do weeds. Spot application is not as effective as a total preventative application. Spot application should be done as needed, but it should not take the place of an overall insect control strategy. As mentioned before, we have had an earlier spring this year than in past years. Now is the time to minimize the number of insects that will hatch in your lawn.
While some insects are not harmful to your turf, others could negate all your hard work. Some insects will damage the grass itself and could cause disease, while other insects become food for other critters that will tunnel under your turf. These animals, such as moles, can damage root system and kill your grass. Most preventative solutions will attack the food source of these animals. If there’s no food for them, they should steer clear of your yard.
The last product you will apply each calendar year will be a lawn winterizer. This is formulated to prepare your turf for winter dormancy. Special root-building nutrients encourage stronger and healthier seedlings. In the south, you’ll apply a winterizer sometime between September and mid November. It will protect your turf over the winter and prepare it for a better spring.
This article has focused on cool grasses, such as fescue, but getting on a regular maintenance schedule is important for warm grasses, like bermuda, too. Adding reminders to your calendar ensures that you won’t forget when to apply the appropriate product on your lawn. Your lawn will be healthier and you’ll feel better about it too.
There is no better time than now to start a healthy lawn maintenance schedule, because it is an ongoing cycle.
True Value and GreenThumb has created a handy maintenance calendar that you download here that shows the product and best time to apply it to your lawn.