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Guidelines for autumn lawn care

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POSTED: September 14, 2011 10:00 p.m.

The 9/11 observances are past and football is back – two sure signs of fall. Another is the big-box advertising for fall lawn fertilizers – after the fall deadline for autumn fertilizer for most of us has passed.
At times, I wonder if the poor timing is just national marketing not caring about local or regional conditions or if it is deliberate.
One of the best ways to get people to spend more money than they should on their lawns is to sell them the wrong thing at the wrong time. For instance, the weed and feed shows up on big-box store floors in February, when everyone is ready for winter to end and spring to start.
In Coastal Georgia, pre-emerge herbicides should be put down in September for winter weed control and then again in February or March for spring weeds. If homeowners were just putting down herbicide, that timing would be fine, but this is a weed and feed. It has fertilizer in it.
Our window for fertilizer on Southern lawns is May through August, with a few turfs getting by with an early September application. Homeowners wind up either putting fertilizer on too early or herbicide too late.
So what makes this a big deal? Everybody out there making a home in your lawn wants that nitrogen. Yes, the grass wants it, but so do the fungi, insects and weeds. If one applies nitrogen when the grass roots are not active, the fungi, weeds and insects get a bigger dose of nitrogen and get stronger. Now why was it you wanted to apply weed and feed?
I saw phosphorous-free fall lawn fertilizer being advertised in September. If you have a St. Augustine lawn, you can use it this month if you do not have any take-all patch active in your lawn. If you do have take-all patch, make sure the nitrogen is a slow release source.
However, most of us have centipede lawns, which rarely get take-all patch, and our last fertilizer application should have been applied in early August. A phosphorous-free fertilizer is just what we want for our centipede lawns, but we want in May through August.
If you have purchased this fertilizer and have not put it down yet, don’t panic, and don’t apply it now. Find a cool, dry place for it and store it for use next May on your lawn. You can count on the same fertilizer being more expensive next spring.
In fact, finding phosphorous-free fertilizer is not that easy in this area. This might be a good time to lay in a supply for next year.
University of Georgia fertilizer recommendations for centipede lawns are built on a 15-0-15 fertilizer, which supplies the nitrogen and potassium we need without the phosphorus we don’t. If you can find a 15-0-15 with slow-release nitrogen, call me. I could use some for next year.
What you want to do now is get the first pre-emerge herbicide applied to the lawn this month. Late this month or in early October, I recommend applying a pre-emerge herbicide for winter weeds.
There are several good materials from which to choose: Surflan 4AS, Balan 2.5G, Crabgrass Preventer 2.5G or 1.75G, Halts 1.72G, Team 2G or XL 2G.
Any one of these will do a good job. Shop based on the price per treatment. Buy enough to make two applications: one for this month and another for February or March to control spring weeds.
If you have weed and feed, it can be used in the middle of the growing season next year – June, July and August – to control post-emergent broadleaf weeds or as a pre-emerge for grassy weeds, depending on what the herbicide active ingredient is.
It is not that a particular fertilizer, weed and feed or herbicide is good or bad. The issue is matching the product to the appropriate landscape need at the most appropriate time.
Timing is everything, like bringing home flowers to your wife for no apparent reason. It seems to have a much better effect than bringing them home only after you mess up.

Gardner is the extension agent for Bryan County. He can be reached at dgardner@uga.edu.

 

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