Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
March, 2007
Regional Report

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Holes left from aeration will create areas for grass seed to lodge and come in contact with the soil.

Early Spring Lawn Care

Homeowners and gardeners all over the region are just itching to start taking care of their lawns with the arrival of warmer weather. You can start to get some things ready, but you can also delay other lawn care activities. Follow the cue of Mother Nature and the growth of grasses and weeds, as well as insect activity to help determine the timing of various chores. This is especially true for fertilizing your lawn.

The best time to apply the first full fertilizer application of the growing season is during the latter part of April to early May. Select a fertilizer with an analysis of 4-2-1, 2-2-1, or 5-1-2. My preference is to apply an organic fertilizer that contains slow-release sources of nitrogen so the grass plants are not overstimulated to grow too rapidly. Too-early applications of high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer increase the potential for leaf spot diseases that can stress and weaken the grass.

Early spring is definitely one of the optimum times to control annual grassy weeds. Typically, weeds such as crabgrass, goosegrass, and barnyard grass are best controlled by pre-emergence herbicides. The preemergent forms a barrier in the soil and is absorbed by germinating seeds and small seedlings. This will kill the germinating weeds before they see the light of day. Choose a nontoxic option made from corn gluten meal; it's marketed under different brand names.

Preemergent Herbicide
Timing of application is very important with preemergent herbicides. They are to be applied before the annual grasses emerge from the soil. Crabgrass will start to germinate when soil temperatures are around 60 degrees F at the surface for about 5 consecutive days. Many of the other annual grasses, including foxtail, goosegrass, barnyard grass, and others germinate as the soil gets warmer than 60 degrees.

Using forsythia bloom as a guide to applying a preemergent is not always dependable since blooming times vary. Generally, for the central Rocky Mountain region, mid to late April is the suggested time for applying a preemergent crabgrass control. In the southern part of the region, make the application one to two weeks earlier. Applications can be made one to two weeks later in the northern part of the region and in mountainous areas. Just remember that soil temperature is the most precise method for timing applications.

Late March and all of April are ideal times to reseed older lawns that are thinning. Before broadcasting the seed, take time to thoroughly rake and core-aerate the lawn. This early preparation will create an excellent environment for the seed to germinate.

To be successful, it is crucial to plant the seed so that it's in contact with the soil. All the holes left from aeration will provide places for the seed to lodge and come in contact with the soil. After overseeding, it's critical to maintain a moist seedbed for the germination period of 14 to 20 days. Small, undeveloped root systems make grass seedlings more prone to damage caused by drying.

A little attention now, without jumping out of the chute too soon, will help get your lawn off to a great start.

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