Spring Lawn Care

— Written By and last updated by Tamara Carawan
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Over the past few weeks, the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Pamlico County office has received numerous inquiries regarding early spring lawn care. Let’s discuss a few of these concerns and help get our turfgrass off to a good start.

First, let us discuss the issue of winter annual weed control. Given our early warm temperatures, many of our winter annual broadleaf weeds have grown very noticeable. Weeds such as Chickweed (Stellaria media), Hopclover (Trifolium campestre), and Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) germinate in the fall, slowly grow during winter, but explode in growth in the spring. Warm temperatures will eventually bring their death as they flower and set seed. Control of annual broadleaf weeds is best accomplished in early winter, with herbicide applications containing a combination of broadleaf weed killers. If we wait until early April, many of these plants are flowering and setting seed, and are far less responsive to herbicide. We must also consider that our turfgrass is just beginning to come out of winter dormancy (green up). Many of the available broadleaf herbicides that can be used in warm season turf (Bermuda, Zoysia, St. Augustine, Centipede) warn against applications until several weeks after spring green up or after several mowings. Centipedegrass, which is the predominate grass type in Pamlico County, is especially sensitive to herbicide products containing the active ingredient 2,4-D. As 2,4-D is common among our broadleaf weed killers, homeowners should read herbicide labels carefully and follow their directions. At this time, it is probably best to mow your turf and weeds, wait for good active growth, and then take control measures for whatever weeds might emerge. For recommendations on weed control, visit the NC State Extension TurfFiles website and explore the weeds tab. Within this site, you can select from numerous weeds found in North Carolina and find recommended control options.

A second issue involves fertilization. Warm-season grasses do not begin active growth until soil temperatures rise in the spring. Fertilization of Zoysia, Bermuda, and St. Augustine should probably be held until around April 15, when chances of frost are remote. Fertilization of centipedegrass, however, should be held off until May, when turf has been actively growing for several weeks. Early nitrogen applications on centipedegrass can be detrimental to growth. Centipedegrass is a low maintenance grass, requiring few inputs. A single application of nitrogen applied in May, at approximately 0.5 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet, is usually all that is required. On sandy soils, an additional 0.5 pound of nitrogen can be applied in July or August. Additional inputs of phosphorus are usually only required if a soil test makes a recommendation. High soil phosphorus levels are detrimental to centipedegrass, so it is best to only apply phosphorus if a soil test requires it. Potassium can be applied along with nitrogen, but it is probably best to start with a soil test to determine what that requirement will be. To learn more about fertilization and general maintenance of turfgrass, you should visit the NC State Extension TurfFiles website and review the lawn maintenance calendars available for each turf type.

lawn with large patch disease

Lastly, be on the lookout for a few pest-related issues. Going into winter, many lawns were showing signs of large patch disease (Rhizoctonia solani), which is usually most active during cool wet weather. As lawns green up, you may notice areas of circular brown dead grass that died as a result of large patch over winter. Many of these areas will slowly recover over the summer, but these locations are likely to have a repeat occurrence of disease. A spot application of fungicide applied during spring green up may help with the prevention of additional disease development. Large patch is best controlled on a preventative basis with targeted fungicides applied in the fall when soil temperatures begin to drop below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. For more information, check out the NC State Extension TurfFiles note on large patch.

large pic of a mole cricket in dirt

Another pest of concern that we should be on the lookout for is mole crickets. Mole crickets tunnel through turf pushing up roots and generally creating an unthrifty turf. Mole crickets can cause severe damage, especially in areas where homeowners are unaware of their existence. Insecticide applications applied in early spring may help reduce numbers of adult insects before they have a chance to lay eggs. Otherwise, June is traditionally the time for control when insects are small and more susceptible to insecticide. You can learn more about mole cricket control by visiting the NC State Extension TurfFiles note on mole crickets.

If you have additional questions or concerns for your turf, please visit our office or contact Daniel Simpson at 252-745-412 or daniel_simpson@ncsu.edu.