If you want your property to look fully finished and well tended, a well-kept lawn can help complete that image. Sowing a lawn and keeping it thriving in Florida, like most anywhere, can be challenging. By making the right decisions before and during the planting, however, you can eliminate some of the difficulties … Spring has sprung and that means getting your landscape to look its absolute best! Why not start out with some weed and feed? Read more about how and when to apply weed and feed to your spring landscape! Fighting lawn weeds in spring will reduce chores through the summer and into fall. Learn about chemical and organic weed-control methods.
How to Weed, Feed & Seed a Lawn in Florida
If you want your property to look fully finished and well tended, a well-kept lawn can help complete that image. Sowing a lawn and keeping it thriving in Florida, like most anywhere, can be challenging. By making the right decisions before and during the planting, however, you can eliminate some of the difficulties throughout the rest of the year. After the grass is up, proper care, such as feeding and weeding, keeps your lawn looking at its best.
Choose a drought-resistant grass, such as Bahiagrass, to make maintenance easier. According to the University of Florida, grasses like Bahiagrass do well in sandy soil, which is a plus in Florida, do not need a lot of fertilizing and have few problems with disease. The University of Florida also recommends buying scarified seed, if it’s available, which germinates faster.
- If you want your property to look fully finished and well tended, a well-kept lawn can help complete that image.
- Sowing a lawn and keeping it thriving in Florida, like most anywhere, can be challenging.
Seed your lawn during the spring or in the early summer. By planting early and giving the grass the entire summer to root, the lawn fully fills in before the fall and winter, when cold weather slows growth.
Till and rake the lawn area. Till until 1 to 2 inches of the top soil looks soft and rich, and rake to remove any debris pulled up during tilling, such as rocks and roots, which can interfere with seeding.
Use the correct amount of seed for your lawn area. According to the University of Florida, you should plant Bahiagrass at a rate of 10 lbs. per each 1,000 square feet. Other grass types vary greatly in the amount of seed needed, with centipedegrass requiring only 4 oz. of seed for every 1,000 square feet.
- Seed your lawn during the spring or in the early summer.
- Till until 1 to 2 inches of the top soil looks soft and rich, and rake to remove any debris pulled up during tilling, such as rocks and roots, which can interfere with seeding.
Spread the seed evenly around the lawn area. Throw the seed by hand or use a mechanical seeder to spread the seed. A mechanical seeder more evenly distributes the seed, according to the University of Florida.
Rake the lawn area lightly after seeding. Rake just enough to work the seed down into the soil, so 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil is on top.
Roll the entire lawn area to press the seed into the soil. Mulch with hay or straw to keep the seed from being washed away before it starts to root.
- Spread the seed evenly around the lawn area.
- Roll the entire lawn area to press the seed into the soil.
Wait to apply fertilizer to a newly seeded lawn until the grass establishes a root system. Fertilize for the first time after the grass has fully established and the lawn appears full.
Use a complete fertilizer to feed your newly planted lawn. The University of Florida recommends a 16-4-8 fertilizer.
Figure the amount of fertilizer needed for your lawn. The University of Florida recommends using ½ lb. of nitrogen if using water-soluble fertilizer or 1 lb. of nitrogen if using slow-release fertilizer for every 1,000 square feet of lawn.
- Wait to apply fertilizer to a newly seeded lawn until the grass establishes a root system.
- of nitrogen if using slow-release fertilizer for every 1,000 square feet of lawn.
Fertilize the lawn in the spring, after grass establishment, and again in the late summer or early fall. If the lawn is not thriving, fertilize up to four times in a summer.
Avoid mowing a newly seeded lawn until it is well established. Once it reaches a normal mowing height of 3 to 4 inches, mow the lawn to a height of 2 to 3 inches, depending on your personal preference.
Don’t use chemicals for weed control if the lawn hasn’t shown previous signs of weeds. With proper seeding and fertilization, many lawns never form weeds and the chemicals used to keep them at bay do more harm than good.
Create a barrier to prevent weed growth with pre-emergence herbicides in areas where weeds have been troublesome in the past. Pre-emergence herbicides prevent the weeds from coming up if applied at the right time of year. The University of Florida recommends an application date of February 1st for lawns in southern Florida, February 15th for lawns in central Florida and March 1st for lawns in northern Florida.
- Fertilize the lawn in the spring, after grass establishment, and again in the late summer or early fall.
- Once it reaches a normal mowing height of 3 to 4 inches, mow the lawn to a height of 2 to 3 inches, depending on your personal preference.
Pull weeds by hand throughout the growing season, or control weeds with post-emergence herbicides if they come up. Be careful when using post-emergence herbicides on lawns. Some types of grass, including Bahiagrass, suffer damage from post-emergence herbicides.
To determine the amount of nitrogen in a fertilizer bag, multiply the percentage of nitrogen by the total weight of the bag. Since 16-4-8 fertilizer has 16 percent nitrogen, a 100 lb. bag of the fertilizer contains 16 lbs. of nitrogen. With 1 lb. for every 1,000 square feet, the fertilizer should cover 1,600 square feet of lawn.
Stay away from fertilizers with added chemicals to reduce weeds. These can damage some lawn grasses.
When is a Good Time to Apply Weed and Feed?
As soon as the winter months are over, legions of homeowners rush outside to check how their lawns survived the cold. Most of them will head inside with disappointment. If you are among the majority of Americans with sad-looking lawns this spring, you may already be planning to wake it up with a quick application of weed and feed over the weekend. But before taking the trip to your local garden store to pick up a few bottles, there are several good reasons why using weed and feed now may not be the best idea for the health of your grass. It is important to know when to apply weed and feed.
What is Weed and Feed?
The term “weed and feed” is a general term for a number of products. Most of these products combine post-emergent broadleaf herbicides to kill weeds such as dandelions and clovers with fertilizers to give your lawn a quick dose of the nutrients it needs after a tough winter. Weed and feed products are produced by most major lawn care manufacturers and come as a ready-to-go liquid or in a dry granular form.
Deciding When to Apply Weed and Feed
Timing is everything when it comes to lawn care. If you apply weed and feed too early, you risk the chance that you will miss attacking the weeds that have not yet started to grow, and they will survive the application. But, on the other hand, if you wait too long, your grass won’t get the nutrition it needs to grow well. The ideal time to apply weed and feed is in the early spring, just about the same time that you notice your lawn needs the first trim of the season.
Besides choosing the best time of the year to apply weed and feed to your lawn, you need to keep an eye on the weekly weather forecast as well. Avoid treating your lawn with weed and feed when the weatherman predicts rain is on the way. A spring storm shortly after an application will dilute the herbicide too much to be effective. If a surprise downpour does happen to catch you off-guard, you should not reapply the treatment because you will then risk overfeeding your lawn.
Tips For Success with Your Weed and Feed Application
Even when you choose the perfect time and weather for a weed and feed treatment, things can still go wrong. You can increase the chance of a successful application by following these tips:
- Your grass should be between 3 to 5 inches tall.
- Use a sprinkler to moisten your lawn lightly before applying the weed and feed treatment.
- Don’t water your lawn for 48 hours using weed and feed.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid over treating your lawn.
Do you want your lawn to look outstanding this year? Why not work with the landscaping experts at Green Acres Landscape Inc. Green Acres Landscape has been helping home and business owners create beautiful outdoor spaces since 1992. Whether you need routine landscaping maintenance or help with a new project, Green Acres Landscape can help. Call 503-399-8066 or book an appointment online.
Spring Control of Lawn Weeds
Kelly Burke is a professional turf manager for a manicured corporate campus in New England. He is accredited in organic land care and is a licensed pesticide applicator. He formerly managed the turfgrass as a golf course superintendent and has held several senior management positions at private country clubs overseeing high maintenance lawns.
Amanda Rose Newton holds degrees in Horticulture, Biochemistry, Entomology, and soon a PhD in STEM Education. She is a board-certified entomologist and volunteers for USAIDs Farmer to Farmer program. Currently, she is a professor of Horticulture, an Education Specialist, and pest specialist.
twomeows / Getty Images
Controlling lawn weeds is an ongoing battle, especially if you are the type of homeowner who insists upon a lush, deep-green lawn devoid of anything but the recognized turf-grass species. And this is not a battle you win with a single-time effort. Wind, birds, your lawnmower, and even your feet are constantly delivering new weed seeds to your lawn. Many of these seeds will dwell in the soil for as much as 50 years, awaiting the right moment to germinate, sprout, and torment you with their presence.
Don’t give up, however. While achieving and keeping that dream lawn does require some year-round attention, a diligent approach in spring means you’ll spend more time enjoying your lawn and less time maintaining it through the summer and into fall.
Types of Weed Killers
The chemical weedkillers (herbicides) most commonly used on lawns can be formulated to kill broadleaf weeds like dandelions and chickweed, or they can be designed to kill other competing grass-like weeds, such as crabgrass, quackgrass, and nutgrass. There are also combination products, containing the chemicals to kill both broadleaf weeds as well as grassy weeds.
Beyond this, chemical herbicides come in two general categories: pre-emergent and post-emergent. A pre-emergent herbicide is a weed killer applied prior to the germination of the weed seed and the subsequent emergence of the weed seedling from the soil. Pre-emergent herbicides are sometimes applied in the late fall in warm-weather regions, but in cold-weather regions, they are usually applied in the early spring before the turf grasses have begun to actively grow. One advantage of pre-emergent weed killers is that they can prevent mid and late-summer weeds, such as plantains, before they even appear.
In the pre-emergent class, chemicals like dithiopyr (Dimension) and pendimethalin (Lesco’s Pre-M, Scotts’ Halts) prevent all seeds from germinating, including grass seed. You should be aware that grass seed cannot be applied for 6 to 12 weeks after application, depending on the specific product. Another chemical, siduron (Tupersan) prevents only weed seeds from starting, allowing grass seeds to germinate. However, it is costlier and best used sparingly.
Post-emergence herbicides are a different class entirely. They are applied as weeds begin to appear in the lawn, as they must come into contact with actively growing leaves in order to do their work. These herbicides are generally applied at various intervals in late spring through summer, as weeds enter their periods of most intense growth.
Most post-emergent chemicals are considered selective herbicides, in that they are formulated to kill only certain classes of lawn plants while leaving desirable turf grasses untouched. There is another class of herbicides known as non-selective, which will kill any growing plant. The best-known of these is Round-Up, but there are other similar products, Nearly all of them contain a chemical known as glyphosate, well-known as a general plant killer. Glyphosate-based herbicides are sometimes carefully applied to spot-treat individual weeds that resist other methods, but the only time you would consider using major applications on a lawn is if you want to kill it off entirely prior to creating a new lawn through seeding or sodding. Plenty of people have ruined lawns by broadly applying glyphosate by mistake.
Glyphosate is a controversial chemical. It was initially touted as a plant killer that was quickly rendered inactive upon contact with common soil microbes, and was thus preferred to chemicals that persisted in the soil and could run off and enter groundwater supplies. This advantage is quite real. However, glyphosate is now thought to also pose health risks, especially for farmers and other workers who handle the chemical frequently and in large concentrations. The dangers are probably low for homeowners who use it occasionally as a landscape herbicide for spot application and who follow label directions exactly, but it is important to avoid skin contact or breathing the spray mist.
It’s critical to choose the right chemical weed killer to address the specific weeds that are appearing in your lawn.
Many people are reluctant to use synthetic chemicals of any kind on a lawn for environmental reasons. For these homeowners, there are a variety of organic herbicides that can be tried, ranging from ordinary household vinegar to commercial preparations that usually contain a combination of vinegar, salts, and soaps.
Spot Treatment Is Better Than Broadcast Application
It’s no surprise that manufacturers of lawn care products, many of which publish a lot of online advice articles, insist that applying lots of chemicals over the entire lawn is the best way to control weeds. Their advice begins with broadcast application of pre-emergent herbicides in the fall or early spring, and continues with at least one, and preferably multiple, widespread applications of post-emergent herbicides at different intervals through the spring.
The advice becomes much different when you consult academic sources, such as the lawn-science departments at various universities. These scientific experts understand the dangers that over-application of herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers pose to water sources through run-off, and here the advice is always to treat weeds in the least toxic method possible, avoiding broad applications of chemicals whenever possible.
Instead, they argue it is best to avoid chemical means if possible, and if they are unavoidable, to spot-treat individual weeds with a spot-targeted spray rather than to spray or spread a dense layer of chemical over the entire lawn. Spot-treating weeds may sound like a lot of work, but a homeowner soon finds that it’s not a great burden to follow weekly lawn-mowing chores by walking the lawn with a hand sprayer and applying a small dab of weed killer to the weeds that are spotted. Over time, as most of the weeds are killed, it becomes relatively quick work .
Avoid Weed-and-Feed Products
One practice that nearly all academic lawn-science experts frown upon is the use of combination weed-and-feed products that combine both pre-emergent or post-emergent herbicides and fertilizer products in one granular or spray-on product. These products were developed and marketed by lawn chemical companies with the promise of saving time by applying the fertilizer and herbicide all at the same time.
The problem is that the optimal time for feeding a lawn is much different than the optimal time for applying weed killers. If you time the application for the optimal feeding time, then it’s too late for the herbicides to work effectively, and the chemicals generally run off into water supplies. In fact, some countries, such as Canada, have banned the use of combination weed-and-feed products entirely.
To this day, lawn chemical companies fiercely argue that these products are safe and effective, while university-based lawn-science expert argue with equal ferocity that they should be avoided or even outlawed. Generally speaking, it is a better practice to apply fertilizers and weed killers separately, at the times most appropriate for their effectiveness.
Homeowners devoted to environmentally sound gardening practices are always on the lookout for organic, non-chemical means of dealing with lawn weeds. For pre-emergent lawn weed control, the only truly organic strategy is to use corn gluten meal.
Corn gluten is a well-known feed meal commonly used on hog farms, but it was also discovered to have pre-emergent characteristics for preventing crabgrass and other lawn weeds. However, for corn gluten to be effective, the application has to be very carefully timed, laid down just before the weed seeds germinate. And because weeds germinate at different times, corn gluten may require multiple applications. Applied just a few days too late, and the corn gluten becomes a fertilizer that causes weeds to grow even more vigorously. Thus, the early promise of corn gluten has now been tempered by the reality—it is hard to use effectively.
There are a variety of post-emergent home remedies for controlling weeds, including spraying them with a solution containing household vinegar or dish soap. There are also commercial preparations that contain no synthetic chemicals. These usually are some combination of vinegar, soaps, and salts. You can also use a flame torch to kill weeds with pure heat.
The most environmentally friendly method of all is to kill or remove the weeds by hand. This is most practical for small lawns, but it is feasible even for large lawns. Gardeners who stay on top of the duties beginning in early spring soon find that a lawn can become quite clean as the seed-producing weeds are gradually eradicated. There are a variety of helpful tools for removing lawn weeds by hand. One of the most useful is the “weed popper,” which allows you to pull up a weed, roots and all, from a standing position.
Spending an hour or so once a week pulling weeds by hand after mowing is completed can keep a lawn largely free of most weeds.
Common Lawn Weeds That Appear in Spring
There are a variety of common lawn weeds to deal with, which can be categorized according to leaf shape—broadleaf weeds vs. grassy weeds. Or, they can be categorized by their seasonal growth habit—annual weeds vs. perennial weeds.
The types of weeds you fight will vary depending on the region where you live—some are more problematic in warm growing zones, while others are unknown except in colder regions with freezing winters. Here are some of the more common weeds you may encounter beginning in spring:
Crabgrass (Digitaria spp): Crabgrass gets its name from the leaves, which form a tight, crab-like circle. This annual weed tends to appear in weak or bare areas of a lawn. Both over- and under-watering favor its growth, as does consistently mowing the lawn too short. Crabgrass can be treated with pre-emergence herbicides in the spring, which will keep the seeds from sprouting, or they can be treated with post-emergent herbicides as the weeds are noticed, beginning in spring. Check with your local extension office or a reputable garden center to fine-tune timing in your region. Crabgrass clumps can also be removed by hand, which is best done when the lawn is quite moist.
Quackgrass (Elymus repens): At first glance, quackgrass looks a lot like crabgrass, but it is typically a cool-season grass that spreads by rhizomes without the shallow clumping habit of crabgrass. This is a perennial weed that can be very hard to eradicate. While there are both pre-emergent and post-emergent herbicides that will stunt quackgrass, the best solution is often to very carefully apply a broad-spectrum, glyphosate-based herbicide that kills the weed, roots and all. This is a very hard weed to remove by hand, since the roots are very tenacious and far-reaching.
Dandelion (Taraxacum spp.): One homeowner’s lawn weed is another’s wildflower, and nowhere is this more true than with the colorful dandelion, an icon of late spring. Many a homeowner fumes over neighbors who allow this prolific annual plant to thrive, as a single flower head allowed to go to seed can blow many thousands of seeds around the neighborhood. This common weed/wildflower can be prevented by some pre-emergent herbicides, though the application needs to be quite thick. More appropriately, it can be spot treated with a post-emergent herbicide or very careful spot application of a broad-spectrum glyphosate-based plant killer. Try to kill this weed before it flowers and sets seeds.
Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea): Sometimes known as “ground ivy,” creeping Charlie is a perennial creeping plant with tiny heart-shaped leaves and indigo-colored flowers. While there are those homeowners who like its appearance and allow it to roam freely as a ground cover for shady areas, most people rue the day that it arrives in the yard. Charlie spreads quickly both through self-seeding and creeping stolons. Although the roots are fairly shallow, this is a very hard plant to remove by hand. A selective broadleaf herbicide, preferably applied as a spray spot treatment, is an effective approach, although you may find it takes multiple applications. With lawns extremely infested, some homeowners opt to kill off the entire lawn with a non-selective glyphosate-based herbicide, then start over from scratch by seeding or sodding a new lawn. While organic gardeners are constantly looking for low-impact, natural ways to combat Charlie, most of the methods used—such as applying Borax or baking soda—have not shown much long-term effectiveness.
Wild Violets (Viola spp.) : This is another plant that more organically-minded gardeners may view as a wildflower, choosing to encourage rather than fight it. And it’s true the heart-shaped leaves and purple or white flowers can be quite attractive as a ground-cover. For areas where traditional turf grass won’t thrive, a ground cover dominated by wild violets is not a bad choice. But if you do decide to combat wild violets, they are best approached with a spot treatment of broadleaf herbicide. Fall is the best time for major treatment, but violets that pop up in the spring should be treated as you spot them. These clump-forming weeds are also easy to remove by hand if the ground is nice and moist. Some people have good luck coating the leaves with ordinary dish soap, which starves the plant of oxygen.
Chickweed (stellaria media): This is a very pesky annual plant that appears all across the U.S. as low-growing vine-like stems with small egg-shaped leaves and tiny white flowers. While major infestations are best treated with a pre-emergent herbicide applied in fall, plants that appear in spring can be spot-treated with a post-emergent broadleaf herbicide. Chickweed is also fairly readily killed by spraying with ordinary household white vinegar. Keep your lawn mowed short to prevent the plant from flowering and setting seeds.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea): This annual weed grows in low mats with reddish stems and oval-shaped succulent leaves. It becomes a more severe problem in the humid, hot days of later summer, but you may see early plants appear in spring. It is a fairly easy plant to prevent by application of a granular pre-emergent herbicide, and it is readily killed by spot treating with a post-emergent broadleaf herbicide. And it is quite easy to break off the plant at ground level, which will prevent it from flowering and setting seeds. This may be the best choice of all, as purslane is an exceedingly healthful plant that rivals spinach for sheer nutritional value. It can be eaten raw in salads or sauteed as a side dish. Naturally, it should not be harvested for eating if you have applied any herbicide in the area.
Clover: The reputation of white clover (Trifolium repens) has undergone many iterations over the years. Years ago, it was deliberately included in lawn grass seed mixes, but as expansive suburban lawns of pure green became the vogue, clover began to be considered a lawn weed, with great efforts made to eradicate it from lawns. Today, it is coming back in style for a variety of reasons. Clovers are good low-moisture ground-covers that are also much favored by pollinator bees who feed on the flower pollen. Clover lawns require less mowing, and the plants fix nitrogen in the soil, meaning that the lawn will require less fertilization. It is not at all uncommon today to find homeowners introducing clover into their lawns through regular over-seeding. Before you make efforts to eradicate it, consult a local university extension service for their advice. If you do decide to treat clover as a weed, it is best treated with a post-emergent herbicide applied locally to spots where the clover appears.
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