Saturday, October 25, 2014

Basic Turf Plan for Texas

There are two main kinds of turfgrass in Texas. Bermuda and St. Augustine. They have different needs, requirements, and faults. There are similarities though. All turfgrass requires fertilizer, when and how much is variable, but they all need Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. Those are the three main numbers on a bag of fertilizer, whether it comes in a plain brown wrapper or a fancy label with glossy pictures of green, thick turf. I really do not care at all what sort of packaging they put on it. I want to know what is on the label, the thing the Feds tell the manufacturer must be on the package if they want to market it as a fertilizer. Not all fertilizer is created equally. A 21-0-0 might be radically different than a 12-0-0 in ways than the amount of N it contains. There are actually quite a few elements required by green growing things. The mnemonic I was taught goes like this:
C Hopkins Cafe managed by mine cousin Mo Clyde. That is Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Nitrogen, Sulfur, Calcium, Iron, Manganese, Boron, Copper, Zinc, Molybdenum, Chlorine..I am missing one, that is 15, supposed to be 16. Hmm, been a while. Anyhow the idea is that there are the three main ones of Nitrogen(N), Phosphorus(P), and Potassium(K) and the building blocks of Hydrogen, Oxygen and Carbon. The micro-nutrients (meaning very small amounts needed) of Manganese, Molybdenum, etc are sometimes found in a sack of fertilizer and sometimes not. Sulfur,Calcium and Iron are in between these two sets. They might be in presence somewhat less than the NPK amounts, but greater than the micros. A typical addition of iron and sulfur might be 5 and 10%. This gets to be important when we take into account our soils. A sandy East Texas soil has different chemistry than a red clay in Abilene, which is different than the reddish sandy clay of the Cross Timbers, which is totally different than the Blackland Prairie that runs from north of DFW all the way down to the coast and which is somewhat similar to the mottled gray clay of the Stephenville, Dublin, Comanche areas. Some of it has to do with texture. A sand sheds water fast, a clay holds it like a sponge and hence the nitrogen solution of our watered in fertilizer might leach out of a sand soil more quickly than in a heavy clay or a sand with more clay in it. Y'all keeping up? Let's sum up: There are several kinds of dirt, two main kinds of grass and you gotta feed them both and what that might be varies.

Here take a break and be glad we have motorized lawnmowers. Ponder that a moment. A motor perched on whirling blades that we may or may not get to ride upon. Awesome. Ok, let's keep going.

When do I feed my turf?
I had a doc of grass tell us in a seminar once that a lawn in early spring is like a start-up company, a whole lotta of outgoing and not a lot of incoming. A big stressful situation might crater it entirely. That means when your turf is first waking up from a long dormant winter of perhaps some ice and certainly some hard freezes which ceased its production of carbohydrates it is under stress. It is living off the stored up energy it produced earlier. If I throw a couple pounds of N per thousand sq ft. It is going to force it to use that stored carbo faster. My outgo might exceed my incoming. Again we are talking about sugars. plants take those 16 elements and wheedle them into a sugar. With sunlight, chlorophyll and some good old water, they combine carbon, hydrogen and oxygen to make sugars. Magical even. What that all means is you gotta be patient. The standard rule is to wait until you see a 30% green up or in other words, put it off about as long as you can stand it. That might be Easter weekend. It might be April Fools Day. It might be Tax Day. It will not be Valentine's Day. Unless we get an exceptionally warm March then it is unlikely that we need to feed before the first of April. A good average first feed is about Tax Day or mid-April.

But I am already seeing green growing weeds in my yard. Won't feeding them make them bigger and tougher to kill?
Not necessarily, in fact it might make them more susceptible to my chemical attack. You want them happy and healthy, thinking everything is just peachy when you spray them with an insidious chemical that invades their happy world and wrecks them.

Weeds are on their own schedule. What we aim to do is either get ahead of them and round up the stragglers. There are basically three kinds of weeds; grassy ones, broadleafed and sedges. Sedges look like grasses, but we have to use different chemicals to control them. Grassy ones are a little more problematic. There are some particular ones that require extreme measures. We can get to those later. The vast majority of what we call weeds fall into the category of what is called 'broadleafed weeds' this includes but is not limited to: clover, dandelions, plantains, henbit, chickweed, and about fifty-five other ones. There are several formulations available. The product that is marketed to ranchers under the name of Grazon is the same basic blend that is sold to homeowners called Weed-B-Gone by Ortho. There are three main ingredients, sometimes they play up that fact and call it something like Trimec or Three-Way. They are 2,4-D, Dicamba and Mecoprop. There may or may not be some additional chems in there. Those are the three main ones. This formulation is actually a restricted pesticide. You say wait wait you said homeowners in there but it's restricted? Yes, to both. Here's how it's restricted. Go into your local Tractor Supply. Go over to the chemical section. You will find this same blend in a quart size and a 2.5 gallon size. Homeowner can buy the quart, but unless you have a license of some kind you ain't buying the big size. You are restricted in how much you can purchase of this blend of chemicals at one time. That's how it's restricted. Let's get our quart of stuff and go kill some weeds.

Get a sprayer. A fifteen dollar one gallon from Home Depot is fine. A fifty dollar fancy one that pumps itself while you pull it is fine too(price may not reflect reality). But get one you feel comfortable with and is big enough to do your job. Read the label. Tear off the little booklet carefully and store it somewhere safe after removal. Keep it, you are going to need it.

Friends and neighbors, I say again, read the label for lo and behold Ortho has TWO products with the moniker of Weed-B-Gon. but one is PLUS CRABGRASS KILLER. Ho there, wait just a minute, plus crabgrass killer? Why yes. Exactly what is this crabgrass killer? Oh that is Quinclorac. I see

thanks, will pass. I want the regular, plain old Weed-B-Gon. But wait again, what is this on my label?

  • Active Ingredients

    13.72% MCPA (can't fool me, that is still 2,4-D)
    1.56% Triclopyr (no mecoprop, but this instead?ok....was going to save that for stumps later)
    1.35% Dicamba (yep, still works doesn't it? stinkers)

I gotta go see about Tractor Supply now, this is getting interesting. 

And what do I find? Gordon's Trimec. 5.99 for a pint. Outstanding. Now, this is what a label ought to look like. On chart 3 I see it calls for one ounce per gallon. That's spiffy too. Let's do this thing. 

I go over to my hose and I put some kind of shut off valve on the end of it. I get my tablespoon which will hereafter ONLY be used for chemicals. I put on my good rubber gloves. I also get my leftover liquid dish soap and a teaspoon, which also will never ever be used for anything but chemicals and I arrange them neatly with my newly purchased jug of Trimecky sort of stuff and my newly assembled sprayer and I turn the water on, a little. Not full blast because I had just as soon not blast me and the general vicinity with the rinsate of my spoon nor do I want to knock my sprayer across the patio. I open the valve, squeeze the trigger on my pistol grip spray nozzle and put some water in the tank. 
I don't care if after you let the pressure out it is sorta dribbling. So what? I have all day. I AM NOT GETTING BLASTED IN THE FACE WITH NASTY ASS HOSEWATER. After I put a couple of inches of water in the jug I get out my chemical. Tear off the label and dispose of it properly. Add my two tablespoons equaling one ounce into my jug. I now add one teaspoon of liquid soap to make it stick on the plant well. I am glad if the manufacturer has kindly included an additional surfactant, but I lack confidence in their proprietary blend and so I make sure this stuff sticks A  that dang clover that seems to be taking over that area near the pecan. I fill up my container to the proper marked level. A big fat black marksalot line on the jug at the requisite gallon mark does wonders for speed and reliably hitting the correct amount of water. Now, let's go kill something.

I don't have to spray it to the point where it is dripping off the leaves. I don't want to barely spritz it either. I want a good coverage, but not to the point of run off. I walk back and forth in a pattern so that I don't miss areas. I continue to do this until I run out of mix or weeds, whichever comes first. If I hit one twice, so be it. If I miss one I know I can spot the healthy one in a couple of weeks at which time I can go over it again. 

When do I do this? Whenever I have weeds. There is no set schedule. At the job I never stop. There is always another weed to spray. At the house? On an as needed basis. If we do the next step in the process, the pre-emergent applications, this post-emergent spraying will be minimized. So, let's talk about the least used and little understood part of the yard. Getting ahead of the game. 

Pre-emergents will save your time and money. If I can prevent or kill upon germination a weed, then I have done my job in keeping the turf weed free (or close to it, Augusta this ain't). There are several on the market these days. They vary in price and target weeds. Most will do a good job, though there are some which have been used so many times that resistant populations are beginning to develop. The one I most commonly recommend is one called pendimethalin. It is marketed as Pre-M. It will contain some fertilizer, one blend for during the growing season and another for during dormancy. The kind I am going to recommend for use is the version that has 0-0-7 on the label. The little bit of Potassium is not going to make your grass green up in December, no matter if we had 90 degrees F last week. But it will keep the dandelions that seem to be popping up from continuing to germinate. It is a bright canary yellow product. Looks about the same shape and size as regular fertilizer, but it is very very yellow. It is of low toxicity. Don't worry about the dogs, cats, horses or birds being poisoned by it. Our goal is to water it into the top layer of soil anyhow so any exposure to living things walking around should be limited to the time of application. Figure out how big your area is going to be. Pace it off at least. It does not have to be hyper accurate, but you gotta be in the same zip code at least. Lets say your front yard is about 100 by 50, give or take a corner or two by the A/C and trash cans. That is 5000ft sq. Our label calls for 4.5lbs per thousand. A solid heaped cup is about a pound. So four and a half cups, (per thousand)give a little extra is ok. (not nine or ten please, doubling it is not 'a little extra') And I put that in my handy dandy spreader and get after it. I see that i have carelessly flung a bunch all down the sidewalk and half way across the porch. I do NOT use the water hose to wash it off. I get my broom or blower and I chuck that stuff back into the bushes or turf. Oh didn't mention it was safe for up under the bushes Sure is, fling some there too. Same rate, no big deal.  Water it in. A good soaking water. Set out some empty tin cans of tuna or whatever container you prefer and when you see a half inch of water in it, you are done. If you know there is a good rain coming, hustle out there and get it done. 

When should I do this? This is where it gets a little sketchy. If I expect this product to last for nine months I am dreaming. If I expect it to last thirty days, that is over doing it too. I should figure on about 60 days or two months. If I start seeing things popping up in the corners where my application might be thinner at day 45, that is about right. Time to start thinking about another application. 

a good schedule might go something like this

January: spray stray weeds on nice days. If it is green and growing, it is probably a weed. 
February: first application of the new year of pre-emergent. keep hunting strays with the spray
March: keep hunting strays. Has the yard woken up yet? Maybe, just a little. Wait then.
April: I have mowed a couple of times, and weeds are starting to pop in corners. I put down another round of pre-emergent and my fertilizer. What is the special this week? I do not buy Scott's Bonus S. I get some sulfur coated or otherwise slow release fertilizer from the Feed Store or other seller of fertilizer. I want it to have the micros, iron and about 20% or better of nitrogen. I care not about the phosphorus, I am marginally interested in the potassium. I put it out not too heavily. Somewhere around 2-3 lbs of product per thousand sq feet. 
May: I mow, a lot. I do not do anything else except water and mow.
June: Starting to show some weeds again. I spray the stragglers and do another round of feeding and pre-emergent. I skip the food for my St.Augustine since I do not want to promote fungal issues. 
July:more mow and water
August: summer gotta end soon. It is so dang hot. Mow, water, yeah yeah.
September: finally. Time for more food and pre-m.(including St. Aug) A few straggler weeds here and there, but dang it looks nice and tight for the most part. 
October: mowing has slowed down. finally getting some rain too
November: seen a frost or two. A few stragglers. 
December: one last pre-m. Caught a nice 50 degree day last Saturday and then rain two days later. God loves me. 
January: brings us back around again to hunting strays. 

I swear it is not hard. I know this seems like an enormous amount of info, but it can be boiled down to a few tasks well timed. Hunt the strays, put a good blanket of chems down to catch most of them and feed only when necessary. Ignore the hype of a label. Disregard Scott trying to sell you something. Educate thyself. Rocket science this ain't. Aggies do this for a living. It CAN'T  be that hard.