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Understanding the First Lawn Application

Category: Lawn Care | Posted by: Jeremy Newell

As I write this, the temperature has dipped below 30 degrees this week. The forecast for 2 days from now is 60 degrees and mostly sunny. Obviously, the weather doesn’t make it easy to determine when to apply your first lawn application! Understanding exactly what you are applying and how it works will help you […]

As I write this, the temperature has dipped below 30 degrees this week. The forecast for 2 days from now is 60 degrees and mostly sunny. Obviously, the weather doesn’t make it easy to determine when to apply your first lawn application!

Understanding exactly what you are applying and how it works will help you decide when to get out there and start your lawn care. First of all, it’s not a race. The first neighbor to unleash the spreader from the garage is not necessarily the winner, winner, chicken dinner.

When you go into the garden center and start looking at bags you see words like ‘preventer’, ‘crabgrass’, and ‘pre-emergent’.

What does all this mean?

Regardless of the brand you decide to buy, the majority of first lawn applications contain a fertilizer (to make the grass grow) and what is called a pre-emergent herbicide. An herbicide is a chemical that kills plants (in contrast to an insecticide).

Side note-‘pesticide’ is a general term that includes both herbicides and insecticides. A pre-emergent herbicide is one that kills plants before they grow. Look at the word: pre(before)-emergent(sprouting).

How can an herbicide kill a plant before it is even growing?

A pre-emergent kills the seeds of a plant either before or right after it sprouts. So the weed killer in the first bag you put down is actually a weed PREVENTER. But wait, you say. I have put this pre-emergent down before and I still had weeds in the summer. What gives? A pre-emergent will only stop weeds if they are sprouting from a seed. If the weed is sprouting from a root that stayed in the ground over the winter, a pre-emergent will not prevent it. This is common with weeds like dandelions, clover, and ground ivy. Weeds returning from established roots need a different weed killer.

So a pre-emergent only prevents weeds from seeds. The #1 big baddie of this category is crabgrass.

But here’s the thing: crabgrass doesn’t germinate until it’s warm. Wait, you started this post by saying it was going to be 60 degrees in a few days. That seems warm to me. Ah, but that is the AIR temperature. Crabgrass germinates when the SOIL temperatures hit the mid 50s. And soil takes a lot longer to warm up in the spring than the air. Think of how long it takes a lake to warm up in the spring and summer. It may be a gorgeous day on the boat but if you jump in that water, you are in for a shock. Soil is the same. It warms up very slowly in the spring. Crabgrass will not germinate in March in our area and might not germinate until May.

You’ve got plenty of time.
Put down your crabgrass preventer in early to mid April.

I know we haven’t even talked about fertilizer yet. Or what to use on the other weeds. But I’ll end this now before I lose your attention. Call or email with any questions. For now, I’m going to refill my coffee and enjoy the highs and lows of Spring.

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