To fertilize or not to fertilize
By Julie Brocklehurst-Woods | Cornell Cooperative Extension
As I ride my bike through the neighborhoods of Geneseo, admiring the landscaping, I am noticing a bumper crop of dandelion seed heads.
I don’t have too many in my front yard, where I applied a “winterizer” weed and feed product last fall. In back, where we keep Sandy the wonderdog, it is another matter. I don’t want her in contact with those chemicals, and the appearance is less important.
When I have a few minutes, I pick the flowers or seed heads, using a large coffee can to support my achin’ back, and to contain what I pick. I do this in hopes that it will reduce next year’s crop.
I don’t know if this strategy is effective, because the wind blows in lots of new seeds, but at least it doesn’t look as bad, and there are fewer seeds to blow into my neighbor’s weed-free lawn. The bonus is that I get a little exercise, hear the birds, and notice what is happening in my gardens.
I wish lawn management were simpler. Cornell Cooperative Extension does not feel that the four-step lawn programs widely sold are the best answer, largely because they include too much fertilizer which often runs off and pollutes our water. But they are an easy means to maintain a reasonably attractive lawn, and they do include some effective management strategies.
Your first chemical lawn application should prevent crabgrass from sprouting. Your can put this down when the forsythia is in bloom, or later depending on soil temperature.
Anytime in May will be fairly effective, especially since this product is usually sold mixed with a fertilizer that isn’t needed in April. The chemical will lose effectiveness when the weather gets over 90 degrees, probably in July, so application in June may not accomplish much.
Grass should not be fertilized in hot weather, when slower growth is needed. A pesticide application that “kills all bugs” is a bad idea, since most bugs benefit the growth of grass and other plants in our ecosystem.
Grubs will not damage your lawn unless they exceed more than 5-10 per square foot.
Products that kill weeds with wide leaves are best applied around Labor Day, when you can greatly reduce weeds that will take over next spring.
Lawns benefit the most from fertilizer applied in the fall, when root growth will be enhanced instead of grass leaves. This will form a great foundation for next year’s lawn. Applying a second round of fertilizer in November will also be beneficial.
Non-chemical lawn management practices will be included in a future column. Cornell Cooperative Extension promotes an IPM (integrated pest management) approach, using the least amount of chemicals to achieve an outcome.
Julie Brocklehurst-Woods is a Master Gardener with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Livingston County.