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Tim Lockley: Keep your lawn lush all year

We all want a lush, green lawn. In order to reach that goal, you have to be active in your yard almost all year long. I'm going to give you a schedule to follow that, if you keep it and follow my instructions, will save me time by answering in advance all of those questions you'd send me.

Remember, this calendar is just a guideline and should work well for most lawns most of the time. There are just too many variables out there for me to guarantee 100 percent success.

We'll begin with fertilizer. Technically, all plants need just three things to grow: air, water and sunlight. However, your grass needs fertilizer to be healthy and strong, just like you need vitamins and minerals.

But it is way too easy to overdo it if you're not careful. A single application in the spring and one in the fall are generally sufficient for most grasses.

Now, what your lawn needs in the spring is quite a bit different from what it needs later on. In the spring, grass is trying to put up green growth. For this, it needs nitrogen. Nitrogen is represented by the first number on the fertilizer bag. The other two numbers are phosphate and potassium. The spring application should be made with about 1/2 to 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn.

In the fall, your grass is trying to get ready to sleep through the winter, As such, it needs that last number on the fertilizer bag (e.g., muriate of potash 0-0-60) to put energy into the roots.

Don't overdo it

When it comes to watering your lawn, less is more. Grass is very drought tolerant. It evolved in the open plains where rain was infrequent at best. It will do quite nicely with only a half-inch of rain a week. Overwatering your grass will keep the roots shallow and lead to heat stress later in the season. Too much irrigation benefits only the weeds. A good example is dollar weed. If you go in search of this plant out in the wild, you'll find it growing only near and into ponds. It likes wet feet. The less water it gets, the less competitive it is.

When you must water your lawn, do it early in the morning. Watering your grass in the late afternoon or evening is a waste of time (plants take water up during daylight hours only), and leaving your grass wet after dark will invite fungal diseases to take hold.

Swatting pests

For insect control, you have a lot of options. Look for granular formulations containing bifinthrin, cyfluthrin or cyhalothrin. These are the active ingredients most often found in stores that sell gardening supplies. Granular products last significantly longer than the same product in a liquid form.

After application, water the product in yourself. A tenth of an inch should suffice. Relying on precipitation to do it for you is iffy at best. Too much rain too quickly can force the active ingredient deep into the soil, where it will be wasted.

Fungal diseases usually get started in the spring when we have longer periods of darkness, the nights are getting warmer and it's wetter. A fungal infection cannot be cured, but you can prevent it. First, as mentioned earlier, minimize your irrigation and do it as early in the day as possible. If you have an automatic system, set it for between 4 a.m. and 1 p.m. An application of one of the fungicides -- Bayleton, Daconil, Funginex, Banner and Thiomyl, to name a few -- in the early spring with a follow-up application in early summer will go a long way in preventing any fungal diseases from taking hold.

Based on the number of letters I get, weeds are the biggest headache most people face in their yards. The best way to stop weeds is to put out a pre-emergent fertilizer in February and again in September and mow your lawn at the highest or second-highest setting on your lawnmower. The pre-emergent will keep weed seeds from sprouting and the taller grass will be more likely to outcompete most weeds.

If you already have weeds in your lawn, the herbicide Atrazine will do a reasonably good job of cleaning out most broadleaf and grassy weeds. Be careful; Atrazine will kill cool-weather grasses such as rye grass as well as a few warm grasses such as bermuda grass. There also are temperature restrictions on Atrazine, so follow the label directions carefully.

Another herbicide is a generic combination of three pesticides: 2-4, D; dicamba and mecoprop. Most lawn herbicides contain varying percentages of these three chemicals and are fairly good against a number of broadleaf weeds. These herbicides also have temperature restrictions (higher than Atrazine's) and shouldn't be used from mid-June through mid-September.

If you find you need to do a little weed control during the high heat of summer, there is an herbicide you can use. It is sold by Image, and its active ingredient is imazaquin. Look for the word "nutsedge" on the bottle. Image also sells a product in a very similar container that you do NOT want to use. This is the "crabgrass" control formula. It contains MSMA and it will kill your lawn.

Now that you've got all of this down pat, here's your calendar. I've built in a little wiggle room to give you more flexibility.

January

Not much to do. Relax and watch some football.

February

Apply a pre-emergent herbicide to keep the annual spring and summer weeds from getting started.

March

Spot-treat any weeds that managed to get by the pre-emergent.

April

Around mid-April, when your grass is starting to grow, apply one of the insecticides as well as Atrazine. Put out a balanced fertilizer such as 15-0-15, 8-8-8, 10-10-10 or 13-13-13.

May

Check your lawn for weeds and treat as necessary.

June

Put out some Ironite. This isn't fertilizer. These are micronutrients such as iron, manganese and zinc as well as others. They help your grass stay healthy and give it the ability to fight heat and drought stresses, and to recover more quickly from insect and disease damage.

July

When you're not mowing your lawn, stay inside in the AC.

August

Same as July, except it's even hotter. This is mad dogs and Englishmen weather.

September

Put out a pre-emergent herbicide to stop the winter weeds from popping up. Note: If you intend to put out rye grass, don't use a pre-emergent or Atrazine.

October

Put out another application of fertilizer. Remember, your lawn is trying to snuggle down for a long winter's sleep, so try to minimize the nitrogen. Buy a fertilizer with as low a first number and as high a last number as you can find.

November

Stay inside and root for the Saints.

December

Same as November, except try and not be too disappointed by the Saints.

Tim Lockley, a specialist in entomology, is retired from a 30-year career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For answers to individual questions, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tim Lockley, c/o Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535.

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