As weather warms, do not rush your garden

April 3, 2013 

My wife and I have one major thing in common -- we dearly love one another. On the other hand, in many other areas we can be quite different. When I am in a hurry, she is not. The reverse can also be true. I often rush through the day but she reminds me to slow down and remember to breathe. I am extremely analytic. Sometimes, it takes me days to answer a question because I have to study the options. In the meantime, she has made the decision and has moved on to the next project. I find that I do best when I focus on what my “helpmate” is trying to tell me and make decisions accordingly.

The gardener’s pace of life is not always mirrored in the garden. Every warm day seems to lure gardeners outside and force us to till dirt, plant seeds or buy more plants. “Is it time to plant yet? Can I fertilize? Why is spring taking so long to get here?” We can hardly wait to get started. Plants are in less of a hurry and they cannot be rushed. We need to be sensitive to their timing if we want a good garden.

Air temperature is not the best measure of when to start planting and fertilizing. The time of the year is not always a good measure either. Some gardeners plant vegetables by Good Friday, but they can also find themselves replanting later. We need to keep an eye on soil temperatures more than air temperatures or the calendar.

Soil temperatures are most important because this is where growth begins. Before a plant can truly begin to grow, the roots must be warm and active. This is especially true of lawns. They will not take up fertilizer well until the soil temperature is about 60 degrees. Soil temperatures now are in the low 50s. You can go to this website to check soil temperatures and other weather data: georgiaweather.net.

Fertilizing lawns would be better done in late April or early May. Later is especially better for centipede lawns. This is, however, a good time to prevent summer weeds. Preventative herbicides can be applied now to prevent weeds such as crabgrass, lespedeza, goosegrass and others from emerging as temperatures approach the upper 50s to mid-60s.

There are two basic types of preventative herbicides. No herbicide prevents all weeds. Select a herbicide based on the type of weeds you had last summer and the type of lawngrass you have.

Atrazine prevents broadleaf weeds better than grassy weeds. It is good for weeds such as lespedeza, cudweed and other broadleaf weeds. It can be applied to all warm season grasses except green Bermuda. Bermuda lawns must be dormant (brown) before you can use Atrazine on them.

Several herbicides prevent grassy weeds plus a few broadleaf weeds. These include Halts (pendamethalin), Balan (benefin), dithiopyr and XL (benefin plus oryzalin). These weed killers should be applied before weeds emerge. If applied after weeds emerge, expect poor weed control. Do not delay in applying these.

You can mow lawns whenever they need it. In fact, if you have winter weeds, mow closely the first time and remove the clippings to reduce the number of weed seeds in the lawn.

Soil temperatures are also important in the vegetable garden. Warm season vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash etc., need soil temperatures of 60 degrees or more to grow well. Planting them into cool soils may cause to them get diseases, grow poorly or die. The vegetable gardening calendar in this publication will help you know when to plant: www.caes.uga.edu/applications/publications/files/pdf/C%20963_3.PDF

Lawn calendars are valuable. Each lawn type can vary slightly in the timing of fertilization, mowing, etc. This website has lawn calendars for each type of grass grown in Georgia: www.commodities.caes.uga.edu/turfgrass/georgiaturf/CultPrac/1310_Calendar.htm. Look on the right sidebar.

A pruning calendar may be help as well. We typically prune spring blooming plants from just after bloom until mid-July and other plants from Jan through Sept 15. Some plants defy this simple formula so see this list for detailed information: www.walterreeves.com/uploads/WRshrubprunning.pdf.

Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and helps to train the turf and landscape industry.

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