Neil Sperry

From pre-emergent to aeration, questions and answers for late February lawn care

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Some plants, like certain vegetables and tropical plants, need to move indoors for the winter or during a freeze. Others, including certain herbs, just need to be covered up. Find out how to best take care of your plants in 90 seconds.

Every time the sun comes out for a few hours folks start asking questions about their lawns. Here are the inquiries I’m hearing most often.

When is the proper time to apply pre-emergent granules?

There are two applications for summer weeds including crabgrass and grassburs: March 5-15 and a repeat application June 5-15. Remember to make a third treatment to prevent winter and early spring weeds, and that timing is the last week of August or the first week of September. Remember: “pre” means before you can see the weeds growing – before they germinate.

What pre-emergent should I use?

There are several, the most common of them being Dimension, Halts and Balan. For non-grassy (broadleafed) weeds, apply Gallery.

How can I eliminate clover, dandelions and other weeds in my lawn now?

Use a broadleafed weedkiller spray. It will contain 2,4-D and it may contain two other herbicides. Read and follow label directions completely with regard to temperature, rainfall/irrigation, mowing before and after treatment and stated precautions in using these products around trees and shrubs.

How can I get rid of the clumps of weedy grass in my lawn now?

There is no post-emergent product that will do a really effective job in controlling weedy grasses like annual bluegrass, rescuegrass and ryegrass in St. Augustine or bermuda without risking harm to your permanent turf. As the lawn greens up for spring these weeds will become less noticeable. Mark your calendar to apply pre-emergent granules the last week of August or first week of September to keep the next generation ever from sprouting.

Should I scalp my lawn, and if so, by how much? When?

Scalping is optional. Use it to get rid of grass blades that have been browned by winter’s cold, also to eliminate rank-growing, broadleafed weeds. Drop your mower one notch and do the scalping sometime in the next three weeks. Wear a high-quality respirator and goggles to avoid allergic reactions to the dust.

Do I need to aerate my lawn? When should I do it?

The only times you will need to aerate turf will be if the lawn has been under undue amounts of pedestrian traffic or has become otherwise compacted. Aeration also helps if there is a layer of thatch between the runners and the surface of the soil. Thatch is an impenetrable layer of organic matter that becomes tightly packed and refuses to decay. Use a core aerator to pull actual plugs up and out of the soil.

Do I need to spread peat moss to help with take all root rot?

‘If your St. Augustine has had a history of TARR in past springs, keep a close eye on it coming out of the winter. If it greens up lethargically and unevenly, spread 1 inch of brown Canadian peat over the grass and rake it in with the back of a garden rake. It will form an acidic layer on the top of the soil. The take all root rot fungus does not prosper in acidic environments. Hopefully research plant pathologists will soon have products to help us without the need for the peat moss.

Is there anything I can do now to stop chinch bugs and gray leaf spot in my St. Augustine?

No. Chinch bugs will always show up in the hottest, driest part of your lawn, but there is no preventive treatment. Learn to recognize their symptoms. The grass will look dry but it won’t bounce back after you water it. This will usually appear in mid-June into early July. Treat with Merit if and when you see the symptoms, usually in the same location each summer.

Gray leaf spot shows up at the same time. The grass appears yellowed, but nitrogen makes the situation worse. Avoid nitrogen fertilizer between mid-June and early September. Use a labeled turf fungicide to stop the immediate outbreak, but “prevention” comes mainly in the form of avoiding nitrogen during the summer.

When should I treat for grub worms and what should I use?

The treatment time will be mid- to late June, but most Texas homeowners will not need to worry. We have far fewer white grub outbreaks now than we did several decades ago. Don’t treat unless you’re pretty sure you have a problem. There are several turf insecticides labeled for control of grubs.

When can I plant new turfgrass?

If you’re talking about from sod, anytime after mid- to late March, although April is far better. If you’re talking about bermuda from seed, May is the chosen time. All of these reflect our St. Augustine’s, bermuda’s and zoysia’s need for warm soil to establish good roots.

Should I topdress my lawn with compost?

Probably not. Compost is organic matter, and as such, it will decay and be gone in a matter of months or a year. The grass will do just fine without it, and it can be put to much better use in preparing soil for your flowerbeds and vegetable garden. Compost is not acidic enough to be used as a substitute for sphagnum peat moss in treating take all root rot.

How can I fill a few holes and low spots in my lawn, and when should I do it?

Use brick sand, also called “mortar sand” because it’s used in mixing mortar for laying bricks. Spread it out on the driveway to let it dry, then use a shovel to spread it over the low spots and ruts. If they’re more than 1 inch deep, consider digging the sod out, putting topsoil in the holes, then replanting the sod. Late April would be the best time to do any of this, once the grass is growing actively.

You can hear Neil Sperry on KLIF 570AM on Saturday afternoons 1-3 pm and on WBAP 820AM Sunday mornings 8-10 am. Join him at and follow him on Facebook.