Weeds of Early Spring

With warmer weather comes plant growth. The most conspicuous plants in the lawn and landscape right now are winter annuals such as hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), and chickweeds (Stellaria media and Cerastium fontanum ssp. vulgare), to name a few. In lawns, these winter annuals are typically found in areas where the lawn was thin in September and October when these weeds germinated. Most winter annuals do not establish readily where the lawn canopy is dense. In ornamental beds they can be prolific unless the beds were recently mulched (which buries the seed), as there is plenty of open space and little competition from other plants.

Henbit flowering

Purple deadnettle flowering in early spring

Common chickweed in an ornamental bed

In the lawn, these winter annual broadleaf species can be easily controlled by herbicides that contain 2,4-D, MCPA, mecoprop, or dicamba. But keep in mind that these winter annual weeds are near the end of their life cycle and will be dead within 3 to 4 weeks even if no herbicide is applied. Exceptions include mouseear chickweed (Cerastium fontanum ssp. vulgare) and corn speedwell (Veronica arvensis) which can persist farther into the summer.

Corn speedwell in an ornamental bed

Perennials such as wild garlic (Allium vineale), star-of-bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), and lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) are also noticeable this time of year. They are ephemerals that will return to dormancy within the next few weeks where they reside as bulbs for the summer, emerging again in late fall or mid-winter.

Star-of-bethlehem. Notice the white midrib on the leaf.


Star-of-bethlehem in a lawn


Lesser celendine in a lawn

Another ephemeral winter perennial is bulbous bluegrass (Poa bulbosa). This also emerges from bulbs in late fall and is dormant all summer. It is most conspicuous when in mid spring it produces what looks like an inflorescence, but is actually a collection of bulbils (small bulbs) and not flowers. Bulbous bluegrass is occasionally widespread in extremely low input lawns, but is more commonly found in small patches where disturbance and competition from other plants is low. I commonly see this at the base of tree trunks or between the sidewalk and road.

Bulbous bluegrass bulbils. Photo courtesy of Aaron Patton.

Bulbous bluegrass bulbs and leaves

Roughstalk bluegrass (Poa trivialis) is a perennial grass that is obvious this time of year due to rapid growth and light green color. There are no selective herbicide options for roughstalk bluegrass control. Except in wet and shaded areas where it is well-suited, roughstalk bluegrass growth tends to slow by late spring and it goes dormant in summer. If it is mixed well with other turfgrass species, this slow decline to dormancy is not noticeable. For more information about roughstalk bluegrass, see this recent blog.

Patches of roughstalk bluegrass in a lawn.

While winter annuals are nearing the end of their life cycle, summer annual weeds are just getting started. Japanese stiltgrass emergence (discussed in a recent blog) has been noted in several locations in central and southern NJ. It may be too late for preemergent herbicides to control stiltgrass. For more information on stiltgrass control, see this RCE factsheet.

Forsythia in full bloom

Soil temperatures and Forsythia full bloom we are now seeing suggests crabgrass (Digitaria spp.) emergence will begin within two to three weeks. Now is a good time to begin making preemergence herbicide applications. Based on what we know about crabgrass and other summer annual species, the mild winter is not likely to accelerate germination, since the seed is not active until soil temperatures are in the 50s. Other than using Forsythia spp. full bloom as an indicator, soil temperatures can be monitored, but the science doesn’t provide precise guidance on this. But as a general rule, once soil temperature consistently exceeds 55 °F at a 2” depth for at least few days, crabgrass seed germinates and emergence is often noted a few days later. Live soil temperatures can be found on the Rutgers NJ Weather Network. The 24-hr rolling average at locations we monitor in North Brunswick, NJ is between 48 and 54 degrees F, depending on sun exposure. See these links for more information on crabgrass control in the lawn for professionals, and homeowners.

Tropical Storm Brings Rain But What About Gray Leaf Spot?

The passing of tropical storm, Fay brought some needed precipitation to the region, albeit too much at once in many places. Relatively dry soils (assumes not being over-irrigated) and the long, warm days of summer should allow turfs to dry out reasonably fast.

But what about gray leaf spot? Spores of the pathogen are thought to be blown up from southern regions to the north on the winds of tropical systems. With the recent passing of Fay, Dr. Bruce Clarke recommends being on the watch for early symptoms and signs of gray leaf spot outbreaks. Gray leaf spot can be severe on older, non-tolerant cultivars of perennial ryegrass while new, improved cultivars will be much less sensitive although not immune. Over the last couple years, we have also experienced some strong outbreaks of gray leaf spot on tall fescue across the region. So don’t ignore the tall fescue turfs if you have some.

For more information, see the fact sheet, Integrated Control of Gray Leaf Spot on Perennial Ryegrass.

Gray leaf spot control with fungicides on perennial ryegrass.

Fungicide plots on a perennial ryegrass cultivar that is highly susceptible to gray leaf spot.

Green-up Started

Soil temperatures have been warming and reached the mid-40s °F last week at Rutgers Hort Farm No. 2 in North Brunswick NJ and are creeping into the upper-40s °F early this week. Dr. Clarke recommends that treatment of turf with a history of take-all patch be initiated when soil temperature averages 40 to 60 °F. Treatment of fairy ring should be initiated when average temperature is in the range of 50 to 55 °F. Waiting to treat beyond these soil temperature thresholds will increase the risk that control strategies are not as effective.

Table 1. Soil Temperature Data under Bentgrass Turf Mowed at 0.375-inch in North Brunswick, NJ on 17 March 2020 at 2:00 PM.

3-inch Depth Thatch-Soil Interface
Current 48 °F 50 °F
24-hour Average 45 °F 44 °F
5-day Average 47 °F 47 °F


Additionally, the Forsythia bloom started last week in central New Jersey, which Dr. Matthew Elmore recommends as a traditional phenological indicator for preemergence herbicide programs on turf.

Initial forsythia bloom in a home lawn in central NJ last week.


Summer Aeration/Cultivation/Venting

Aeration during the summer can be a helpful practice but does need some caution. Many turf managers performing mid-season aeration on putting greens will be using needle tines, which are less disruptive. But the key words are [Read more…]

Glyphosate Alternatives

Recent news about glyphosate has many thinking about alternatives.

Joe Neal (Professor of Weed Science, Extension Specialist & Department Extension Leader Horticultural Science) and Andrew Senesac (Extension Weed Scientist Cornell Cooperative Extension, Suffolk Co., NY) have published a thorough summary of alternatives and the associated pros and cons through NC State Extension at https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/are-there-alternatives-to-glyphosate-for-weed-control-in-landscapes

Soil Health

Soil that has been severely compacted often breaks into large massive plates.

For those interested in soil health – we all should be – the Soil Health Institute has release a 60-minute documentary featuring innovative farmers and soil health experts from throughout the U.S.

You can view the film at https://livingsoilfilm.com/


Dog Days and Cool-Season Grass


Cool-season lawn struggling to grow in shallow soil on a south-facing slope during dog days.

According to Merriam-Webster, dog days is the period between early July and early September when the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere; a period of stagnation or inactivity.

The dog is actually the Dog Star – also called Sirius – which rises simultaneously with the sun during the hottest days of summer in the northern hemisphere. Plutarch (Greek writer, 46-120 AD) referred to the hot days of summer as hēmerai kynades (literally, “dog days”); the Latin translation dies caniculares is the source of our English phrase. But I digress…

You most likely have noticed that cool-season grasses have recently entered a period of stagnation or inactivity (dog days) and, in some cases, are spent. The hot summer days have steadily increased soil temperatures to the point that the soil is now warmer than air temperature for much of the daylight hours and all of the night. During the last 10 days at Hort Farm No. 2, soil temperature at 3-inches has oscillated between 76 and 90 °F and at 2-inches 78 and 92 °F. These soil temperatures are well above the optimum temperatures for root growth and clearly explain why cool-season grasses are lethargic at this time.

What to do? Be patient and do not “push” the grass. This is not the time of year to stress out turf – the grass has very little resiliency and will not tolerate much abuse or recovery quickly. I recently witnessed utility vehicle traffic on subtly drought stressed turf during the hottest part of the day result in classic tire-track damage. Root systems of cool-season grasses are weakest and shallowest at this time of year. Thus, localized drought stress can develop rapidly – within a couple hot, sunny days – during the dog days.

These cultural practices can be helpful in getting high value turf to survive dog days. Once the turf has drained after drenching thunderstorms (2-3 days), program daily, very-light (50-65% of reference ET), deficit irrigation using a rainhold setting (such as 0.2-inch rain) to stop irrigation from adding to over-wetting from storms. Deficit irrigation assures that thunderstorms will be the reason for excess wetness, not the irrigation schedule. This irrigation plan should encourage the turf the dry without over-drying between irrigations (or thunderstorms). If excess drying does occur with this irrigation plan, it probably will start in highly localized (small) areas, which can be effectively managed with well-timed syringing to re-hydrate dry leaves and prevent crispy thatch during the heat of the day. Crispy thatch means that surface adventitious roots either are or will soon be crispy as well. Moist to dry thatch is good, whereas crispy and crunchy thatch in the heat is bad. Weekly, low-rate fertilization (N and possibly P, K and micronutrients) is crucial on sand-topdressed and sand-based rootzones commonly found on golf course putting greens and some sports turfs. These rootzones have very little mineralization capacity to supply essential nutrients during dog days. Weekly low-rate fertilization provides a steady, consistent slow-growth and avoids the “surge-crash” cycle of growth that results from less-frequent and higher application rates. Typically, low-rate N is no more than a 0.1-lbs. per 1,000-sq. ft.

Managing Thatch

Recently received a couple of questions about managing thatch.

One question was concerning the recent trend in the industry to not core putting greens and only use solid tines. 

Non-coring programs rely on topdressing to dilute the organic matter (thatch) that accumulates, thus forming a mat layer as opposed to a thatch layer. Turgeon defines mat as a tightly intermingled layer composed of [Read more…]

Cadmium and Phosphate Fertilizer Debated in EU

Fertilizer derived from phosphate rock, which naturally contains cadmium, is being debated in the European Union. More than half the cadmium, a toxic heavy metal, in some agricultural soils originated from phosphate rock derived fertilizer. Sedimentary phosphate rock mined in northern Africa contains naturally high cadmium levels. Phosphate from mines of igneous rock in Russia has much lower levels.  Read more…

Rectangles of Melting Snow

Made an interesting observation while inspecting this trial for geese damage last December; rectangular plots of snow melting faster than other plots. Not sure of ramifications, but snow cover on some treatments was melted or melting faster compared to other treatments. This trial has numerous combinations of topdressing sands and rates as well as hollow tine cultivation. The treatments with a drier surface were retaining snow cover longer than treatments that tend to retain more water in the surface 0- to 3-inches.

Rectangular areas of melted/melting snow on this research (putting green) trial are treatments that have greater water retention in the surface 0- to 3-inches.