Spring Garden Tips

— Written By Al Hight and last updated by

Lawn Weeds and Fertilizers

Weeds may be taking over your lawn by this time of year. Winter annuals including chickweed, henbit, hop clover and burweed are flowering and nearing the end of their life cycle. That means they are nearly impossible to completely control. To avoid this problem next year, plan a little lawn care time over Labor Day weekend.

hop clover henbit weed bur weed

If you have centipede or St. Augustine, consider using atrazine. These grasses tolerate atrazine at any time of year. And, this old corn herbicide won’t “club” the grass roots like more common “crabgrass preventers” such as prodiamine, pendimethalin and dithiopyr. You’ll also control annual bluegrass with the late summer application along with many broadleaf weed problems.

The downside of atrazine is that it doesn’t hang around as long – especially when soil temperatures are high. A second application in mid-winter may be necessary. Healthy bermuda and zoysia lawns can handle the “crabgrass preventers” mentioned previously.

Our understanding of warm-season grasses continues to evolve. For many years we have implored gardeners not to fertilize with nitrogen until mid-April. More recent work seems to show positive results from small amounts of nitrogen applied in March – about ½ pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet.

Fertilizers intended for centipede like 5-5-15 at 10 pounds per 1000 square feet work well. Local garden shops and farm supply stores usually stock these fertilizers.

Azalea Blossoms for the Festival?

The brief warm-up in February had everyone wondering if winter was over and whether there would be azalea blossoms for the North Carolina Azalea Festival. The last few weeks of cool (sometimes downright cold) weather have slowed everything down. The early-blooming Kurumes like ‘Snow’ and ‘Coral Bells’ began to show a bit of color by mid-March. That means the timing should be just about perfect for the main players like ‘Formosa’ to be blooming for the festivities.

formosa azalea

Beating Old Man Winter

Old man winter

Vegetable garden prognosticators are forever trying to figure out when the last frost will occur. Good luck predicting that. Data over the years suggests that the last frost in the Wilmington area can happen as early as March 5 and as late as April 20.

If you’re poised to plant those tomatoes and peppers soon, be prepared to protect them from a cold blast. Floating row covers are inexpensive and will “buy” you five or six degrees F. They’ll also do a good job of minimizing direct frost injury.

Plastic is generally a bad idea unless you have some type of support to keep it from direct contact with the plants. If you use plastic remove it promptly once the day warms or you’ll have an unwelcome version of fried green tomatoes.

I’m sure you’ve heard that sprinkling water on your plants will protect them from winter’s last gasp. Like so many things, that’s partially true.

Ice has no insulating value. The heat that is released as the water changes to ice is what protects the plants. That means you have to keep throwing water at fairly high volumes over the entire freeze event. While blueberry and strawberry growers have success with this, most gardeners will not. Even if you have the ability to keep pumping water, the ice load will destroy young tomato and pepper plants.

The reality is that tropical plants like tomato aren’t going to do much growing until the soil temperatures warm up anyway.

Written By

Photo of Al HightAl HightCounty Extension Director (910) 798-7666 al_hight@ncsu.eduNew Hanover County, North Carolina
Updated on Mar 16, 2018
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