The Pros and Cons of Weed and Feed Products
It may be cold outside (or not—winter is a temperature roller coaster in South Louisiana), but we all are looking forward to those two or three brief weeks of spring-like weather before summer is unofficially upon us. Local garden centers are swapping inflatable snowmen and artificial Christmas trees for rakes, shovels, and garden chemicals. Those bright green and yellow bags are singing our song.
“It’s time to apply us,” they say.
And we are tempted—so tempted—to pick up a bag, a box, or a jug of a product that promises to kill weeds and make our lawns green and lush with one easy application. So, we place a weed-and-feed miracle into our shopping carts, maybe pick up a sprayer or broadcast spreader, and home we go content in the knowledge that we have saved ourselves a lot of time, trouble, and money.
Or have we?
An internet search produces numerous gardening sites that universally and almost exclusively list time and labor saving as the pros of weed and feed products. It’s a short list.
On the other hand, the list of cons is considerably longer and generally doesn’t include concerns specific to turfgrasses that grow in our area.
The non-specific cons include:
- They are unsafe for most plants and shouldn’t be used around trees, shrubs, or flower beds.
- They are effective on broadleaf plants like dandelion and clover, but not crabgrass and other grass-like weeds.
- They can reach harmful levels inside our homes, especially where children and pets play on treated lawns and track them inside.
- Improper application can result in harmful water run-off.
All of those cons are true, regardless of where we live. But for us in Southeast Louisiana, things get a little trickier.
According to Ron Strahan, Weed Specialist/Turfgrass Specialist at lsuagcenter.com, “residents in the New Orleans area and southernmost areas of the state should apply preemergence herbicides in late January or early February (definitely before Valentine’s Day).” This time frame can be adjusted to just after Valentine’s Day for those living on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain. Notice his recommendation applies to herbicides only. Fertilizer application for most turfgrasses is not recommended until April. A good rule of thumb is to apply fertilizer in our area around Tax Day, April 15th.
But why not apply both herbicide and fertilizer together?
According to Strahan, “Fertilizing this early [at or about Valentine’s Day] with high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer or weed-and-feed can contribute to winter kill with late-season freeze and bring on brown patch disease.”
The problem arises due to early application of fertilizer. Turfgrasses lie dormant throughout the winter. An early application of fertilizer, especially the high-nitrogen varieties found in most weed and feed products, may force turfgrasses out of dormancy early, making new growth susceptible to sudden cold snaps and ultimately damaging the lawn.
Though he finds them to be less effective than products specifically designed to kill weeds, Strahan acknowledges the convenience of weed and feed products when applied properly. They key is timing—they should be applied according to a fertilizer schedule rather than a preemergence weed-killing schedule. This means, in our area, we should not apply weed and feed products until late March or early April.
The bottom line:
Weed and feed products may save time, but they are not always the best choice when treating turfgrasses in Southeast Louisiana. Aside from the non-specific cons listed above, they are less effective than preemergence herbicides applied earlier in the year and, if applied at the wrong time, can seriously damage our lawns. Ultimately, they may not be as cost-effective as they seem. So, the next time we hear the weed and feed siren song emanating from the shelves of our local garden centers, we may want to cover our ears.
As always, the Green Grass team is here to help. Nothing is more convenient than letting the professionals do it for you, and it can be surprisingly affordable. Contact us today for more information.