A Jump Start to Spring

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February 11, 2016 -  By

Early-season herbicide applications can help LCOs get on top of the heavy spring workload.

Mark Leahy

Mark Leahy

For Mark Leahy, spring is his busiest, most stressful time of year for one main reason: the weather.

“If the weather would cooperate, spring wouldn’t be so stressful,” says Leahy, president of Blades of Green, a $5.3-million company in Edgewater, Md. “It all depends on Mother Nature.”

One way Leahy manages the stress is by performing early-season herbicide applications. As long as they are done correctly and according to local and regional regulations, lawn care experts agree that early-season applications are a way to take advantage of breaks in winter weather and can help lawn care operators (LCOs) get on top of the heavy spring workload.

Jeff Borger

Jeff Borger

“As far as products being applied, the label is the law and you have to follow that,” says Jeffrey Borger, senior instructor in turfgrass weed management at Penn State University. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare yourself and your business.”

Borger says the first thing LCOs should consider is the developmental stage of the weed they’re trying to control, as herbicides need to be applied during a specific time in a plant’s growth cycle to be effective. LCOs have to balance this window of opportunity with the expectation of having to service all their customers at the same time, so they should be familiar with the growth cycles of weeds in their region and plan accordingly.

“A lot of people want you to come as early as possible, but the driving force should be the plant’s developmental stage,” says Borger. “Whether you’re looking to control weeds, insects or pathogens, everything has its own developmental pace.”

Anita Alexander

Anita Alexander

Anita Alexander, field research scientist for Dow AgroSciences Turf & Ornamental, says using a postemergent product during preemergent applications is more effective, particularly for stubborn weeds like dandelion and clover, and gives LCOs more flexibility to service all of their properties on schedule.

“When applied with a preemergent, a postemergent herbicide like Defendor that can perform under colder temperatures will allow LCOs to clean up winter annuals and persistent perennial plants early in the year so they don’t receive that spring callback,” she says.

Blades of Green offers 70 percent lawn care and 30 percent pest control services to a 95-percent residential, 5-percent commercial clientele. Leahy starts his first round of applications as early as he can, sometimes as soon as the first week of February if the weather permits. In 2013, Maryland enacted a law banning the application of fertilizers between Nov. 15 and March 1 to help prevent excess nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorous, from entering the waterways. During his early-season applications, Leahy applies a granular 0-0-7 fertilizer with Dimension, which is permitted under the Maryland law. He chooses a granular product for the first application because he says the cold weather causes liquid products to work slowly “if at all,” and also causes pumps to freeze.


Leahy aims to space his applications about 45 days apart, so he begins the next round during the second week of April, using a liquid 12-0-0 fertilizer. During both applications, Leahy applies the maximum amount of product allowable by the label, which he says is the best way to keep weeds under control.

“If you skimp on your rates it will hurt you in terms of crabgrass,” he says.

Leahy says these early applications relieve some of the pressure of the busy spring season and helps his crews stay on schedule should the region get hit with more snow in late February or early March.

“We don’t want to be caught with our pants down, so if the weather doesn’t affect us, then we are ahead of the game,” Leahy says. “This gives us a cushion before things get crazy.”

Dow-Photo-2_webAside from being ahead of the game, doing early-season applications also gets his technicians back to work sooner. Before the state enacted its fertilizer law, Leahy’s crews used to work through the winter, applying fertilizer and lime. Now he has to lay off the majority of his techs during the winter months. By starting applications as early as February, Leahy is less likely to lose valuable employees.

“Round one gets them in there and up to speed, which makes a difference when you get into spring,” Leahy says. “’Developing our bench’ is what we call it.”

There are other things LCOs can do to help minimize springtime stress. Borger suggests LCOs use any winter downtime to build up their businesses and their customer bases. For example, they can send employees to training courses, renew pesticide licenses, get up-to-date on university credits, touch base with current customers, and reach out to potential new ones. LCOs should also make sure they are aware of any product shortages and that the products they ordered will be available and delivered on time. Alexander also suggests making sure all equipment is serviced, calibrated and in good working condition prior to the start of the season.

“Calibrating spreaders and sprayers to insure proper application rates are applied can save money and reputations,” she says. “Being ready to go as soon as the weather breaks with refreshed equipment and staff should get LCOs off on the right foot.”

Photos: Dow

About the Author:

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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