Spring will be here in just a few short weeks, and that means the time is now for lawn care operators to treat for one of turf’s worst enemies—crabgrass. And with thorough pre-emergent herbicide application and wise cultural practices, lawn care operators and landscape contractors can get a stranglehold on the fast-spreading weed before it becomes a problem.
“Crabgrass control is much easier preventative than it is curative,” says Mark Utendorf, owner of Emerald Lawn Care in Arlington Heights, Ill. That’s why Utendorf puts down a pre-emergent herbicide on his clients’ lawns every spring, and he says his team rarely has problems with breakthrough.
“Make sure that you’re putting down a good even application and that you’re catching all the edges,” he stresses.
For insurance, Emerald teams carry hand cans of post-emergents on the job so that when breakthrough does happen, they can squelch it before plants mature. “Once it’s big, you’re pretty much screwed,” Utendorf says.
If customers understand that mature crabgrass means multiple applications, they may be more open to pre-emergent control. “You’ve got to educate them,” Utendorf advises. Killing crabgrass once it’s mature doesn’t do much but leave a big brown patch on the lawn, Utendorf says. If clients understand that, they’re likely to be more receptive to multiple applications.
“A single herbicide application is rarely going to be a solution,” Utendorf says. “You need to stay after it, especially with creeping weeds. It’s a battle of attrition. You just have to wear it out and keep hammering it and eventually you’ll get control.”
But crabgrass control doesn’t begin and end with pre-emergents; raising mowing heights and good cultural practices are just as important. Utendorf is a big proponent of higher mowing heights and recommends lawn care professionals educate their clients about it.
“The best weed control is thick turf, so we’re constantly educating homeowners about it. We have that conversation during the season 20 times a day,” says Utendorf, who last fall launched the website www.mowhighguys.com. The site encourages people to raise their mowing heights as a means of growing healthier turf. It’s aimed mostly at those in the lawn care industry, but Utendorf directs homeowners to the site for turf tips as well.
“Any time you’re mowing too short, the grass is under stress,” he explains. “Certainly mow height impacts disease, and it definitely impacts weed control. All the weed seed that’s on the surface is going to get sun, so you’re creating an environment that is conducive to growing weeds.”
Now, Utendorf has his truckload of fertilizer with preemergent ready to go. And despite the challenge they pose, Utendorf is optimistic weeds won’t get the best of his properties. “I’m always amazed at the regenerative ability of turf,” he says. “Every time I think there’s no possible way for turf to recover, I’m always shocked how it comes storming back.”