There are choices to be made in dealing with cool-weather weeds

Published 11:04 am Friday, February 28, 2020

I like Februarys with weather right for dormant season work like pruning, transplanting perennials, repairing fences and all things best done before spring.

That ideal weather includes quite a few sunny days and temperatures comfortable enough to work outside but not so warm as to trick fruit trees into an early bloom. But what a rainy February this one was.

I wound up the month “mudding in” some rose bushes and got most of the pruning done but with piles of prunings left scattered about waiting for drier days for toting off.

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I did make better than my normal progress pulling winter weeds in mulched flowerbeds and rose plantings. That is one advantage of a too-wet February: weeds are easier to pull and toss aside.

The weed species I pulled were mostly chickweed, henbit, Carolina geranium and clover. All of these are annual, cool-season broadleaf plants. They are annuals because they germinate from seed each year and complete their entire life cycle including making new seeds in less than a year. They are deemed cool-season species because their growth and maturity occurs during the cooler months of the year. Local ones germinate in September or October.

The term broadleaf distinguishes them from grasses. To be botanically correct, we’d need to go with dicots and monocots but I’ll stick with broadleafs and grasses. I did pull a few clumps of two cool-season grass weed types, those being annual bluegrass and some wild kinfolk of ryegrass.

When cool-season weeds sprout in very early fall, they are “out of sight and out of mind” for most of us. People who manage turf areas year-round and those in the weed control business are primarily the ones who keep up with fall sprouting weed seeds. That’s because if they are going to use herbicides to prevent such sprouting, applications have to be made and activated in soil prior to seed germination. The rest of us weren’t thinking about weeds that bloom in spring back then.

Use of such pre-emergent chemical herbicides is mostly limited to golf courses and other large turf areas like theme parks and some scenic roadsides. Of course, some roadsides get planted in fall with annual species for the exact purpose of having blooms in spring. Where appreciated, cool-season broadleafs are wildflowers. Those without showy blooms and come up unwelcomed are weeds.

There are choices for dealing with, or not dealing with, cool-season weeds. One popular choice is to do nothing: to ignore them. I do that in some spots. Another option is to mow them, be it with lawnmower, tractor or weedeater.

We mostly mow later on when weeds are taller and we want to free up the centipede or St. Augustine greening up below the weeds. Plowing weeds under works for gardening and crop farming.

Post-emergence herbicides sprayed on existing weeds is an option for turf areas, but not so much for areas hosting shrub and flower plants.

Back to the beginning though, 2020 provided a lousy February.


Terry Rector writes for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.