Lawn - when to start fertilize?

dunia77February 14, 2009


I live in Metroplex area. I'm total beginner in the Texas gardening issue (I'm from Europe). I bought a house two months ago and now, with this really warm February, I've started to wonder when and how should I start taking care for my backyard, especially for the lawn. I have that very thick grass, I think it's St. Augustine one. Now it's rather yellowish, like dried with only few green "splashes" (I hope it's just because of the winter, nothing more serious?) I don't necessary need this lawn to be prize-winner, but I'd like to to look good (And feel good as well).

Please, any advice is so much welcome :-)

1. When is the best moment to fertilize it for the next season (I have no idea if previous owners did anything for the fall)? What to use?

2. Generally, how to prepare it for the fertilization, for the hot summer here?

3. What to do with the ants? I haven't seen them here yet, but expect that won't last forever. When to prevent them? What and how to use (I have small kid at home)?

I also saw some kind of Crab Grass Killer left by the previous owners in the garage. Well, I looked in the web, saw few pictures and will have probably some troubles with telling the Crab Grass form that St. Augustine one... But that's another story.

Thank you for your help.

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plantmaven(8b/9a TX)

The agricultural folks say fertilize after you have had to mow once.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 7:20PM
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If so, it seems that it'll be still a while. For me it rather doesn't look like starting to become green and live again.
But what to use? For this grass type.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 7:33PM
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debndal(8a DFW, TX)

Have you decided whether you want to take care of your property organically or with chemicals? If you do chemicals you would want to start fertilizing around April 15. If you go organic, you will want to fertilize abut 4-6 weeks before greenup begins which is April here, as organic doesn't start working immediately since you are feeding the soil, not the grass.
Now is the time to put down pre-emergent weed killer for annual weeds if you think you have many weeds. This application will work for warm season weeds to come, not cool season weeds. Cool season weeds would be taken care of with a September application. Organically, for pre-emergent you would use corn gluten (be sure it's corn gluten, not just corn meal, and personally I don't think it works all that great). If you do chemicals, be sure you select one that is ok for St. Augustine
If your St. Agustine is a yellowish color, that is normal winter dormancy so do not worry. If you have areas where it looks bleached out and really dry - that could be dead St. Augustine.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 7:45PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Which city do you live? I'm asking is because Dallas and Houston is a huge difference.

I have st augustine lawn that I maintain organically... meaning no pesticide, herbicide and synthetic fertilizer. I thought it worked better. So did others who tried this on their st augustine lawn... 15lbs per 1000 sqft.

1) Organic fertilizer... I use soybean meal that I buy from animal feed store (don't tell them what it's for-you'll get funny look from workers there). Very easy to spread with rotary spreader. For Dallas, March 1st probably would be ideal. For Houston or Austin, now is probably the time.

2) Mow high... 3 inches minimum. 4 inches during the summer for me to conserve water.

3) Water deeply and infrequently - I water every 10-14 days during the summer when it's not raining much. My rule of thumb is to water deeply whenever I see 50% of lawn wilting. I think I water about 1.5 inches of water meaning 900 gallons of water per 1000 sqft. It takes quite a while to put out that much water but it works MUCH better than frequent and shallow watering. Use tuna cans to find out how long it takes to fill it up and use that as guideline.

4) Pests - I use beneficial nematodes to keep things under control. don't be confused with total eradication. The problem with synthetic pesticide is that they also kill benefical bugs and others like praying mantis, lady bugs, frogs, lizards, etc that are actually responsible for keeping pest population under control. Wipe out good ones and the bad ones will rebound big time. The good ones takes a while to build up.

Number 2 and 3 will also keep weeds under control big time. Weed seeds needs light and frequent watering to germinate and grow. They usually have shallow root system while grass have deep roots so that's why deep watering and mowing high work great. If the weed problem is too much, try pre-emergent weed control. Post emergent weed control may harm trees, shrubs, etc so it's not worth it. In Dallas area, now is the time to put out pre-em. I've never used it though. i just pull weeds out occasionally but I don't get too many weeds to worry about.

Here's what my lawn looks like when I do all the steps outlined... From Before and After Lawn

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 8:16PM
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Thanks a lot for your help. I live in Dallas to be detailed. And hopefully, my grass isn't dead. After your posts, I think it its natural color for this time of year.

LOU____ with that organic fertilizer. Should I water the lawn after I spread the soybean meal? You live in DFW as well and you know that so far not too much of raining...

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 11:12PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)


I usually try to do it before the rain comes to wash it down and start the process. Same goes for alfalfa pellets. I would wait till it is almost time to mow grass to put down alfalfa pellets. When they get wet, it looks like millions of doo-doo on the lawn left behind thousands of small animals. Anyway, after they get wet and expand, I mow them down and they're gone. I don't have sprinkler system so I just wait for the storms. It is too much trouble for me to drag sprinklers around so that's why I only do it every 10-14 days. The soil is much better after 3 years of organic program. A whole lot more earthworms for sure. My soil isn't that great. Full of rocks. If you live where you have clay soil, you will end up with very nice stuff after a few years of organic program. Clay soil tend to hold moisture for a long time so you probably won't have to water so often once it's much improved.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2009 at 9:48AM
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little_dani(9, S. Tex Coast)

I had an aggie teacher tell me to fertilize at Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. He said to remember it easily, think BUNNIES, FLAG, FLAG, FLAG!

It does work well,

Your grass is probably dormant.


    Bookmark   February 17, 2009 at 12:58AM
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bkay2000(8a TX)

Don't worry about the brown and green mix of grass. It is normal for this time of the year if we haven't had much cold weather.

If you are not going organic, fertilize around the first of April, a light feeding the first of June (This is debatable - some people skip this feeding on St. Augustine) and then again at the first of September.

There are two radio programs that might help you learn about Texas gardening. Neil Sperry is on 820 AM on Saturday and Sunday mornings 8:00 to 11:00. He doesn't do organic. If you want organic, Howard Garrett is on 660 AM on Saturday 11:00 to 12:00 and on Sunday 8:00 to 12:00.

Good luck and welcome to Texas.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 5:02PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

If I had to go with synthetic fertilizer, it would be LESCO brand. you can get them at Home Depot. Usually they are 15-5-10 or 24-0-11. Unfortunately, the price skyrocketed recently and i noticed that it's cheaper to purchase them directly from Lesco stores. you'd have to go to their website and find out where they are located.

My schedule for synthetic program would look like this..

Feb 15-March 1 - Lesco Pre-Em weed control 0-0-7

April Fool's day - Lesco 15-5-10 or 24-0-11

June 1 - 080300 - LESCO IRON PLUS 20FE 8MN 5MG 7.5S 2ZN - NOTE - Only if the lawn is fully established. This is intended to keep lawn green without growth to reduce mowing and watering during the summer. Only available at Lesco stores.

September 1 - Lesco 15-5-10 or 24-0-11

***If you had been using fertilizer with the middle number for a while - stick with 24-0-11. the middle number is Phosphorus and it is very easy to build up to high level. They do not move down the soil very quickly and can do more harm than good.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 6:42PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Okay Lou, I'm going with your organic program. I got 50 lbs of soybean meal and 50 lbs of alfalfa pellets today. I spread the alfalfa pellets by hand and will try the spreader for the soybean meal. I'll water it in with the hose to start with and then the sprinkler system and/or sprinklers placed around -- can't wait for a rain or it might be midsummer before it decides to rain here again. It'll feed the rats for a couple of days until it gets dissolved into the ground, but that can't be helped. Looking forward to a lawn like yours (smile) ...

Happy organic lawn fertilizing!

PS We did put compost down last year (10 yards in the beds and lawn!) but it didn't do a thing to green things up! Sadly, it's not the same as it used to be from the place I always got it in San Antonio.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 5:51PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)


Try spreading dry molasses if you can. It will help multiply soil microbe population in a hurry resulting faster improvement to the soil. It seems to work during first two or three years of organic program. By 3rd year, the soil would be much improved so you probably won't much from molasses. Just feed soil microbes with soybean meal few times a year and that's all.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 11:48AM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Okay. Thanks Lou. Will check out getting dry molasses and add it also. Also do you know where I can order some rain? (Just kidding - grin)

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 2:09PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

*ahem* Fire Hydrant if you can rig it up without getting caught....

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 2:23PM
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Lou, I never tire of looking at your lawn! I love a thick and healthy St Augustine lawn.

A year or so ago at a local feed store (Roach's Feed & Seed in Garland) they sold me a 50# bag of a mixture of alfalfa and molasses. I don't recall who made it, though. It was easier to spread than either of those 2 things separately. I love the smell of alfalfa, especially after it gets wet. I guess I'm weird. :-)

Carla in Rowlett

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 12:50PM
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Ok, I just got through those posts. Well, maybe I'll go for organics as well?
So here it goes: dry molasses, soybean meal, and alfalfa pellets. Can I do them the same time?
As we plan to start our sprinklers this weekend (yeah, have you felt those 85F yesterday?!) I think I'd try to get those during the next week and apply them to my lawn.
No rain it the forecast....
But as I took a closer look at my lawn it seems that there are places where the grass can be dead - it's just pale, almost white and just seems and feels to be dead. What should I do with those patches? Should I wait a little longer before I clear that mess and expose the dirt? Or clear it now and try to sow some additional seeds?

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 4:05PM
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Anyone help, please, with the feed store localization (the closer to Flower Mound, the better) :-)

Lou____where is "yours" animal feed store? I've tried to find one via the Internet, and nothing seems to be rather close to Flower Mound :-(

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 5:24PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Click on the link and find the nearest town to you. I live in Midlothian but I drive to the next town Waxahachie for their best price around me. There is one in my town but the price is like twice the cost.

Here is a link that might be useful: Feed stores in Texas

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 5:51PM
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Last year I used some of the scotts "organic" fertilizer from home depot..... is that stuff any good?

should I switch to soybean meal? is it much cheaper than synthetic or other fertilizers?

when and how should one apply beneficial nematodes?

Would a drop spreader work for the soybean meal? how does one know how to set their spreader for the proper spread?

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 6:23PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)


I have used Scotts organic fertilizer before. It is relatively cheap. It smells a little bit though. Soybean meal never smelled bad for me. I use rotary spreader because it is a lot faster. If you know I use one bag for front and another bag for back. The rate is 15-20lbs per 1000 sqft and my backyard is 2500 so that works out perfectly. My front yard is same as well so no problem. I think my setting was somewhere halfway. I just spread around and around until it's empty. you don't need to be real precise like you'd do with synthetic fertilizer.

The price for soybean meal varies wildly from feed store to feed store so you'd have to call around to find the best price. It is not cheaper than synthetic fertilizer when you're looking at 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 sqft but the benefits in the long run is worth it. Much better soil. Full of earthworms. Plants doing better. The soil can hold water longer so you don't have to water as often.

It is tricky to apply beneficial nematodes. You use end hose sprayer but it must be done during a break during prolonged soaking rain to get maximum benefit. They need to be washed down to the ground and start burying into the ground. If you simply spray on grass during the day and they dry up fast, you've killed all of beneficial nematodes. I didn't have a good year last year because of lack of rain. The year before, it was working great because i sprayed during soaking rain. I may have looked stupid to neighbors but I didn't have major ant problems like them...

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 7:11PM
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I know this is an old thread but I have two questions--

we moved into house that was new to us but several years old about a year ago in december---
the previous owners supposedly used organic gardening but their backyard was/is in horrible shape (trying to correct lots of weeds and thin grass) and the front flower beds had flowers that were basically taking over everything---i.e. wood violets that are a pest IMO--
I wanted to continue with natural gardening but my husband said no way...
how can you tell if it just easier to take up bad grass and sod with something else...
this grass is bermuda and is just very thin with lots of weeds--we have tried pre-emergent and topical weed killers, fertilizer and water (and not overwatering)...but we can't seem to really make it take root and flourish...
My husband hates companies like Tru-Green--he has paid for them before and had horrible results...
I am going to get some LESCO fertilizer at the store closest to us and put that down today...
any other suggestions--like aerating--does it really help?

    Bookmark   April 14, 2010 at 1:57PM
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I want to put down Lesco's fall pre emergent for crabgrass. When is the best time to apply? The woman at Home Depot said not until the temperature is steadily below 72 degrees. any thoughts? (that could be weeks from now here in the metroplex)

    Bookmark   September 19, 2010 at 5:53PM
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