Spreading seed is an inexpensive way to grow a lush lawn, but exposed soil between germination and establishment makes it vulnerable to weeds. Although chemical weed preventers have different mixtures and instructions, you should not apply them while seeding or immediately afterward. You must allow one to four months between applying this type of chemical and spreading seed.
Avoid the need for weed preventers by keeping your lawn healthy. Once established, only water your turf once a week during the growing season. Up to 1 inch of water during this watering session allows roots to search deeply for moisture to create strong grass. Shallow grass roots die in stressful conditions, like drought, and allow weeds to grow in thinned spots. Allow your turf to grow to a healthy height as well, typically between 1 and 3 inches, depending on the species. Long grass blades mean the grass can produce enough energy to stay healthy and compete with weeds. In short, healthy and well-maintained grass has less problems with weed growth.
Even if you time your weed preventer and seeding periods correctly, you need to do the job right to get an even lawn with no bare patches. Apply seeds uniformly across your yard using a drop spreader on a mild fall day. Spread up to 1-inch of organic mulch over the seeds to conserve moisture and encourage germination. Water the seeds at least twice a day for short, 10-minute sessions. You do not want to wash away the seeds, but they need consistent moisture to grow. Hand pull any weeds that appear while the grass seedlings develop. Do not apply any chemicals for weed control.
Chemical weed preventers, also called preemergent herbicides, are usually granules or liquids, but both require water to work. As the preventer soaks into the ground, it leaves a residual film in the top 1-inch of soil. Because most seeds germinate at or just below the soil’s surface, these preemergent herbicides remain active against any germination processes for up to four months, depending on the chemicals involved. Organic weed preventers work in a similar way. With many weeds being members of the grass family, all seeds, including desired lawn species, fail to germinate and sprout after you’ve used a weed preventer.
Cool-season grasses are usually seeded, as opposed to warm-season grasses that usually need to be grown from sod or plugs. Because cool-season grass seeds germinate best in fall, apply your chemical preventer in spring to actively kill off weeds in spring and summer. In general, temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit are good for weed preventer application. Hot days often cause the chemicals to vaporize into the atmosphere, reducing their effectiveness. By the time fall seeding weather arrives, the chemicals are no longer active and the grass seeds will be able to sprout.
Only use a weed and feed if the weed infestation is completely uniform over the entire lawn and all species of weeds targeted will be affected by the herbicide in the weed and feed. This scenario doesn’t occur often, so it is more likely the use of an herbicide and a fertilizer separately will be needed. If the weeds are uniformly spread over the area to be treated, match the appropriate weed and feed product to your grass, the seed you have recently applied or want to apply, and the time of year.
It’s important to know a little about herbicides so you can make the best choice for when to apply seed in an area that has been treated for weeds. The most common types of herbicide in weed and feed products are selective and systemic. Selective herbicides target a species of plant to kill while systemic herbicides work by being absorbed though the roots and then transported throughout the plant, killing it from within. Read the bag label to see what kind of herbicide is used in the weed and feed you are considering using or have used. The bag label will tell you how many days you must wait before applying seed to a lawn that has been treated with that product.
Herbicides can target weeds before they germinate from seed – pre-emergent – or as developed plants – post-emergent. Before you seed, you can use a non-selective, post-emergent herbicide to control any weeds in the area to be seeded. Most of these can be applied up to two weeks before seeding to control any existing weeds. Herbicides should not be used after seeding until the new seedlings are established. Mowing and spot treatments can be used to control weeds until the seeded area is actively growing and requires only maintenance watering. Establishment times vary depending on the type of seed you use and your weather conditions.
Using Weed and Feed
It is important to know what kind of grass you have growing or want to have growing. Certain chemicals act differently on different species of grass and weeds. For example, the common herbicide 2,4-D is toxic to some cultivars of St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum), which grows in the area roughly covered by U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10. Another common herbicide, atrazine, is potentially lethal to grass when applied in temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the instructions on the bag of each weed and feed product to determine how it will affect seeding.
Weed and feed fertilizers are often used in combination with seeding. Weed and feed formulations consist of two components: a herbicide to kill weeds and a fertilizer to strengthen the turf. The herbicide will weaken the grass as well as the weeds and the fertilizer will strengthen the weeds as well as the grass. When applying seed over a weed and feed application, remember that some weed and feeds can prevent grass seeds from growing.
Sara DeBerry is a graduate of the University of Florida holding a masters degree in environmental horticulture and a minor in entomology and nematology. DeBerry has been writing for government agencies since 2004 and has published peer reviewed scientific articles during her studies at UF.
Pre-emergent weed and feed is applied in early spring so the herbicide is in place before the undesirable weeds germinate. Pre-emergent herbicide works by inhibiting germination. It must be watered with at least one-half inch of water to move the chemical from the surface into the soil. Post-emergent herbicides, however, must be applied while the weeds are actively growing because for the chemical to work, the herbicide must be absorbed into the plant.
You want a beautiful lawn for your family to enjoy, but it’s no longer enough to just mow it. You have to fertilize, water, kill weeds and then reseed any bare spots. Using a weed and feed product saved you some time, so now you’re ready to plant some grass seed. You may have to wait a bit longer, though, depending on the type of weed and feed product you used.
Since weed and feed products are designed to prevent germination — or to eradicate a living plant — they can, for the most part, have a similar effect on young turf grass. The only exception is the pre-emergent herbicide siduron, which is actually used to assist in seed germination. When using a pre-emergent that does not contain siduron, wait a minimum of two months before seeding. If using a product designed for broadleaf weeds, read the label carefully, because the active ingredient in these post-emergent herbicides have a wider range for the waiting period. Grass can be planted in as little as one month after application for products using 2,4-D to as much as six months for atrazine-based products.
Why You Wait
Weed and feed products consist of fertilizers such as nitrogen or potassium, and a pre-emergent or post-emergent herbicide. If the weed and feed is designed for spring application, it contains a pre-emergent. If it is designed for later in the growing season, it incorporates a post-emergent herbicide. Knowing which one you are using is important because the herbicides affect plants in significantly different ways.
When you are ready to seed your lawn, use a garden rake to remove debris and to break up the surface to ensure the seed comes into contact with the soil. Broadcast the seeds in two directions to ensure complete coverage, and water the ground lightly and often for up to two weeks — keeping the soil moist. Once seedlings have established, gradually reduce the frequency of the watering, but lengthen the amount of time per watering. This will encourage a deep root system for your grass.