Gardening: Use proper care when applying weed killers

Eileen Ward

Normally, you need to be careful using lawn weed killers now, as lawn grasses can be dormant due to cold winter temperatures and the grass should be growing vigorously for the best results. While we just had a cold spell, we have had some warmer temperatures and lawns have been active enough for effective weed control.

Take great care when using weed killers on your grass. If possible, let lady beetles do the work.

Chinch bugs have also been active due to the warm weather, so watch for them and treat as needed. While mole crickets prefer bahia grass, I have seen them more and more frequently in St. Augustine lawns. Watch for small hills of sand in your lawn which look like ant hills. These may indicate mole crickets. The soil under your lawn may feel soft and give way with your footsteps. This is their tunnels collapsing as you walk on them. You may want to apply mole cricket bait for control.

Mites may be active as the hot, dry weather begins this winter. Mite infestations appear as yellow or gray stippled patterns on plant leaves. The undersides of infested leaves will have fine silk webbing across them. Heavy infestations turn leaves totally yellow, gray or brownish and eventually they fall off. Webbing may be spun over entire branches. To check for mites take a piece of white paper and hold it under the plant leaves and shake. The mites will be tiny and crawling around.

Also, watch for scale and aphids if growth activity begins on your shrubs and trees.  Aphids will appear in large numbers on the tender new stems and buds of plants. Their feeding often causes leaves to curl and distorts plant growth. Ants may be present as they feed on the sticky honeydew excreted by the aphids.

This honeydew also serves as media for the fungus growth known as "sooty mold."  This fungus will cover the leaves and turn them black. Aphid populations, along with the sooty mold, can be reduced by directing a strong stream of water from a garden hose on the infested plant. Also, spraying with a mild soap solution of 1 tablespoon of dish soap per gallon of water will help.

And don't forget the lady beetle, who is a voracious aphid and mite eater. If lady beetles are present, give them a chance to control the pests before you spray strong insecticides. Chances are they will get the problem under control.

Watch for dry patches in the lawn. The hot weather has increased the trans-evaporation rate of plants and with little rain the stress of drought can begin showing up early.  Check your irrigation systems for proper coverage now and you will be ready for the even dryer and warmer weather of spring due to arrive in another month.

On a more fun note, there are two ornamental shrubs common in our Marco Island yards that have edible fruit which will be ripening in February. They are the Surinam cherry and Carissa (natal plum). Try them! You'll be surprised at how tasty they are when perfectly ripe. Both will be a deep red when they are ready to eat. 

February will be the last slow month for yard chores. Enjoy the rest and get ready for all the things you will need to do in March to prepare for the summer growing season.

Eileen and Peter Ward have owned a landscape and lawn maintenance company for 35 years. Eileen can be reached at or 239-394-1413.