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It's Time to Combat Crabgrass with Corn!

Friday - 3/11/2011, 9:32am  ET

Editor's note: WTOP Garden Editor Mike McGrath will appear at the free indoor Flower Show at Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, Md. (just outside of Annapolis) this weekend! On Saturday, March 12, he'll reveal how to grow your best tasting tomatoes ever at 11 a.m., and on Sunday, March 13 it's a no-holds barred Q & A (with a special emphasis on lawn care) beginning at noon. There will be a book signing after each talk. Mike and the Flower Show are both free (but bring money).

It's Time to Combat Crabgrass with Corn!

Randall in Herndon writes: "I went to your lawn care presentation earlier this year at the Capital Home and Garden Show in Chantilly, and as a result, purchased the 'Concern' brand of corn gluten meal today. Now I'm wondering when I should apply it to my lawn for the best results. (I must have missed that part of your presentation.)"

Well, I'm very glad you wrote, Randall. WTOP listeners are checking in from our southern reaches to report the first blooms on their forsythia and redbuds (Thanks guys. Such reports are a big help to yours truly!), and that means the application time for any pre-emergent herbicide is here or fast approaching.

So apply the corn gluten to your lawn (at a rate of 10 to 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet of turf) just as those distinctive shrubs and trees bloom in your neighborhood. And don't delay -- it's always better to apply a pre-emergent like corn gluten to your lawn a little early than a little late, because once the weed seeds have successfully germinated, any weed and feed product -- chemical or organic -- will just feed the weeds.

But how can We Gluten in the Rain?

Jeff in Chevy Chase and Joe in Derwood are both good little gardeners who have their bags of corn gluten meal in hand, ready to spread as an all-natural weed and feed to prevent the germination of crabgrass in their lawns this Spring. And they both have the same question about when to apply it: "Before or after a rain?"

Well, boys, if it isn't raining at the correct time of application in the spring, you should spread the corn gluten, wet it down thoroughly and then let it dry out completely. That's how you kill the most crabgrass.

Now that we're in the rainy season however, try to apply it right before a good rain that will be followed by a dry four or five days. Yes, the timing can be tricky in a rainy spring, but think it through, take your best shot, get it down while the redbuds and forsythia are blooming and you're certain to achieve some good crabgrass control -- and you'll feed your lawn perfectly for sure!

Can Corn Gluten Prevent Garden weeds?

Dan in Vienna writes: "I've used corn gluten meal to prevent crabgrass on my lawn with amazing results for the past three years; and I just got this spring's application down before last week's big rainstorm hit (my forsythia had just popped and I knew the time was right!). Now I'm wondering if I can use it to prevent weeds in my vegetable garden in areas where I don't plant seeds (like my raspberry patch). Or does it have too much nitrogen for fruit and veggie production?"

Well, your instincts are right on target, Dan. Corn gluten meal will prevent weed seeds from germinating for six to eight weeks after application in any situation, lawn or garden. But its high nitrogen levels would also inhibit flowering and fruit production. (Especially on those raspberries, which just hate being fed.)

Stick to a nice mulch of shredded leaves or compost to prevent weeds in the garden and save the gluten for crabgrass time...with two big exceptions: Corn gluten meal is perfect for preventing weeds in between rows of corn (after all of the corn seed is up, of course) and in garlic beds. Both of those crops like a good nitrogen feeding (especially the sweet corn) and there's no flowering to inhibit.

How to Chase Clover out of your Turf

Lynda from Andover writes: "Do you know of a way to rid a lawn of clover? Patches of it have sprung up in my lawn but the surrounding grass seems healthy."

Clover in a lawn is a classic sign of two basic problems, Lynda: Overwatering and underfeeding.

Water: Lawns should always be allowed to dry out completely between waterings. So never add water to a lawn during rainy times, and limit watering during dry times to one deep soaking -- that's a full inch of water once a week. People who water their lawns for short periods every day (or ignore rain when they gauge their watering needs) will always have lots of clover.

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