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What next?

By John Fulton

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[April 04, 2012]  What a spring it has been. Daffodils were a couple of weeks early. Then the lilacs bloomed right on their heels. The leaves on oak trees are the size of a squirrel's ear (so time to plant corn -- right?), and the weeds are going gangbusters in the lawn. Well, here are some short tips to help you out with some of your dilemmas.

Crabgrass seed has already germinated and will continue to do so throughout the spring and summer months. Preventive treatments will still do some good for seed that will germinate over the next six to eight weeks, but treatments won't get seeds that have already germinated. The organic arsenicals, such as DSMA and MSMA, will control newly germinated grass -- including crabgrass. Remember, you should have a second preventive application around June 1 for summer control of crabgrass and other annual grasses.

Chickweed and henbit have gone gangbusters in lawns, fields and along roadsides. As a matter of fact, they already have produced viable seed for germination this fall. They are both winter annuals and can overwinter as small plants, then take off in the spring. They certainly accomplished that this year. These weeds will disappear during the heat of the summer, and who knows when that will be this year. You might be better off withholding a herbicide application for later use this season.

With ethephon applications for nuisance fruit removal, such as on sweet gum trees, the key is in the timing. The application must be made during flowering but before the fruit sets in. For most flowering trees, there is a 10- to 14-day window of opportunity. Sweet gums are a little tricky since there are no showy flowers involved, so effective sprays should occur just as new leaves begin to emerge. Sprays should leave leaves wet, but not to the point of dripping. Good coverage of the tree is needed, so keep in mind the size of the tree when you are weighing this option. There are injectable products available, but they must be applied by a professional. The injectable products have not been as effective as the sprays. This means you'll have to really hurry to have any control on sweet gums this year.

Should you plant tender crops susceptible to frost? Probably only if you have a way of protecting plants with covers, row coverings and so on. All it takes is one day or night below freezing to cause a replant. We may return to more normal temperatures in the future, and we normally look at early May for planting warm-loving crops in the garden.

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What about insects? We always have more insects than we would like in lawns, gardens and ornamentals. A warm winter, after a hot, dry summer last year, will probably add to their numbers this year. And the season has started early. I've seen buffalo gnats in some locations already. Usually after a summer like we experienced last year, we can expect a much larger number of grasshoppers. Black cutworm moth catches have already occurred in pheromone traps, and of the intense number needed to start calculating cutting dates for vegetables and field crops.

As for a couple of the more common insect pests, it would definitely be wise to keep your own vigil for their appearance. Another method to begin scouting them out would be to use plant indicators such as those published in Orton's "Coincide" book. Bagworms are usually sprayed around June 15, but here are some of the plant indicators: northern catalpa or Japanese tree lilacs in full bloom, mock orange in bloom, hills-of-snow hydrangea beginning bloom, and serviceberry with some ripe fruit. Euonymus scale is usually an early June initial treatment, then followed with three repeat applications about 10 days apart. Indicators would include northern catalpa or Japanese tree lilac in early bloom, cockspur hawthorn in bloom, or beauty bush in bloom. These are just some examples if you happen to know where to find some of the indicator plants.

[By JOHN FULTON, University of Illinois Extension]

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