Time to Spray Cool-Season Grasses

Published on: Apr. 21, 2009

Spring is here. That means turkey season, crappie fishing and morel mushrooms. Spring also means the end of the winter bottleneck for bobwhites, which is proudly announced with the familiar "bob... bob... white!" whistle. I'm still waiting to hear my first whistle of the year. I'll hear a few during turkey season.

It also means cool-season grasses like fescue, brome and bluegrass are growing. While at the farm last weekend I noticed a few big patches of green in the fields we burned over the winter. Unfortunately the big patches weren't native grasses and wildflowers. It was fescue. I loaded up my ATV sprayer and made quick work of the intruding patches. We really don't have a fescue problem and I don't want one, so each year we scan the property for fescue and brome. Any patch bigger than a covey headquarter (1,500 square feet) gets a good squirt of herbicide.

Spraying Strategies

Normally I recommend spraying fescue in the fall (October - November) in Missouri. Fall treatments require less herbicide and will not hurt most native plants. By late fall most native plants are dormant and a broadcast herbicide treatment with a non-selective herbicide like glyphosate will not hurt most native grasses, wildflowers or shrubs.

Spring is also a good time to treat cool-season grasses. Spring treatments will require more herbicide or selective, grass-only herbicides. In the spring I usually only spray small patches, field edges and shrubby cover infested with cool-season grasses. Generally I don't recommend spring treatments for entire fields or places with lots of wildflowers, but there are always exceptions. In fields with lots of wildflowers you can use grass selective herbicides in place of non-selective herbicides. Grass selective herbicides will not damage broadleaf plants and are fairly effective at controlling most cool-season grasses. As a rule of thumb, apply grass selective herbicides in early April to minimize damage to native grasses as these herbicides can damage or even kill native grasses (especially native cool-season grasses). Be careful and make sure you follow label directions! It is also a good idea to calibrate your sprayer to make sure you are applying the proper amount of herbicide. Also, when the label instructions call for ammonia sulfate, surfactant or crop oil its for a reason. Use them!

Sometimes I recommend spraying non-selective herbicides in the spring (April - early May) to control fescue or brome

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