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Pre-emergence weed killers prevent seeds from sprouting. They create a chemical barrier on the soil surface that suppresses seed development. What this means is, if you sow your own seed after applying a pre-emergence weed killer, the seed isn’t likely to grow. However, some pre-emergence products only affect grassy weeds, so you can safely sow most vegetable and flower seeds after applying these herbicides. The same doesn’t apply to reseeding or overseeding your lawn. Grass seed won’t sprout until a pre-emergence weed killer has decayed and become ineffective. For example, it isn’t safe to sow lawn seed until four months after applying a crabgrass preventer.
It makes sense to be cautious about sowing seed after using weed killer. Certain herbicides can harm sprouting seeds and young plants. However, while you must wait several months to sow seed after applying some weed killers, you only need to wait a few days after applying others. The reason for this difference lies in the effect of the active chemicals in the individual products. Read the label carefully and follow all the directions when applying a weed killer.
You can sow seeds in as little as a week or even sooner after spraying glyphosate, a systemic, nonselective weed killer. Glyphosate moves from the leaves to the roots of plants, destroying the entire plant, but leaving no residue in the soil. The chemical affects many types of plants, including weeds, grasses and desirable plants, but after the liquid is absorbed into the plant, it doesn’t pose any further threat. You can safely sow ornamental flower seeds a day after spraying with glyphosate and grass and vegetable seeds, three days after, even though the herbicide takes up to seven days to destroy weeds. If you remove the dying weeds too soon, live roots could remain in the soil, ready to regrow. Another systemic weed killer that doesn’t affect seeds is pelargonic acid.
Pre-Emergence Weed Killers and Sowing Seed
Sowing seed after applying a pre-emergence weed killer disturbs the chemical barrier on the soil surface, which means that weed seeds may germinate too.
Many selective weed killers leave little or no trace in the soil, and they target certain plants while leaving others unharmed. Generally, these types of herbicides destroy either grassy weeds or broadleaf weeds. You can safely sow most seeds in your vegetable or flower patch a day after applying selective herbicides, such as sethoxydim, clethodim and bentazon, for grassy weeds. These herbicides only affect your desired plants if the plants belong to the grass family. For lawns, herbicides that destroy broadleaf weeds are effective, but it isn’t safe to reseed until a month after applying these products, unless the label states differently.
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.
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.
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 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.