Taking an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management


Missouri Environment & Garden


Brad S. Fresenburg
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology
(573) 884-8785

Over-the-Counter Lawn Care Products

Brad S. Fresenburg
University of Missouri
(573) 884-8785

Published: March 1, 2008

Seed Products

Fall still remains the best time of the year to establish cool-season grasses such as tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. However, we tend to receive numerous calls every spring about planting grass seed. Therefore, homeowners need to understand several key points about purchasing the right type of seed and how to be assured they are doing so.

Seed Tags:

All grass seed bags have a seed label printed or pasted on the bag. Several pieces of information on the label should be considered before seed is purchased. A seed tag will list the species (Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, etc.), variety name (Kenblue, Abbey, Plantation, Crossfire II, Shining Star, etc.), purity (should be greater than 90 percent), germination (should be greater than 80 percent), weed seed content (percent) and noxious weed seed content (percent) and testing date (should be 12 months or less). The species and variety name of the seed will tell you exactly what you’re buying. As long as the purity and germination are acceptable, the next most important information to consider is the weed listings. The best products list 0 percent for weeds and noxious weeds. Any product containing weed seed will list the type of weed seed contaminating the turfgrass seed. Avoid any seed product containing noxious weeds.

Specific blends and mixtures

The number of seed products being sold over-the-counter can be overwhelming to homeowners. However, by looking at the seed tags on products, several can be eliminated immediately. These include products that contain large percentages of ryegrasses. Many of these seed products are packaged for national sales and while they are excellent products for many areas of the country, they are not the best for the type of climate we deal with in Missouri. Concentrate more on the products that are tall fescue blends or mixtures of tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. By doing this the selection choices become more narrow and simplified.

Individual varieties (from different venders) of tall fescues can be found locally to create your own blends. Measure equal portions of each variety used and combine thoroughly in a large clean bucket or trashcan. You have now created your own tall fescue blend. The same can be done to develop your own mixture. Combine a blend of tall fescues with a blend of Kentucky bluegrass in the correct portions and you just created your own mixture.

Blends (3 to 4 varieties in equal portions) of turf-type tall fescues can give deep emerald green appearances with a slightly coarser texture than the bluegrasses. They tend to be a deeper rooting plant, therefore requiring less water than a bluegrass lawn. They are not as susceptible to dollar spot and summer patch, but generally will require some fungicides for the control of brown patch disease. Several varieties of turf-type tall fescues offer superior resistance to brown patch and therefore will improve turf quality. Tall fescues will tiller to help with recovery, but tend to be clumpy with severe thinning. They also grow well in full sun to partial shade.

Mixtures, such as turf-type tall fescues (in a blend) with Kentucky bluegrasses (90 percent fescue, 10 percent bluegrass), combine the advantages or strengths of each species to mask the weaknesses of the other. Any grass seed mixture with perennial ryegrass should not exceed 20 percent perennial ryegrass, as it is susceptible to most of the diseases list above. Ryegrass is not very heat or drought tolerant and does not recover from thinning of cover. Unfortunately, many seed mixtures and blends available to homeowners at local garden centers contain large amounts of ryegrass (both annual and perennial) and fine-leaf fescues (creeping red fescues, hard fescues, etc.). Fine-leaf fescues have little tolerance for direct sunlight.


Fertilizer products vary as much as any other type of home lawn care product. Just as we discussed seed tags on the seed products, homeowners need to learn what they can about fertilizer products by looking at the guaranteed analysis usually listed on the back panel. Fertilizers, usually contain nitrogen (N)-phosphorus (P)-potassium (K) as a percentage (ei. 28-3-3) of the net weight, are specified in this section called the “guaranteed analysis”. Many fertilizers are generally in a quick release form. Fertilizers of this type are immediately available to the plant giving a quick flush of growth that last only a few weeks before tapering off. Turfgrasses prefer a more even feeding throughout the growing season rather than the peaks and valleys typically seen in their growth rates with quick release fertilizers.

Fertilizers that contain slow release forms of nitrogen sources will be listed in the analysis. Nitrogen derived from polymer-coated urea (PCU), sulfur-coated urea (SCU), or methylene-ureas indicates to you that a portion of this product is slow release. The guaranteed analysis will state this information. Fertilizer products containing at least 30 percent slow released nitrogen to as much as 100 percent are desirable. One can simply determine that percentage of slow released nitrogen in a product by taking the percentage of nitrogen derived from slow released sources and dividing by the total percentage of nitrogen in the product. Example: If a product has 28 percent nitrogen (28-3-3) and the guaranteed analysis specifies that 10 percent of the nitrogen is derived from methylene-urea, then take 10 divided by 28 to equal a 35 percent slow release fertilizer.

Be sure to apply fertilizer products according to the application instructions on the label. Over applications of many synthetic OTC fertilizers can cause lawn injury.

Natural organic fertilizers become an excellent choice for home lawns since they are classified as 100 percent slow release. They typically have lower percentages of nitrogen, requiring more product per unit area, providing better distribution of material for a more uniform application. Organic fertilizers have no potential for lawn injury and can be applied at any time of the year. Keep in mind that organic fertilizers require soil microbes to break them down, therefore warm soil temperatures are necessary to favor soil microbial activity.

Granular Pest Control Products

Granular pest control products (crabgrass preventers without fertilizer, broadleaf weed controls without fertilizer, fungicides for disease control, and insecticides) are available to homeowners through a variety of brand names for controlling weeds, diseases and insects. As with any pest control situation, it is important for homeowners and gardeners to first identify the pest. Then ask, “Why is the pest there?” So often, we are in a hurry to get something applied to control the pest that we often forget to think about what we may do differently in our lawn care practices to favor the grass and not the pest. Following good cultural practices (tall mowing height, maintain high density, good fertility program, good watering practices) will often provide a lawn that will compete well with weeds, diseases and insects.

When the need for such a product is justified, it is important to apply only what is needed – never more than what is specified on the label. All of these products will specify how many square feet (5,000, 7,500, etc.) the net contents of the bag will cover. Even distribution of the product is important to the effectiveness of the product. It is also important to note any special instructions with these products, such as; applying granules to wet leaf surfaces (from morning dew) or to be sure to water in with ½ inch of water. With all granular materials, it is also important to sweep sidewalks and driveways. Keep the product where it is needed and not in our drains, sewers and ground water.

Combination Products

Combination products are those that most homeowners are familiar with. These are products that combine a fertilizer with a pest control material. Crabgrass preventers and Weed n Feeds are the most common.

Crabgrass preventers

These are products, most often with a fertilizer, that are designed to control many summer annual grasses (crabgrass, goosegrass, foxtails, etc.) and broadleaf weeds (knotweed, spurge, purslane, etc.). Timing and proper watering are keys to their success. Crabgrass preventers are preemergence materials that need to be applied prior to the germination of the weed seed. In Missouri, that can range from late March (southern) to mid-April (northern). Preemergent materials (Barricade, Dimension, Pre-M, Ronstar, etc.) also need to be watered in with at least ½ inch of water. This can be timed with a rainfall or irrigated in.

Keep in mind that good cultural practices (tall mowing height, good turf density, and proper fertility and watering) will provide a turf that competes (> 80 percent control) so well with annual weeds, that crabgrass preventers could be avoided.

Weed n Feeds:

Weed n Feed products are often mistaken as crabgrass preventers or the term “Weed n Feed” is often misused. While the terminology could apply to crabgrass preventers, because they do keep weeds out of your lawn and feed it, most of these products are marketed for broadleaf weeds. Weed n Feed products contain active ingredients such as 2,4-D, MCPP, dicamba, triclopyr, etc. Crabgrass preventers contain active ingredients such as prodiamine, dithiopyr, pendimethalin, oxadiazon, etc. (Barricade, Dimension, Pre-M, Ronstar).

Several points need to be made about Weed n Feed products. While we do recognize broadleaf weeds (annuals and perennials) in the spring, majority of those well established broadleaves (dandelions, plantains, etc.) are perennials. Perennial broadleaf weeds are more easily controlled in the late summer (September). If significant weed pressure exists, then the application of a Weed n Feed product at that time will provide better control. If only a few broadleaf weeds exist, then spot treatments with an RTU would be a better management practice than a blanket application of a Weed n Feed.

The primary reason Weed n Feed products fail in their control, is the fact that the product was not applied when leaf tissue was wet from morning dew. Prills of the product provide better control when particles can adhere to the leaf blade of broadleaf weeds for a period of time. Weed n Feed labels do specify this in the application instructions of these products.

Another reason Weed n Feed products fail is the immediate watering in of the product. Unlike the crabgrass preventers, these do not get watered in immediately and often specify the avoidance of immediate rainfall in the forecast. They also specify not mowing 24 hours prior to and after application of the product.

Liquid Pest Control Products

Many liquid pest control products are also available to homeowners. These are more in the form of herbicides (Trimec, Weed-b-Gon, etc.), however, other products can be applied through a hose end applicator (most popular one being Ortho) for disease and insect control. Be sure to follow the instructions for the hose end applicator of your choice to set the correct rate of application.

Many liquid products are now being marketed in disposable hose end applicators. They do not require any mixing, calibrating or clean-up. The mixing and calibrating is done by the design of the applicator.

Several of the weed control products have spot treatment labels that require only a few teaspoons or tablespoons per gallon of water that can be applied through a pump-up sprayer. Problems that develop with this type of application, is over applying the solution. Do not drown the weed in spray mix. The proper application is to spray the weed to wet the leaf surface, and then stop.

Ready-To-Use (RTU) Products

These are the latest in over-the-counter products that makes life easy for many homeowners and gardeners. They provide ready-to-use solutions for spot spraying weeds or treating individual plants for a disease or insect problem. There are usually in a liquid form and marketed in a handy spray bottle that eliminates the need for mixing or calibrating sprayers and spreaders. Simply read the label and follow the instructions provided.

It can be intimidating to walk into a garden center and see shelf after shelf of lawn care products. One approach may be to search out a specific product on the web first. Another would simply be to take your time and decide which product will meet your needs and then what is the best means of applying that product. Do not forget your local extension office is only a phone call away, if questions arise.

Applying Over-the-Counter Lawn Care Products Correctly

Area measurements and mapping a lawn should be the first step in any home lawn care program. It is essential to know the square footage of your lawn in order to make accurate applications of fertilizers and other lawn care products. The most commonly used area measurements are square feet (sqft) and acres (ac). Most home lawns can be measured up in units of 1,000 sq ft.

Calculating area can be accomplished using very simple applications of geometric figures (rectangles, triangles, or circles).

Geometric figures:

    Rectangle Area = length x width
    Triangle Area = (length of base x height) / 2
    Circle Area = 3.14(radius)2

Calibrating Home Lawn & Garden Equipment

Quick facts
For fertilizers or pesticides to be effective, they must be applied uniformly at recommended rates.

Equipment (sprayers and spreaders) must be calibrated to ensure adequate application.

Misapplication wastes time, material and money, and may harm the applicant or the environment.

Liquid application equipment should be calibrated with plain water.

Granular applicators (spreaders) must be calibrated with the actual product.

Proper use of fertilizers and pesticides, whether of synthetic or natural origin, contributes to healthy plant growth. Applying too much may cause foliar burns or other toxic reactions in the plant. Using too little may result in damaged plants from inadequate pest control or nutrient deficiencies.

The only way to know just how much fertilizer or pesticide is being applied to the plants in your yard is to calibrate the application equipment. Calibrating application equipment is relatively simple.

This guide outlines the steps for calibrating sprayers used for liquid applications and lawn spreaders used for dry products. Always read and follow the product label. Be sure to follow all safety precautions and wear proper clothing, rubber gloves, etc. as specified by the label.

Steps in calibrating a pump-up sprayer

Adjust the nozzle opening to give the type of spray pattern desired. For hose-end sprayers, adjust the setting to the recommended dilution rate on the product label.

Add a measured amount of plain water to the sprayer or concentrate canister. Use an amount equal to about half the sprayer’s capacity.

Pressurize the sprayer. Hand pump canister sprayers or turn water on for hose-end sprayers. Most canister sprayers do not have a pressure gauge. You can tell if you are maintaining a constant amount of pressure by the feel of the tension on the plunger.

Spray the water onto a hard, flat surface such as a driveway. Use the same walking pace you would if applying actual pesticide. Make certain the water is applied uniformly, with no gaps and with only a small amount of overlapping.

After the spray canister is empty, or when the concentrate container of the hose-end sprayer is empty, measure the area covered by the water.


If you sprayed a band 16 feet wide by 50 feet long, you covered 800 square feet: 16 feet x 50 feet = 800 square feet. You may want to repeat steps two through five a few times until you get consistent readings.

Calculate the amount of liquid coverage per unit area, and record that value for future reference.

Liquid calibration tips

Rate of liquid applied varies with pressure and size of nozzle opening. Maintain constant, adequate pressure. Keep nozzle clean and setting unchanged for variable nozzles.

Avoid excessive spray overlap. Overlapped areas get a double dose. A small overlap is necessary to prevent unsprayed gaps. If good spray coverage is questionable, cut the application rate in half and apply to the same area twice at right angles to one another. Let the first application dry before applying the second.

The spray pattern should be continuous and uninterrupted. Keep your walking rate and sprayer wand arm movement constant.

Direct the spray pattern away from the applicator. Avoid walking through the spray.

Never spray on a windy day. Air movement above 10 miles per hour may cause undesirable drift.

Keep a separate set of measuring spoons and cups for pesticide use only. Do not use them for any other purpose.

Use a separate sprayer labeled “weed killer only” or “herbicide only” for weed control products.

Wear appropriate protective clothing. A long-sleeved shirt, long pants, rubber gloves and water-proof footwear are recommended. Protective eyewear may be necessary. Check the product label for requirements.

On trees, shrubs and other upright growing plants, spray until the pesticide solution begins to drip from the leaves. Spray the underside of leaves as well as the top.

Clean sprayer thoroughly after each use.

Calibrating spreaders

Homeowners have a wide variety of spreaders to work with - some drop type, some rotary type, some listed on the product label for recommended settings, and many that are not. Rotary type spreaders are the best option in the application of lawn care products. They make applications easier, due to the fact that you do not need to worry about coming back precisely on your previous wheel marks. Rotary spreaders also require fewer passes to cover your lawn.

The best approach for homeowners does not necessarily involve the actual calibration of their spreader, but a more common sense approach to applying lawn care products. First, you need to accurately measure the square footage of your lawn and then purchase the correct amount of lawn care product. Second, evenly distribute that material over the total square footage. For example, you measured your lawn to be 10,000 square feet. The lawn care product you purchase states that, the contents of this bag covers 5,000 square feet. Therefore, you require 2 bags of this product to cover 10,000 square feet. You may ask now, what is the best technique to evenly distribute this product. Even distribution is usually assured with multiple passes in multiple directions over your lawn. Therefore, place your spreader on a light setting and continue to make passes over your lawn, changing directions with each pass until all the required material has been applied. This may require 3, 4, 5 or more trips over your lawn, but you can be certain that the distribution of the material is very good. In time, as you become familiar with your spreader and the products you use; you can fine tune your spreader to reduce the number of trip required.

Most fertilizers and lawn care products have tables on their bags with suggested settings for various brands of spreaders. If you are fortunate enough to own a spreader specified in the table, then; use that setting. Keep in mind that those settings are usually for one pass over the lawn. These application tables also assume a 3 mph walking speed. To give uniform applications, consider cutting the setting by 1/3 to ½, making two to three applications to avoid skips. This might be a way to decrease the number of trips you have to make with the above method.

For those wishing to know specific calibration techniques of rotary spreaders, please refer to MU Guide Sheet WQ551 – Calibrating Home Garden Equipment @ http://extension.missouri.edu/explore/envqual/wq0551.htm.

granular rotary spreader

Granular calibration tips

Drop spreaders are more precise and there is little chance of product application to non-target areas. However, small steering errors can easily lead to missed or double-covered strips. Also, drop spreaders may clog in wet grass.

Rotary spreaders are faster than drop spreaders but are more difficult to calibrate. Product distribution is less uniform, and wind may blow the product off the intended area.

The application rate for granular spreaders depends on the granule size, the spreader setting and the speed at which the operator walks.

Spreader calibration must be done for each product and applicator that uses the spreader.

Always sweep up and reuse the product used for calibration.

Use a header strip in areas where the spreader must be turned around. A header strip is a swath of the spreader applied at right angles to the main direction of spreading. This allows the applicator to maintain constant speed up to the header strip.

Shut the spreader off while turning around on the header strip.

Wash the spreader out after each use. Allow to dry before storing. Lubricate according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Useful measurements and conversions

    1 acre = 43,560 square feet
    1 square yard = 9 square feet
    Liquid measure
    1 gallon = 4 quarts = 8 pints = 16 cups
    1 pint = 2 cups = 16 fluid ounces
    1 cup = 16 tablespoons = 48 teaspoons
    1 teaspoon = 1/6 fluid ounce = 0.17 fluid ounce
    1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons = 1/2 fluid ounce

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REVISED: September 30, 2015