It creeps and crawls, and left unchecked, it could infest your lawn.
It's crabgrass, a weed that sprouts from seeds in early spring and can spread like wildfire around the lawn until a hard frost kills it in the fall.
Good lawn care can fend off many weeds: Don't mow grass too short, and keep it properly watered and fertilized. If weeds cause problems despite those efforts, make a pre-emptive strike.
Weed seeds are in the lawn right now. A pre-emergent herbicide stops the seeds' growing process so they won't have a chance to sprout. This type of chemical won't hurt the turf, but it can be tough on certain weeds.
Don't apply a pre-emergent if other seeds or sod are expected to grow in the area. It will kill them, too. If you plan to plant a spring lawn, find a pre-emergent herbicide formulated for spring seeding.
w Know what kind of turf you have. Certain chemicals work better on some kinds of grass than others. Common turf types in this area are bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue, and fine fescue.
w Grab your bifocals because you need to read the fine print on the pre-emergent herbicide bag. Look for name brands such as Balan, Pre-M, Pendulum, Team, and Team Pro that contain chemicals such as benefin, pendimethalin, and trifluralin. These products can be applied before the weed seeds start to grow and work well with bluegrass, ryegrass, and fescue. Dimension contains dithiopyr and heads off crabgrass on bluegrass, ryegrass, and fescue. It may also control young crabgrass from spreading. Other products such as Betasan containing bensulide may also work on bentgrass lawns, but could be neutralized if you apply any type of charcoal. Ronstar G contains oxadiazon, but shouldn't be used if you have bentgrass, fine fescue, or are trying to plant new grass.
w At the same time a pre-emergent herbicide is applied, the lawn can receive its first shot of fertilizer for spring. Water the lawn afterward to move the chemical into the soil. Once the chemical is on top of the soil, it can get to work on the seeds buried just beneath the surface.
Professional lawn maintenance companies are able to use stronger, longer-lasting chemicals than those available in retail stores. Keep in mind that each retailer can blend its own poison potion, so all bags are not created equal. Look for the percentage of active ingredients and ask questions. Find a reliable retailer who can help you wade through the fine print.
Kelly Heidbreder is The Blade's garden writer. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.