First Frost

Some locations in Rock-bridge experienced the first frost of the season this past weekend very close to long-run averages for the date of this annual seasonal climate benchmark.

But first frost does not mean everything stops growing and Rockbridge is now in a period for both homeowners and farmers where they may be able to capitalize on this period of less vigorous but still active plant growth. Of course, current drought conditions can limit these opportunities but recent showers activity can afford some narrow windows of opportunity.

For the homeowner, this period around first frost provides an opportunity to enhance root growth and development in the lawn. While grass growth above ground is curtailed with cooler weather, an application of moderate amounts of fertilizer timed with the presence of some soil moisture in the top 4 inches thanks to some recent showers, can enhance root development and thicken desirable grass sods.

For the farmer, it is a little trickier to capitalize on opportunities for pasture improvement due to this year’s dry conditions. Pastures benefit from timely applications of poultry litter or commercial fertilizer around first frost just as lawns do.

In a normal fall, there is sufficient soil moisture to ensure pasture roots will fully capture and immediately benefit from the added plant nutrients. However, the logistics of timing field-scale fertilizer applications with the limited soil moisture we have makes it more difficult this fall. This year, such applications need to be considered on a case-by-case basis since some fields have been very closely grazed and may have insufficient leaf area to stimulate root growth while other fields have soils that are so dry the plant roots will not be able to respond.

The period around first frost can also be an opportunity for both farmers and homeowners to control some weeds. Thistle rosettes, chickweed and henbit are good examples of weeds that can be easily controlled with a small about of herbicide in the mid to late fall. Once again, a minimal amount of soil moisture is necessary to activate the plants so they will absorb the herbicide, so the timing of the application relative to a rain shower will be an important consideration this fall.

For more information on strategies for fall fertility and weed control strategies, contact the Rockbridge Extension Office.

The News-Gazette

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