Over the last eight plus years as an extension agent I have answered thousands of calls about landscape issues, but the number one topic consistently includes lawn problems. Questions about weeds, disease, and suspected insects regularly top the homeowner list. Although these pests can all cause problems in lawns, many times they are secondary to the initial issue of incorrect maintenance practices. Here are a couple of maintenance practices that are easy to correct.
Mowing matters. There are four main warm season lawn grasses grown in the Florida Panhandle and they require different leaf blade lengths to thrive. Cutting leaf blades too short reduces surface area needed to capture sunlight for photosynthesis and scalping can cause damage to growing points leading to dead patches.
Recommended mowing height:
• Zoysiagrass: 2-2.5 inches
• Bermudagrass 1-1.5 inches
• St. Augustinegrass 3-4 inches
• Centipedegrass 1.5-2 inches
Always be sure mower blades are kept sharp. Ragged cuts can increase moisture loss and are more susceptible to insects and disease. Never remove more than 30% of leaf blade at one time. If you must skip mowing, take the grass down to the recommended height in stages rather than all at once. Change the direction of mowing to avoid creating ruts or compacted areas in your lawn. Keep mowers and other equipment clean so that you do not transfer weeds or infected clippings throughout your landscape. If you have a problem area in the lawn, cut that section last and clean the mower before storing.
Fertilize at the appropriate time. As winter weather wanes and the first hints of spring arrive, it is tempting to start fertilizing lawns to “speed up green up” but resist the urge. Turfgrass slows growth in the winter but may not be in a full dormancy due to fluctuating temperatures. As the grass begins to grow and turn green it taps into stored energy reserves to make the transition. Converting fertilizer to usable nutrients also takes energy reserves from plants, so if applied during green up this creates an additional cost to the lawn. If temperatures stay warm and water is available, the lawn will be able to create more carbohydrates to use for life functions and replace reserves. However, if the temperature drops (as it commonly does in the late winter/early spring in our area) the grass has a difficult time recovering since it has depleted stored carbohydrates using the early application of fertilizer. Some fungal diseases of turfgrass also benefit from nitrogen fertilization in the early spring. Warm season grasses should only be fertilized when actively growing which is from mid-April until October in our region. Only use fertilizer products labeled for use on lawns and do not exceed label rates.
For more information on lawns join us for our next Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! free webinar on Thursday, April 8th at noon. Register for the Zoom webinar at ufl.zoom.us/webinar/register/5916165383851/WN_E-U17wk-QBekb-4UEetj7Q or on Facebook live at www.facebook.com/GardeningInThePanhandle.
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