Many residents have brought problematic turf samples to our Master Gardener Plant Clinic over the past few weeks. Oftentimes, the turf has brown patches and is slowly dying out in homeowners’ landscapes.
People want to blame a disease or insects and want a quick fix such as a pesticide treatment, but in order to manage turfgrass we need to manage it like our health. If you catch multiple colds and viruses a year because your immune system is down, you need to take care of yourself by getting the recommended hours of sleep, eating healthy and reducing stress.
What can you do to keep your turfgrass healthy to decrease disease and pest problems? For starters, plant the right plant in the right place. All turfgrass requires at least five hours of sunlight — either direct or filtered. A lawn won’t survive long term and be healthy in dense shade. It will become elongated, patchy and will not create a groundcover no matter how much fertilizer you throw at it. Instead of turfgrass in these areas, consider shade-loving groundcovers such as Asiatic jasmine, dwarf mondo grass, peacock ginger or holly fern. Turn your sparse area of lawn into a beautiful landscape bed.
Irrigation is another area where we often see mistakes, since watering needs fluctuate with the season and can even fluctuate each year depending on the weather pattern. Lawns need 1/2 to 3/4 inches of water per watering in order to travel throughout the root zone of the plant. In the summer you could be watering once every four to seven days, whereas in the winter the water needs greatly decrease and you may need to water every seven to 28 days. How many times per week you water all depends on your site. Is your turf in a filtered shade area next to a retention pond or in a swale between two yards? If so, your turf may be able to survive on natural rainfall. If your lawn is in full sun, next to a sidewalk and on a sandy ridge, watering twice a week during the summer may be right for you. How often to water a lawn is a tough question because the answer depends on so many variables.
High nitrogen fertilizer applications should be avoided as this encourages fast succulent growth that can encourage insect pest problems. Instead, purchase products where the first and last number on the front of the fertilizer bag is about the same. One example is a 15-0-15. The middle number should be low as Central Florida soils typically contain enough phosphorus. Your lawns should only be fertilized when the turfgrass is actively growing, which is during the spring, summer and early fall. Avoid applications of fertilizer on lawns from late October through March as you can waste your time, money, and product and even contribute to pollution of nearby water bodies.
One of the last but certainly not least principles to maintaining a healthy lawn is proper mowing height. Turfgrass can become greatly stressed and the root system can even be reduced when scalping occurs. Remove no more than a third of the leaf blade at each mowing. Standard types of St. Augustinegrass such as Floratam should be maintained at a height of 3 1/2 to 4 inches, while dwarf St. Augustinegrass types such as Captiva and Seville should be maintained around 2 to 2 1/2 inches. Zoysigrass should also be maintained around 2 1/2 inches.
For information on maintaining a healthy lawn, visit our Master Gardener Plant Clinic and Discovery Gardens. Both are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays at the Lake County Extension Office, 1951 Woodlea Road in Tavares.
Brooke Moffis is the Residential Horticulture Agent of the UF/IFAS Lake County Extension office. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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