Empty Fields? Time to tackle turfgrass improvement projects!

Empty Fields? Time to tackle turfgrass improvement projects!

Turf pros, you have fought for years to try to get enough downtime on your sports turf to really work on making big improvements. Now, with school and city leagues cancelled, is the perfect time. The grass has

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greened up and is needing mowing. The soil temperatures are up. We have gotten a decent rain with more predicted. So, plan to make some of those much-needed improvements in May.

If you haven’t submitted soil samples, start with getting that baseline information. All the labs are open and working, including UF. Sampling kits and instructions are available at: https://soilslab.ifas.ufl.edu/ESTL%20Tests.asp.

Get out there and fix all the irrigation system imperfections. Knowing the water output and uniformity can make all the difference in the turf appearance and response to fertilizers, not to mention reducing disease pressure. Make sure you have head-to-head coverage, not the “almost” head-to-head coverage that cheats a few feet here and there. Calibrate each zone to determine how much time it takes to deliver ¾ inch of water. Watch this video for more information: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_wn-hwLNtg

Take this time to accurately measure the areas that will need fertilizing and calibrate your spreader to you and the product. Set the application schedule for the rest of the year. Accomplishing this now when you’re not so pressed for time will pay off. Remember with rotary spreaders, fertilizer distribution is not uniform. More granules fall in the middle of the pass than along the outer edges. To achieve uniformity, check that the tire is just inside the track from the previous pass and that the granules are reaching the previous track. Additionally, apply in two directions.

How about reducing compaction and improving the overall soil conditions? That’s the one project you’ve been wanting to do for many seasons. Physical penetration of the soil improves air, water, and nutrient movement within the root zone. This is especially important for high traffic areas. A hollow tine, or core, aerator pulls soil cores from a 2-6 -inch depth. Cores can be removed or dried on the surface and reincorporated using a drag mat. If thatch is an issue, consider vertical mowing to cut into the turf runners and loosen the dead tissue layer.  Then, rake, rake and rake! The grass will look rough for a while during the recovery but will be much healthier in the long run.

When you get your soil test results back, they will identify nutrient deficiencies and recommend lime and fertilizer for the year. Lime should only be applied in accordance with the recommendations on soil test results. Over-application can take years to correct. Split applications of the annual required rate will allow for more adjustment. Nitrogen influences color and many growth factors. Application rate recommendations are based on research-driven requirements for each grass type. However, nitrogen comes in quick-release and/or slow-release. Quick release products are water soluble and cause a turf response in a week or less but can evaporate or burn. Application should always be followed by ¼ inch of irrigation to get the most benefit.  Slow release products are water insoluble and provide a gradual, consistent turf response over a 3-10-week period. They require warm, moist soil with microbes in order to release nitrogen. Most of the available fertilizers will have a combination of both quick and slow release components. That way there is an immediate green up with long lasting color. Bermudagrass needs 0.5-1 pound of soluble N/ 1,000 sq. ft. to get going in the spring.

You’ve been saying, “We need to get some of these big tasks done, but just can’t find the time when no one is on the field.” Here’s your chance.

Fertilizer Label Requirements for Urban Turf (Lawns)

 

As of January 2015 the labels on fertilizer bags have changed. Florida Rule 5E-1.003 required fertilizer manufacturers to modify their package recommendations and wording.

“Specialty fertilizers” was one of the more significant changes. This included packages that weigh 49 pounds or less and are labeled for home (residential) lawn use. The new labeling requirement for fertilizers labeled for use on urban lawns included that these products must be no phosphate or low phosphate. “No phosphate” fertilizers will be expressed as zero in the guaranteed analysis. “Low phosphate” fertilizers typically have 2% when labeled for residential lawns. Additionally, the recommended application rate must not exceed 0.25 lbs. P2O5 / 1,000 square feet per application and cannot exceed 0.50 lbs. P2O5 / 1,000 square feet per year. The only exception is “starter fertilizers”, which is a fertilizer formulated for a one-time application at planting or near that time to encourage root growth. A starter fertilizer can recommend a one-time application rate of 1.0 lb. of P2O5 / 1,000 square feet.

 

The Label is the Law

Application rates cannot be exceeded and the site must be on the label. The “site” refers to the specific grass area that the application is intended for. So, for fertilizer packaging under Rule SE-1.003 there a few definitions you need to understand:

  1. “Urban Turf” or “Lawns” means non-agricultural land planted in closely mowed, managed grasses except golf courses, parks and athletic fields.
  2. “New Urban Turf” means residential lawns established less than 12 months.
  3. “Actively Growing Turf” means turf that needs mowing at least once every two weeks to maintain the grass blade height according to the UF/IFAS recommendation.
  4. “Established Urban Turf” means residential lawns older than 12 months.

 

In addition to restrictions on phosphate, the Urban Turf Rule restricts the use of nitrogen. The amount that can be applied at once, as well as, annually and the seasonal application timing are defined based on the different regions of Florida. Local ordinances may be even more restrictive than the fertilizer label.

The following language must appear on all fertilizers sold at retail:

  • “Apply only to actively growing turf”.
  • “Do not apply near water, storm drains or drainage ditches”.
  • “Do not apply if heavy rain is expected”.
  • Apply this product only to your lawn and sweep any product that lands in the driveway, sidewalk or street back onto your lawn.

Finally, the labeling requirements for fertilizers that come in 50 pound bags or larger include that the directions for use cannot exceed rates recommended in the document entitled “Florida Friendly Best Management Practices for Protection of Water Resources by the Green Industries” (GI-BMP). The GI-BMP restricts nitrogen applications to less than what the label states. If the slow-release component of the overall nitrogen percentages is 30% or greater, the product can be applied at 1.0 lb. of N / 1,000 sq. ft. If it is less than 30%, then the rate is only 0.50 lb. N / 1,000 sq. ft.

 

The next time you are shopping for  fertilizer, take the time to read the bag. Know that you are applying it correctly and legally.

By the way, if you are being compensated for applying fertilizer, FDACS requires a Limited Urban Commercial Fertilizer application certification with a pre-requisite of GI-BMP training.

Upcoming classes in Northwest Florida

Statewide GI-BMP classes

 

April is National Safe Dig Month

April is National Safe Dig Month

This month, recognized by the Senate and Florida’s governor, reminds diggers why calling 811 before all outdoor digging projects is important to your safety. Before installing a mailbox, fence, deck, garden or tree make sure to call Sunshine 811 to have underground lines marked. 811 is the free national number designated by the Federal Communications Commission.  It notifies utility companies, who in turn send their professional locators to identify and mark the appropriate location of underground line with paint and flags in colors that identify the utility type.  The following colors represent the seven various utilities: red, orange, blue, green, yellow, purple and white.  To see which colors correspond with each utility click on the picture below:

Hitting an underground utility line while digging can cause injuries, utility service outages to an entire neighborhood and damage to the environment. Failure to call before digging results in one unintentional utility hit every eight minutes nationwide.  You could also be financially affected with costly fines and high repair costs.

Calling 811 in Florida is the law. At least two full business days before digging, do-it yourselfers and professional excavators must contact 811 by phone to start the process of getting underground utility lines marked.  This is a free service.  Be sure that all utilities have been marked before grabbing the shovel.  Follow up on your one call ticket by contacting 811 again on the third day.  For more information on Florida’s law, visit www.Sunshine811.com.

Celebrate Arbor Day

Bald Cypress. Photo: J_McConnell, UF/IFAS

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is Arbor Day. Florida recognizes the event on the third Friday in January, but planting any time before spring will establish a tree quickly.

Arbor Day is an annual observance that celebrates the role of trees in our lives and promotes tree planting and care. As a formal holiday, it was first observed on April 10, 1872 in the state of Nebraska. Today, every state and many countries join in the recognition of trees impact on people and the environment.

Trees are the longest living organisms on the planet and one of the earth’s greatest natural resources. They keep our air supply clean, reduce noise pollution, improve water quality, help prevent erosion, provide food and building materials, create shade, and help make our landscapes look beautiful.  A single tree produces approximately 260 pounds of oxygen per year. That means two mature trees can supply enough oxygen annually to support a family of four.

The idea for Arbor Day in the U.S. began with Julius Sterling Morton. In 1854 he moved from Detroit to the area that is now the state of Nebraska.  J. Sterling Morton was a journalist and nature lover who noticed that there were virtually no trees in Nebraska.  He wrote and spoke about environmental stewardship and encouraged everyone to plant trees.  Morton emphasized that trees were needed to act as windbreaks, to stabilize the soil, to provide shade, as well as fuel and building materials for the early pioneers to prosper in the developing state.

In 1872, The State Board of Agriculture accepted a resolution by J. Sterling Morton “to set aside one day to plant trees, both forest and fruit.” On April 10, 1872 one million trees were planted in Nebraska in honor of the first Arbor Day. Shortly after the 1872 observance, several other states passed legislation to observe Arbor Day.  By 1920, 45 states and territories celebrated Arbor Day.  Richard Nixon proclaimed the last Friday in April as National Arbor Day during his presidency in 1970.

Today, all 50 states in the U.S. have official Arbor Day, usually at a time of year that has the correct climatological conditions for planting trees. For Florida, the ideal tree planting time is January, so Florida’s Arbor Day is celebrated on the third Friday of the month.  Similar events are observed throughout the world. In Israel it is the Tu B Shevat (New Year for Trees). Germany has Tag des Baumes. Japan and Korea celebrate an entire week in April. Even Iceland, one of the treeless countries in the world observes Student’s Afforestation Day.

The trees planted on Arbor Day show a concern for future generations. The simple act of planting a tree represents a belief that the tree will grow and someday provide wood products, wildlife habitat, erosion control, shelter from wind and sun, beauty, and inspiration for ourselves and our children.

“It is well that you should celebrate your Arbor Day thoughtfully, for within your lifetime the nation’s need of trees will become serious. We of an older generation can get along with what we have, though with growing hardship; but in your full manhood and womanhood you will want what nature once so bountifully supplied and man so thoughtlessly destroyed; and because of that want you will reproach us, not for what we have used, but for what we have wasted.”

~Theodore Roosevelt, 1907 Arbor Day Message