A Robotic Mower Debuts at the Gulf Coast Turfgrass Expo & Field Day

A new research project at the West Florida Research and Education Center in Jay, FL is looking into the quality of turfgrass cut with a robotic mower.  The study is to determine whether the quality of St. Augustinegrass can be improved by continuous mowing with a robotic mower at 2.4″ height instead of the traditional mowing height of 3.5″, removing only a third of leaf blade material per mowing.

Dr. Shaddox discusses the Miimo mower.

Dr. Shaddox talking to participants at the 2018 Gulfcoast Expo & Turfgrass Field Day. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension.

The mower being tested is the Miimo manufactured by Honda.  This particular model mows and charges on its own and can mow up to 0.37 acres on one charge.  It can mow in three programmable cutting patterns: directional; random; or mixed.  The study is utilizing the random cutting pattern.

Miimo Mower Docking

A Miimo Mower pulling into its docking station. Photo Credit: American Honda Motor Company, Inc.

The mower’s three, two-sided blades are mounted on a circular head that can rotate both clockwise and counter-clockwise.  The head automatically switches between clockwise and counter-clockwise rotation to reduce wear on the blades.  The blades are basically just two-sided razor blades.  A buried guide wire is installed on the perimeter of the lawn to serve as a boundary.

Mower Blades

A close-up shot of the Miimo mower blades. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension.

So far, the plots cared for by the robotic mower look promising!  The blades on the robot are much finer than those found on a common rotary mower.  Because of this, they cut more cleanly and tend to tear the grass blades less often than the rotary mower.  Other robotic mowers on the market include the Worx Landroid, Husqvarna Automower, and Bosch Indego.  Please stay tuned for future robotic mower evaluations on other products, energy consumption, and nutrient evaluation.

Recent Weather Fueling Fungi

Florida’s panhandle has received quite a bit of rain this summer. In the last three months, depending on the location, approximately 15 to 35 inches of rain have come down, with the western panhandle on the higher end of that range. In addition to the rain, we all know how hot it has been with heat index values in the triple digits. And who can forget the humidity?! Well, these weather conditions are just the right environmental factors for many types of fungi, some harmful to landscape plants, most not.

In the classification of living things, fungi are divided into their own Kingdom, separate from plants, animals, and bacteria. They are actually more closely related to animals than plants. They play an important role on the Earth by recycling nutrients through the breakdown of dead or dying organisms. Many are consumed as food by humans, others provide medicines, such as penicillin, while some (yeasts) provide what’s needed for bread and beer. However, there are fungi that also give gardeners and homeowners headaches. Plant diseases caused by various fungi go by the names rusts, smuts, or a variety of leaf, root, and stem rots. Fungal pathogens gardeners may be experiencing during this weather include:

  • Gray leaf spot – This fungus can often show up in St. Augustine grass lawns. Signs of this fungus include gray spots on the leaf (very descriptive name!). This disease can cause thin areas of lawn and slow growth of the grass.

Gray leaf spot on St. Augustine grass. Credit: Phil Harmon/UF/IFAS.

 

  • Take-all root rot – This fungus can attack all our warm-season turfgrasses, and may start as yellow leaf blades and develop into small to large areas of thin grass or bare patches. The roots and stolons of affected grasses will be short and black.

 

Signs of take all root rot. Credit: UF/IFAS.

Powdery mildew – This fungus can be found on many plants, from roses to cucumbers. It looks like white powder on the leaves and can lead to plant decline.

  • Armillaria root rot – This fungus can infect a variety of landscape plants, including oaks, hickories, viburnums, and azaleas. Symptoms can include yellowing of leaves and branch dieback, usually in adjacent plants. Old hardwood stumps can harbor this fungus and lead to the infection of nearby ornamentals.

Because fungi are naturally abundant in the environment, the use of fungicides can temporarily suppress, but not eliminate, most fungal diseases. Therefore, fungicides are best used during favorable conditions for the particular pathogen, as a preventative tool.

Proper management practices – mowing height, fertilization, irrigation, etc. – that reduce plant stress go a long way in preventing fungal diseases. Remember that even the use of broadleaf specific herbicides can stress a lawn and exacerbate disease problems if done incorrectly. Since rain has been abundant, irrigation schedules should be adjusted to reduce leaf and soil moisture. Minimizing injury to the leaves, stems, and roots prevents stress and potential entry points for fungi on the move.

If you think your landscape plants are suffering from a fungal disease, contact your local Extension Office and/or visit the University of Florida’s EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for more information.

Mowing Your Lawn Correctly

Mowing Your Lawn Correctly

Northwest Florida has experienced an enormous amount of rain this summer. The western panhandle has received over 29 inches of rain since the beginning of May according to the Florida Automated Weather Network station at the West Florida Research and Education Center in Jay, Florida. That is 44% of average annual rainfall in less than two months. All of this rain has probably thrown off the normal lawn mowing routine. It is hard to get out and mow the lawn when its pouring buckets or the lawn resembles a swamp. With all of this in mind, there are a couple of mowing pointers that would be useful to implement to address the out of control lawn growth and the challenges posed by not being able to stick to normal mowing schedule.

  • Always attempt to mow at the IFAS recommended height for your species of turfgrass. The recommended heights are determined by how quickly the species grow in our climate. The chart below shows the best heights at which to mow your lawn. The fine textured zoysiagrasses are not listed but should be mowed at 0.5 to 1.5 inches. Check the lawn mowers mowing height by measuring the distance from the ground to the bottom of the mowing deck on a flat surface.

From Mowing Your Florida Lawn: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/LH/LH02800.pdf

  •  When you do get out to mow, never remove more than 1/3 of the leaf blade. If you cut to short you will “scalp” the turf and cause a brown look on the lawn. This can be damaging to the turf and allow for weeds to get established by exposing the soil to the sunlight. What is taking place more in northwest Florida is not mowing frequently enough and cutting off excess growth due to the rain. This also can cause scalping so it is very important to mow frequently enough to only remove 1/3 of the leaf blade.

A zoysia lawn that has been “scalped” after excess growth and infrequent mowing. (Photo Credit: Blake Thaxton)

Other practices such as keeping your mower blade sharp, mowing in different directions, and leaving clippings on the ground will help keep a healthy Florida lawn. Please see more information about mowing correctly in Florida in the University of Florida/IFAS Extension publication: Mowing Your Florida Lawn

Tired of Turf? Try Groundcover Alternatives Instead!

If you’re like me, growing turfgrass is often more of a hassle than anything else.  Regardless of the species you plant, none tolerates shade well and it can seem like there is a never-ending list of chores and expenses that accompany lawn grass:  mowing (at least one a week during the summer), fertilizing, and constantly battling weeds, disease and bugs.  Wouldn’t it be nice if there were an acceptable alternative, at least for the parts of the lawn that get a little less foot traffic or are shady?  Turns out there is!  Enter the wonderful world of perennial groundcovers!

Perennial groundcovers are just that, plants that are either evergreen or herbaceous (killed to the ground by frost, similar to turfgrass) and are aggressive enough to cover the ground quickly.  Once established, these solid masses of stylish, easy to grow plants serve many of the same functions traditional turf lawns do without all the hassle: choke out weeds, provide pleasing aesthetics, reduce erosion and runoff, and provide a habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife.

The two most common turfgrass replacements found in Northwest Florida are Ornamental Perennial Peanut (Arachis glabra) and Asiatic Jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum); though a native species of Mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa) is gaining popularity also.  All of these plants are outstanding groundcovers but each fills a specific niche in the landscape.

Perennial Peanut Lawn

Perennial Peanut is a beautiful, aggressive groundcover that spreads through underground rhizomes and possesses showy yellow flowers throughout the year; the show stops only in the coldest winters when the plant is burned back to the ground by frost.  It thrives in sunny, well-drained soils, needs no supplemental irrigation once established and because it is a legume, requires little to no supplemental fertilizer.  It even thrives in coastal areas that are subject to periodic salt spray!  If Perennial Peanut ever begins to look a little unkempt, a quick mowing at 3-4” will enhance its appearance.

Asiatic Jasmine

 

Asiatic Jasmine is a superb, vining groundcover option for areas that receive partial to full shade, though it will tolerate full sun.  This evergreen plant sports glossy dark green foliage and is extremely aggressive (lending itself to very rapid establishment).  Though not as vigorous a climber as its more well-known cousin Confederate Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), Asiatic Jasmine will eventually begin to slowly climb trees and other structures once it is fully established; this habit is easily controlled with infrequent pruning.  Do not look for flowers on this vining groundcover however, as it does not initiate the bloom cycle unless allowed to climb.

Sunshine Mimosa

For those that prefer an all-native landscape, Sunshine Mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), also known as Sensitive Plant, is a fantastic groundcover option for full-sun situations.  This herbaceous perennial is very striking in flower, sending up bright pink, fiber-optic like blooms about 6” above the foliage all summer long!  Sunshine Mimosa, like Perennial Peanut, is a legume so fertility needs are very low. It is also exceptionally drought tolerant and thrives in the deepest sands.  If there is a dry problem spot in your lawn that receives full sun, you can’t go wrong with this one!

As a rule, the method of establishing groundcovers as turfgrass replacements takes a bit longer than with laying sod, which allows for an “instant” lawn.  With groundcovers, sprigging containerized plants is most common as this is how the majority of these species are grown in production nurseries.  This process involves planting the containerized sprigs on a grid in the planting area no more than 12” apart.  The sprigs may be planted closer together (8”-10”) if more rapid establishment is desired.

During the establishment phase, weed control is critical to ensure proper development of the groundcover.  The first step to reduce competitive weeds is to clean the site thoroughly before planting with a non-selective herbicide such as Glyphosate.  After planting, grassy weeds may be treated with one of the selective herbicides Fusilade, Poast, Select, or Prism.  Unfortunately, there are not any chemical treatments for broadleaf weed control in ornamental groundcovers but these can be managed by mowing or hand pulling and will eventually be choked out by the groundcover.

If you are tired of the turfgrass life and want some relief, try an ornamental groundcover instead!  They are low-maintenance, cost effective, and very attractive!  Happy gardening and as always, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office for more information about this topic!

Why A One Size Fits All Approach to Lawn Care is a Bad Idea

Regardless of what the tag says one size does not fit all. As with clothing, a piece will undoubtedly be too large for some and too small for others. Trying to go with a “one size fits all” approach to lawn care will lead to the same kind of frustration and disappointment as an ill-fitting garment.

All turfgrass is not created equal. Thus management of our various turf species requires different methods. It is common for a homeowner to be unaware of what type of turfgrass they have – it’s all grass after all – what difference does it make? Misidentification leads to problems because proper management for one type may be counterproductive to another type. In order to create a practical turf management plan, it is critical that the species of grass is properly identified.

Although many grasses look similar it is important to know exactly what kind you have to maintain it properly. This photo shows Empire Zoysia. Photo credit: Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS

Why is it important to know the species of turf in a lawn?

Two of the most common mistakes extension agents observe is excessively low mowing height of St. Augustinegrass  and over-fertilizing Centipedegrass. Both of these errors can reduce turfgrass vigor and decrease its tolerance to pest issues. Another potential maintenance pitfall is using a herbicide that is not labeled for use on a given type of turfgrass. Several popular herbicides available on the market can cause damage to St. Augustinegrass and/or Centipedegrass.  Thus turf can be inadvertently killed by herbicides when they are applied to the wrong species.

Before a lawn maintenance plan is developed, be sure to know what type of grass is present and then follow UF/IFAS recommendations for proper care. If assistance is needed with identification, contact your local extension office.

To learn more about lawn care, visit this site or plan to attend “Caring for Your Florida Lawn” at the UF/IFAS Extension Bay County office on April 8th. For more details call 850-784-6105.

Helping Turfgrass Overcome Herbicide Injury

Helping Turfgrass Overcome Herbicide Injury

Dr. Ramon Leon, Extension Weed Specialist, West Florida Research and Education Center

Herbicides simplify weed management by allowing you to cover extensive areas in a relatively short time, and reduce the need for time-consuming control practices such as hand weeding. Additionally, many herbicides have the advantage of selective control. Selective herbicides are those that kill weeds without significantly injuring the desired plant. In turfgrass, selective herbicides are particularly important because we do not have the option of using cultivation or non-selective herbicides, as is commonly done in other agricultural systems such as row crops and orchards.

A common misconception is that when a herbicide is registered for use on a given turfgrass species, this herbicide has little negative effect on the turf. In reality, even when the herbicide is registered for a specific turfgrass species, it can cause a certain level of injury. If the herbicide is applied at the recommended label rate, and the growing conditions are ideal, the turfgrass will only suffer minor, temporary injury that may go completely unnoticed. Conversely, the weeds that are susceptible to the herbicide will be severely affected resulting in the desired control.

Over the last few summers, there has been an increase in complaints about herbicide injury on sod farms, golf courses, and home lawns after applications of herbicides, especially during the summer months. Many of those complaints originated from situations in which the application was done properly, using the recommended label rate, and thus the level of injury observed was not justified. After studying all these cases, it was determined that at the time of herbicide application the turf was under a moderate level of stress, but not high enough stress to cause visible symptoms. However, when the herbicide was applied the combined effect of the existing stress, and the stress caused by the herbicide made it harder for the turf to maintain the desired quality. For example, Figure 1 below shows that the turf looked fine before the application (A), but after the herbicide was applied, there was a significant loss in turf cover and quality (B). The interesting aspect is that the injury was not present across the entire treated area, but only on patches (C). Those patches corresponded with sand pockets where soil moisture, especially on hot days, was considerably lower than the rest of the area. In that particular case, the irrigation system was providing enough water to help the turf tolerate the moderate stress of high temperatures and limited moisture, but not enough for the turf tolerate the combined stress that occurred after the herbicide was applied.

Figure 1. Centipedegrass growing during the summer in Florida before herbicide application (A), 3 weeks after herbicide (sulfentrazone and metsulfuron-methyl) application (B). Herbicide injury pattern with highlighted areas showing where sand pockets caused drought and heat stress that contributed to herbicide injury (C).

Figure 1. Centipedegrass growing during the summer in Florida before herbicide application (A), 3 weeks after herbicide (sulfentrazone and metsulfuron-methyl) application (B). Herbicide injury pattern with highlighted areas showing where sand pockets caused drought and heat stress that contributed to herbicide injury (C).

 

In Florida, there are a combination of environmental factors such as high temperatures and sandy soils that can create stressful conditions limiting turfgrass growth, especially when irrigation is not sufficient to keep the turf hydrated.  Furthermore, we also experience periods of excess rainfall, and areas of turf growing under shade. Additionally, pest problems that affect roots and leaves are frequently found in our state. All these conditions affect turfgrass health and its ability to tolerate herbicide applications. For these reasons, turf producers and managers need to be proactive to help turfgrass overcome the injury that herbicides might cause. To achieve this goal, you need to follow five simple steps:

1) Identify weed problems early. Most weed problems will start in the spring for summer weeds and in the fall for winter weeds. Controlling them when they are small not only increases the effectiveness of our applications, but also allows us to implement our control when the turfgrass is less likely to be stressed.

If herbicide applications are needed when conditions might be stressful for the turf (high temperatures and/or dry conditions)

2) Make sure irrigation is adequate (increase frequency or duration if needed) for up to three weeks following application.

3) Reduce mowing frequency and increase mowing height 0.5 inches for up to 3 weeks following a herbicide application, to allow the turfgrass to continue producing energy to support its recovery. Mowing too short and too frequently immediately after the application weakens the turfgrass.

4) Fertilize with a small amount of nitrogen (0.25 to 0.5 lb N/acre) a week or two after herbicide application to help the turf recover and produce new leaves.

5) If the turfgrass is suffering from serious pest problems (pathogens, nematodes or insect infestations) do not apply herbicides on the affected areas until the turfgrass has recovered.

Maintaining optimal turfgrass growth is the best way to ensure that herbicide applications will maximize weed control while still protecting the health and aesthetics of your turfgrass.

For more information on growing turfgrass in Florida, please see the following:

Florida Lawn Handbook

 

 

Dr. Ramon Leon, Extension Weed Specialist, West Florida Research and Education Center