It’s Fall… Now what Do I Do with my Lawn?

It’s Fall… Now what Do I Do with my Lawn?

While yard work is important to maintain an attractive lawn, if done successfully, the resident can spend quality time in other pursuits like watching the wildlife from the front porch.

With the passing of September the end is in sight, well at least the end of summer, and hopefully summer-like weather. The hot humid days of August gave way to the hot humid days of September,now October, and the Florida Panhandle is finally experiencing cooler temperatures. At least temporarily.

Days have shortened noticeably and the plants have noticed. Foliage growth has slowed and seed production is in overdrive.

As the season slowly shifts, the needs and care for the lawn and landscape are changing too. Inputs need six months ago and environmental factors which were true in the spring are now being altered by the immutable and timeless forces of nature.

Fertilizer is one factor which must be considered in light of the dormant season’s approach. Inappropriate or excessive application will waste resources and end up in the water supply where it will do no good.

As many warm season grasses and plants are reducing their growth rates to prepare for winter, the need for nutrients slows. Nitrogen, the first number on a fertilizer tag’s list of ingredients percentages, is especially vulnerable to misuse by the well-intended but inexperienced or uninformed person.

Over application of nitrogen will promote the aggressive growth of tender green foliage in the lawn. If a frost or freeze occurs when the tender vegetation is presence, the plant will experience excessive damage or death.

The directions on home and garden fertilizer bags, and soil test report all recommend restricting or eliminating nitrogen application late in the growing season. This is sound advice.

Herbicide use changes in the late summer and autumn also. As with misapplied fertilizer, misused herbicides will waste resources and can end up in the water supply.

Weeds and other targets of herbicides must be actively growing for the herbicide to work effectively. Late summer and fall can present challenges to effectively applying herbicides.

With very few exceptions, plants must be actively growing for herbicides to work properly. Plants slowing towards dormancy will not absorb as much herbicide and may, species depending, be completely immune.

Herbicides do not work on plants which are under drought stress. It is important to remember early fall is the driest time of the year in panhandle Florida, nature’s way of forcing a fall growth shutdown.

Yard waste and grass clipping will help refresh mulch in flower beds and on tree root zones. The summer heat and humidity have combined with bacterial activity to breakdown the current supply of mulch.

The on-site utilization of yard waste as mulch or as a basis for compost is a good practice to establish. It will benefit the landscape and reduce the multiple layers of expenses required to collect, haul and dispose of this material.

If properly composted, the material reduces the chances of introducing weeds, insects and diseases which can be on commercial products. Another way to look at the subject is “What is produced in the Florida Panhandle stays in the Florida Panhandle…and saves everyone money in the process.

While Septembers early weeks were just as oppressively hot and humid as August, relief seems to be here. Be ready to spend the cooler days enjoying a private bit of paradise in Northwest Florida without worrying about problems which could have been avoided.

To learn more about getting the lawn and landscape ready for autumn, contact your UF/IFAS Extension Office.


Dog Days of Summer – A Good Time to Plan for Fall


The “Dog Days” are the hottest, muggiest days of summer. In the northern hemisphere, they usually fall between early July and early September. The actual dates vary greatly from region to region, depending on latitude and climate.


In ancient times, when the night sky was un-obscured by artificial lights, the Romans used the stars to keep track of the seasons. The brightest constellation, Canis Major (Large Dog), includes the “dog star”, Sirius. In the summer, Sirius used to rise and set with the sun, leading the ancient Romans to believe that it added heat to the sun. Although the period between July 3 and August 11 is typically the warmest period of the summer, the heat is not due to the added radiation from a far-away star, regardless of its brightness. The heat of summer is a direct result of the earth’s tilt.


Spending time outdoors this time of year is uncomfortable, potentially dangerous, due to the intense heat. However, the chinch bugs are very active in St. Augustine grass, and the summer flowers need water. So, take care of those tasks early in the day and then retreat to the air conditioning to plan your fall planting.


Plant tomato plants in August for tomatoes in October. Varieties such as Phoenix, Florida 91, Solar Set and Heat Wave II are good selections for setting fruit in high temperatures, should summer temperatures continue. Otherwise, try some of the newer UF/IFAS recommended varieties for fall planting in North Florida such as Bella Rosa, Tribute or Finishline. For more information on tomato selection refer to Tomato Cultivars for Production in Florida. For information on other vegetables for fall gardening refer to the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide. Plan to attend the Fall Gardening program at the Extension office this September.


zinniasMany bedding plants flower quickly and can add color to the fall landscape. These include pentas, African marigolds, torenia, zinnias, melampodium and scaevola. Other can be planted in October for blooms all winter-long. Plan spaces and color themes for calendulas, pansies, snapdragons and violas. Add in ornamental cabbage or kale and some dusty miller to accent the garden. They too will perform through the cold. For more information on Annuals for the Florida Garden refer to Gardening with Annuals in Florida.


Dependable fall blooming perennials include lion’s ear (Leonotis leonurus), pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), firebush (Hamelia patens), cigar plant (Cuphea micropetala), yellowbells (Tecoma stans) and firespike (Odontonema strictum). Also, garden mums (Chrysanthemum sp.) and many different Irises will add color again in the spring. To gain information on perennials for Florida refer to Gardening with Perennials in Florida.


Webster’s second definition of “dog days” is a period of stagnation or inactivity. But, even when the heat forces you to slow down on the labor-intensive work, there is plenty of gardening “activity” to do. Stay in the air conditioning and plan that spectacular fall and winter yard.