Steps to Keeping a Healthy Lawn

Steps to Keeping a Healthy Lawn

We are nearing the end of the NO MOW MARCH launch that several counties participated in this month.  Maybe you have been mowing this month because you live in an area where it is required or maybe you were able to go the whole month but now you are wondering what’s next.  The fact is that keeping a lawn healthy can maximize plant use and minimize environmental adverse impacts.  In this article we will talk about the steps to help keep a healthy lawn.

Mowing is one of the most important aspects of maintaining a good quality lawn.  When using proper mowing practices along with fertilization and irrigation, you can increase the density of your turfgrass.  This produces a tighter lawn that the weeds cannot compete with and naturally reduces those unwanted weeds.  Cutting height and frequency are the most important factors to consider when mowing.  This will vary by turfgrass species, cultivar, and maintenance level of lawn desired. If too much leaf tissue is removed at one mowing cycle it can cause your turfgrass to stress.  Over time the damage could be insects, disease, drought and sunscald.  Leaf clippings are beneficial to the turf and give back nutrients and organic matter to the lawn. Some other helpful tips are to keep your mower blades sharp, do not mow grass when wet (I know this can be very difficult when we get into the rainy season.), and if you have several properties that you are mowing it is good to remove clippings and weed seeds from the mower. These tips can help improve the appearance and greatly reduce insect and disease infestation. For more details on your specific type of lawn refer to this document: ENH10/LH028: Mowing Your Florida Lawn (

Turf can benefit from fertilization but only if done correctly.  Timing and the appropriate rate can help maintain a healthy Florida-Friendly lawn.  The turf roots and shoots need to be actively growing and this can vary depending on the use of the area, water stress (presence of rain or irrigation) and the environment of where the grass is grown.  For North and Central Florida active growth occurs from spring through fall.  Our neighbors down in South Florida can see growth year-round.  Fertilizing when your grass is dormant not only wastes time and money, but it may also contribute to nutrient leaching or runoff.  This is the perfect time of year to do a soil test to see exactly what nutrients are available and what your soil is lacking.  This article will give you more insight on soil testing for Florida turfgrasses SL 181/SS317: Soil Testing and Interpretation for Florida Turfgrasses (

Turf Fertilizers; Photo taken by: Ashley Stonecipher

There are many benefits to having healthy turfgrass.  It can slow stormwater from moving to water bodies.  Healthy turf can filter and remove contaminants and help protect our ground water.  Leaching and erosion are also reduced when you have healthy dense turfgrass. In Florida there are environmental stresses that may alter the required management level and health of the turf.  Using proper cultural practices can alleviate the effects of stress.  For instance, during times of drought do not try to fertilize until water is available, increase mowing heights in shaded areas to avoid thinning, and avoid effects of vehicle and foot traffic on stressed turf. ENH979/EP236: Homeowner Best Management Practices for the Home Lawn (

Just by hitting on some of these key aspects such as the mowing height, cultural practices and the timing and rate of your fertilizer can make a difference in the health of your turf.  Remember a healthy dense turf means less weeds and less insect and disease pressure later in the season. For more information or questions concerning your lawn please contact your local extension office!

Ask IFAS: Florida Lawn Handbook (

Companion Planting: What is it?

Companion Planting: What is it?

Did you know that Petunias repel asparagus beetle or that Marigolds planted among potatoes discourage Colorado Potato beetles? Are you aware that cabbage planted near lettuce has an adverse effect on the growth and flavor? In this article I would like to talk about one of my favorite topics, companion planting. Companion planting can be defined as the practice of planting two or more plant species close together to gain benefits either on growth, flavor or pest control. I would like to talk about the many benefits of companion planting in more detail.

  • Trap cropping: when a neighboring crop is selected to attract the pests and distract from the main crop. An example of this is planting collards to attract the diamond back moth from cabbage or planting dill with tomatoes because tomato horn worms prefer dill.
  • Nitrogen fixation: planting legumes such as beans and peas have a relationship with bacteria in the soil called Rhizobium. Legumes can convert it to a form that plants can use.
  • Biochemical Pest Suppression: Some plants can exude chemicals from roots or aerial parts that suppress or repel pest and protect the neighboring plants. An example of this is African Marigold release thiopene which acts as a nematode repellent.
  • Physical Spatial Interactions: Tall growing sun loving plants can share space with lower growing shade tolerate plants. This results in higher yields and has pest control benefits. One of the oldest examples of this is Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash). Corn is planted for the pole beans to climb and provides a high canopy of foliage that can confuse squash borer and reduce damage. Beans are nitrogen fixing and corn requires a lot of nitrogen. Squash has broad spreading leaves that provide a living mulch and reduce weeds and hold moisture.
  • Beneficial Habitats: provide a desirable environment for beneficial insects such as lady beetles, lacewings, hover flies, mantids, non-insects such as spiders and predatory mites. Plants in the Umbel family (carrots, parsley, dill) are known for this as well as sweet alyssum.
  • Security through Diversity: More mixing of various crops and varieties equals a degree of security to the grower.

Some good examples of Companions are the following:

Broccoli: mint, dill, rosemary; aromatic herbs help repel pest
Cabbage: mint, onion, oregano, dill, sage, clover, chamomile, nasturtium; Chamomile improves the growth and flavor and Nasturtiums offer caterpillars an alternate food source
Carrots: English peas, lettuce, onion family, tomato; maximize space, provide shade and nitrogen fixer
Peppers: tomato, beans, onion, geranium, petunia; Geranium repels Japanese beetles and petunias repel a variety of insects
Spinach: strawberry, cauliflower, eggplant, radish; radish repels leaf miners
Tomato: asparagus, carrot, parsley, basil, marigold, garlic; garlic repels red spider mites

Educational Opportunity: Fruit and Vegetable Meeting

Educational Opportunity: Fruit and Vegetable Meeting

Would you like to make money off your land?  Are you looking to diversify your current plans on your property?  Jackson County is hosting a fruit and vegetable meeting on January 26, 2023, and this just may be the perfect way to start off your new year! 

Squash vine borer larvae can most easily navigate the stems of summer squash varieties. Photo by Molly Jameson.
Photo by Molly Jameson.

When thinking about what it means to be successful in planting your garden or having fruit trees, often the first thing that comes to mind is a healthy quality crop.  This starts with the health of your soil.  We will have two specialists that cover soil health and the benefit of adding cover crops to your rotation during the off season.  The second thing that might come to mind when wanting to be successful is how to start? how much time do I have to devote to gardening? and how much do I want to do? This meeting will also have a specialist coming to Marianna to cover how to get started on a property with a specialty crop.  Even though this information may be geared towards new farmers, it could also be very useful to new land owners and community residents just wanting to do more on their property.  You may find that you have so much extra produce that you want to have a little fruit stand!

There will also be a session on the importance of drip irrigation, fertigation and how to implement these practices. Drip irrigation will not only save you money in the long run with the use of less water, but it is also much better for overall plant health by reducing pest and disease problems.   Fertigation is the process of adding soil amendments, water amendments and other water-soluble products into an irrigation system.  This process can be both beneficial to the plants and cut back on the time it would take to fertilize by hand.

The next session on specialty vegetable and fruit crops will teach about the various exciting specialty crop opportunities in the Tri-State area such as artichokes, blackberries, Seminole pumpkins, and more.  Finally, the meeting will also cover cucurbit disease updates and will be extremely useful if you already have a field or garden of watermelons, cucumbers, or squash! Come with questions!  CEUs will be offered as well if you are a homeowner that holds a pesticide license.  

Organic matter is the “glue” that will hold your soil together. Photo by John Edwards.

While, the audience for this conference is primarily small to medium sized, diversified cucurbit and vegetable producers in the tri-state region including the counties in the Panhandle, Alabama, and Georgia, the residential community is welcome to attend and will truly benefit with learning about soil health, cover crops, fertigation, drip irrigation, and specialty crops. The conference will be held at the Jackson County Extension Office in the Peanut Hall.  We are planning a full morning with educational sessions and lunch to follow. 

This meeting will be $5 at the door and pre-registration is highly encouraged.  Please call our office at 850-482-9620 to reserve your seat and if you have any questions.

Tri-State Fruit and Vegetable Meeting

Thursday, January 26, 2023, 8:00 am- 1:00 pm at the Jackson County Agriculture Offices Auditorium, 2741 Penn Ave., Marianna.

A natural caffeine that may be right in your backyard!

A natural caffeine that may be right in your backyard!

Credit: Jeff McMillian, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database. Illustration credit: Mary Vaux Walcott, North American Wild Flowers, vol. 3 (1925)

Yaupon hollies, Ilex spp., are a native plant to Florida that grow very well and abundantly in our local soils.  The yaupon holly is one of the hardiest holly species found in Florida.  You may see this holly grown as a tree, large or small specimen shrub, or even as a hedge.  Using a low-input native plant like yaupon in the landscape can result in less nutrient pollution, reduced water use and resilience through drought, freezes, and hurricanes.  This plant thrives in the southeast and is hardy up to USDA zone 7.  They can even tolerate temperatures as low as 10F for short periods of time. Pollinators are also attracted to the yaupon flowers – if you are trying to attract bees for other crops on the farm, this is the plant for you!  Growing yaupon is much easier than other crops because the species can handle a variety of conditions, from full sun to light shade and soil from dry to wet. Growth rate is moderate when they are young and slows as plants age. Yaupon hollies are good for stabilizing the soil, preventing erosion, and providing a habitat for wildlife.

Yaupon is a very old plant that historically has been used as an important food source, medicine and even a ceremonial item by Timucua Indigenous groups for thousands of years.  The Timucua people of Florida believed that yaupon purified the mind and body of those who drank it. Yaupon is the only naturally caffeinated plant species grown in the United States.  It provides a balanced caffeine boost without the bitter tannins that you get from regular tea. Yaupon contains 30% less caffeine than coffee but provides a dose of theophylline and theobromine.  These 2 compounds provide an energy that will not cause jitteriness and caffeine crash that other caffeinated beverages can give you. There are also dozens of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, polyphenols and antioxidants to protect the body, and these can help calm the mind as well.

‘Schilling’s Dwarf’ is a yaupon cultivar perfect for homemade tea production.  The plant gets no taller than four feet and four feet wide.  While you can make yaupon tea from any yaupon holly cultivar, all ‘Schilling’s Dwarf’ clones are also all male, which means no berries will get in your way of harvesting leaves. To prepare tea from the yaupon plant, leaves are removed from the stems and lightly washed, discarding any berries and debris. The stems may also be used and will not change the flavor. Next you will dehydrate leaves and stems by air or sun drying. Leaves can be stored whole or crushed and blended into smaller pieces if desired. These leaves produce a caffeinated beverage that is similar to green tea with grassy flavors. If these same leaves are lightly roasted, over a hot pan or in the oven, it will produce an earthier beverage that can have notes of malt and toasted coffee.

For more information on Native Yaupons and making tea, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office.

Figure 4. Home-brewed tisane made from dried and lightly roasted leaves (left), and locally produced and bagged yaupon tea, Ilex vomitoria (right).
Credit: Matthew Borden, UF/IFAS; and Bryon White, Yaupon Brothers American Tea Co., respectively
Additional information is available by using the following links:
Yaupon Brothers American Tea Company

Ilex vomitoria: Yaupon Holly

Yaupon Holly Culture and Pest Management for Tea Production and Ornamental Use
Plan on Doing a Fall Garden, Plan Now!

Plan on Doing a Fall Garden, Plan Now!

Yay, we are halfway through with August and our summer is winding down!  This is the perfect time to start prepping for that fall garden.   Growing a productive fall vegetable garden requires thoughtful planning and good cultural practices.  This process consists of selecting a site, planning the garden, preparing the soil, choosing the seeds and plants, planting a crop, and nurturing the plants until harvest time.  In the Florida Panhandle it can be a challenge to get cool season crops started; there is a balance in starting them early enough to allow them to mature (50-60 days) before a hard frost and getting them through the end of a hot summer.

August and September are the main planting times for a fall garden.  There are several cool-season crops and a final crop of warm-season vegetables that can be planted.  Some good warm season crops are lima beans, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes.  Going into September it will be a good time to establish strawberry plants.  Some good vegetables to start growing just around the corner are broccoli, carrots, cabbage, collards, mustard, and Swiss chard.  Herbs that do well are cilantro, parsley, and lemongrass. Mint, oregano, and thyme should be planted in containers as they tend to spread. Mexican tarragon, mint, rosemary, and basil will also do well in September. See Herbs:

Transplants from the local garden center will get the garden off to a fast start while seeds will offer more varieties to choose from.  It is also important to think about your location.  A vegetable garden can be in the ground, a raised bed, or even grown in containers.  Your plants will need more than just a place to grow.  They will also need sunlight, water, air, soil, fertilizer, and care.  Most vegetables require at least 8 hours of sunlight.   Keep an eye out for pest problems such as insects, diseases and weeds because they will continue to flourish in warm temperatures and high humidity. To help conserve soil moisture a layer of newspaper and mulch can be placed between the rows.  Mulch also aids in weed control. 

Raised beds are an excellent way to get started with gardening. Photo by Molly Jameson.

The result of a beautiful, successful vegetable garden is fresh produce to eat, share with neighbors, family, and friends and even the possibility to sell your harvest.  With patience and practice your gardening skills will improve every year!  Follow the above few tips and you will be well on your way to a great harvest!  For more information about starting a fall garden or any other horticultural or agricultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Happy Gardening