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

Guidelines for Hiring a Landscape Professional

Guidelines for Hiring a Landscape Professional

Garden and landscape maintenance can be relaxing, but it can also be stressful. Sometimes you may just not have the time or the patience to get all the work done. In that case, you may choose to hire a professional to get your yard to looks its best. A number of things should be considered when selecting a company. First of all, make sure you find a company that provides the services needed. You probably don’t want to hire a business that specializes in planting food plots if you need some trees removed from around your house. And you may not want to hire a company that manages sports fields if you want some trees and shrubs installed. Please find a checklist below of some things to consider when choosing a landscape professional.

Applying the proper amount of fertilizer keeps your landscape healthier and protects local waterbodies. Credit: UF/IFAS.

Insurance, Licenses, and Certifications – Make sure to hire professionals who meet all state and local license and insurance requirements for the work they are are contracted for.

  • General Liability Insurance – General liability insurance protects against bodily injury, property damage, and personal injury. Ask for proof of this coverage.
  • Workers’ Compensation Insurance – Worker’s compensation insurance provides medical and wage benefits to employees who are injured or get sick at work. More information on this coverage can be found at
  • Pesticide Applicator License – A pesticide applicator license is required for individuals spraying pesticides in and around your home. Some licenses allow the applicator to spray your entire landscape while others only grant the applicator to lawfully spray ornamental beds and shrubs around the home. You can search for applicators by name or license number at Licensed Pesticide Applicator Search.
  • Fertilizer Applicator License – A fertilizer applicator license is required for individuals applying fertilizer to turf and ornamentals on your property. You can search for applicators by name or license number at Licensed Pesticide Applicator Search.
  • FNGLA – The Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) certifies landscape professionals on their landscape installation and/or maintenance expertise. You can search for certified individuals at FNGLA Certifications.
  • FFL – The Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program offers a Florida-Friendly Landscaping Certified Professional (FFLCP) certification to individuals are familiar with the latest UF/IFAS recommendations and who implement the 9 Florida-Friendly Landscaping principles by using environmentally friendly landscape management practices. A list of certified individuals can be found at Florida-Friendly Landscaping Certified Professionals Listing.
  • ISA – The International Society of Arboriculture certifies landscape professionals and arborists on their expertise on tree care and installation. You can search for certified arborists at Certified Arborist Search.

In addition to checking for accreditations, a number of questions can be asked to determine if a company meets your needs. These questions will help determine whether the company follows environmentally friendly landscape management and installation practices.

  • Does the landscape professional understand irrigation system design and know how to calibrate an irrigation system?
  • Does the landscape professional maintain mowing and pruning equipment and tools to make clean cuts?
  • Does the landscape professional maintain turf at the appropriate height for the species/cultivar being grown?
  • Does the landscape professional follow UF/IFAS fertilizer recommendations for fertilizer rates and products?
  • Does the landscape professional apply fertilizer only when turf and ornamentals are actively growing?
  • Does the landscape professional use soil tests to help determine fertilizer needs?
  • Does the landscape professional regularly check turf and ornamentals for insect pests and diseases?
  • Does the landscape professional follow recommendations for plant installation and spacing?

These are just a few things to consider when hiring a landscape professional/company. After reviewing qualifications and asking tough questions you’ll also want to consider cost. Make sure to consider the scope of work of the companies that gave you quotes. For more comprehensive guidelines, please check out the UF/IFAS Publication Guidelines for Hiring a Florida-Friendly Landscape Professional.

Winter is Tree Planting Time

Winter is Tree Planting Time

Red Maple
Red Maple structure IFAS Photo: Hassing, G.

January to February is the ideal time to plant trees.  During dormancy, all the energy in a tree is in the root system. They will establish very quickly.  In the spring, they will be ready to grow leaves. Planting and establishing trees is all about managing air and moisture in the soil. The exception is palms. They are not technically trees and should only be planted in the late spring and summer. Three of the most common causes of poor plant establishment or tree death are planting too deep, under watering, and over watering. If appropriate trees are planted at the right depth and they are irrigated properly, the trees will thrive for years to come. As simple as this sounds, problems often arise that lead to poor establishment or plant failure.

Following ten critical steps can ensure proper tree planting:

1. Look up for wires and lights. Make sure that the tree species’ mature size will not interfere with any utility lines.

2. Find the topmost root and treat root defects.   After removing the pot from the tree, remove all excess soil on the top of the root ball, until a root that is similar in diameter to the lower branches is located.  That is the topmost root.  Look for any roots that encircle the rootball, particularly close to the trunk.  Remove any roots that will strangle the trunk.  Cut all encircling roots at the point they turn to encourage root branching. Then, rough up or shave off all the roots on the perimeter of the rootball. If the tree is balled and burlapped, use a metal skewer to locate the depth of the topmost root.

Remove an inch or more for extremely rootbound trees.

3. Dig shallow and wide hole. Using the corrected rootball as a gauge, dig the hole slightly less shallow that the rootball.  Loosen the top six inches of soil around the entire rootball.

4. Carefully place tree in hole. Lower the tree into the hole slowly.

5. Position top root 1-2 inches above landscape soil. Make sure that the rootball is above the surrounding soil grade. If balled and burlapped, the nylon straps, metal pins, burlap on top of the rootball, and wire basket above the grade will need to be removed.

6. Straighten tree. Check the tree from two directions at 90% angles from each other.

7. Add and firm backfill soil. Tamp soil with fingers, not feet.  Do not stomp on the soil.  It will compact the soil and reduce the oxygen to the roots.

8. Add mulch.  Apply a 2–3-inch layer of natural mulch out to the perimeter of the trees branches, or beyond if possible.  However, there should be 1 inch or less mulch on top of the rootball.  Do not allow mulch to touch the trunk.

9. Stake and prune if needed.   If there is a strong steady wind, staking is necessary.  Otherwise, don’t stake. Make sure to do all structural pruning is done at planting time.  Establish a central leader and remove crossing branches. But do not remove the lower branches.  Just reduce the length.  The tree needs to bring food to the lower portion of the trunk to increase the diameter.

10. Water the tree. Don’t walk away until the tree has been watered.  Apply at least ½ gallon.  The tree will need to be watered twice a week for 20-30 weeks.  The larger the tree, the more water needed at each event.  However, if the water doesn’t perk in within a few minutes, reduce the amount being applied.  Overwatering can be as harmful as underwatering.

Mulch Guide for Panhandle Gardeners

Mulch Guide for Panhandle Gardeners

Mulch provides nutrients to soil and plants, reduces weed growth, controls soil temperature, and improves the look of lawns and gardens. It gives the landscape a neat, uniform appearance and is an excellent Florida-Friendly choice for hard-to-mow areas and shady spots. One should keep a 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of mulch on plant beds. Always leave at least 2 inches of space around tree trunks to prevent rot. Create self-mulching areas under your trees by allowing fallen leaves to stay in place. Though bark and wood chips are typically the most common mulch, other forms are just as beneficial. The following are the best overall mulches for Panhandle gardeners!

Bark and Wood Chips

Bark and wood chips are frequently used on flower beds and around small bushes and shrubs. As they decay, the material provides nutrients to the soil. Both materials are inexpensive and can be found at most gardening supply stores. Cedarwood chips are popular for their repellent properties, keeping fleas and other pests away.

Pebbles and Rocks

Pebbles and rocks are effective in retaining soil moisture and minimizing weed growth. They are excellent mulch alternatives for flower beds. Rocks are economical in cooler climates, where heat retained by rock mulch can extend the growing season. Since rocks do not decompose, they don’t provide nutrients to the soil. If you’re looking for a nutrient-rich mulch alternative, rocks are not a good choice. This can be easily remedied by fertilizing your landscape to provide more nutrients. If you decide to use pebbles or rocks, keep in mind that they can be difficult to remove if you switch to a different type of mulch a season or two.

Leaves and Pine Needles

Leaves and pine needles are an affordable nutrient-rich mulch alternative. Rake and gather fallen leaves each season and redistribute them above your soil. For the best results, one should shred the leaves. Let the shredded leaves dry before adding them to your garden to reduce bacteria growth and pest infestations. Pine needles decompose and add nutrients to the soil, just like other organic forms of mulch. They work best with plants that prefer acidic soil conditions, like holly gardenias, roses, and chrysanthemums. You can buy bundles of pine needles at your local gardening store or gather them from your own trees and spread them around your garden.

Grass Clippings

Grass clippings are a cost-efficient alternative to traditional mulch. However, they must be dried out or composted before use to prevent potentially damaging heat from affecting plants. If you treat your lawn with chemicals, don’t use grass clippings in your flower or garden bed.


Compost is an affordable mulch alternative and enriches the soil by adding essential nutrients. Apply compost above your garden or lawn in a thin layer. Compost improves the soil, adding nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen to your garden. One can make it yourself with discarded vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, dead leaves, and water.


Newspapers effectively keep weeds at bay, retain moisture, and regulate soil temperatures. Newspaper is equally functional compared to traditional mulches, but is not as visually appealing as other options. Moisten the newspaper slightly before laying it above the soil so that it stays in place. Then, add a thin layer of organic mulch on top. Apply five to eight sheets of newspaper at a time. If using newspaper without another mulch on top, shred it before applying it to your garden. Newspaper is biodegradable and will deteriorate like other mulches.

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.