I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s been hot outside. Like really, scorching, hellacious, dog days hot. In this weather pattern we’ve been in, it’s hard to make yourself do non-essential stuff outside that doesn’t involve swimming and so our gardens go by the wayside. In my opinion, that’s totally okay! Give yourself a rest from the garden and landscape chores for the next couple of weeks and get your fall gameplan ready. The following are some things to think about over the next few weeks to prepare yourself for the coming cooler weather!
Get your soil tested. If you’re an in-ground vegetable gardener or just like to have an attractive lawn/landscape, performing a simple soil test can offer either peace of mind that your soil’s pH and fertility is good or give you a nudge to schedule some needed amendments. Though I don’t recommend fertilizing lawn grass this late and there’s no need to fertilize the garden before it gets planted in mid-late September, you can certainly begin to source and price fertilizer for the appropriate time based on your test results. However, now IS the perfect time to get lime out in a vegetable garden if your pH has sunk beneath the recommended 6.5. Lime takes weeks to months to begin to alter soil chemistry so the sooner the better if it is needed!
Order seeds. While I love to support local farm stores and plant nurseries, you are limited with the vegetable and flower varieties you can plant by what they have in stock. I enjoy trying new/improved and heirloom plant varieties each year and, most of the time, these can only be found by ordering online. For the latest in vegetable and cut flower varieties with a nice mix of heirloom cultivars thrown in also, I can recommend Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, and other similar purveyors – all of these are great places to look. Continue to purchase your more common standbys through local outlets but, this year get different and try new things by ordering online!
Develop a garden/landscape plan. I doubt there’s a gardener amongst us who wouldn’t like to rearrange things a bit outside. Maybe you planted your lettuce a little too closely together last year, you’ve been dreaming of installing a new flower bed, or you really want to do a full garden/landscape renovation. The best way to be successful at any of these things is to get outside (or at least look out from behind a window in the A/C), take stock of what is already there, the space that is or might be available, research what plants or varieties might do well in your yard/garden (your local UF/IFAS Extension office is a great resource for this), and begin to sketch your ideas out. This planning step WILL save you time and money by ensuring you don’t purchase too many plants, by picking plants that will do well, and ensuring you install everything at the correct time.
So, take advantage of the heat, stay inside, and work up your garden gameplan together this August – fall is just around the corner. For help with soil testing, recommendations on plant varieties to purchase, or working up a garden/landscape plan tailored to you, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Stay cool and happy gardening!
Now that we are moving into warmer soil temperatures, weak areas in lawns will have a better chance of making some recovery. However, this is highly dependent on whether or not correct lawn maintenance practices are followed. These practices include fertilizing, mowing and watering correctly.
Many North Florida lawns came out of winter weak and thinning this spring. In areas of the lawn where there is at least sixty percent cover of the desirable type of lawn grass, recovery is possible. But where there is less than sixty percent desirable cover, reestablishment should be considered.
Applying the correct type and amount of fertilizer will promote lawn recovery. To maintain a healthy Florida lawn, it’s critical to use a fertilizer with adequate potassium. In most cases, use a lawn fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen (first number) and potassium (third number) such as 8-0-8, 10-0-10, 15-2-15 or similar analysis. Phosphorus (second number) should be low or zero unless you have the results of a reliable soil test indicating that more phosphorus is needed. Err on the side of being light handed when applying fertilizer to the lawn. In North Florida, most lawns will do just fine with an application in spring no earlier than mid-April and a second application in summer no later than mid-September.
Follow these mowing practices for a healthy lawn.
Never remove more than 1/3 of the leaf blade height at any one time.
Here’s the recommended mowing height in inches for each lawn grass: bahia – 3 to 4; centipede – 1.5 to 2; standard St. Augustine cultivars – 3 to 4; dwarf St. Augustine cultivars (Captiva and Seville) – 2 to 3; zoysia cultivars suitable for home lawns- 2 to 2.5; bermuda – .5 to 1.5.
Keep mower blades sharp.
Follow these irrigation practices for a deeper rooted and drought tolerant lawn.
Turn your automatic sprinkler system off and learn to operate it manually on an as-needed basis. Your lawn needs water when leaf blades start to fold in half lengthwise or when footprints remain visible in the lawn long after being made. Irrigate when at least 30% of the lawn shows these signs of water need.
Apply ½ – ¾ inch of water when you do irrigate. Place empty, straight-sided cans in the area being irrigated to see how long it takes to reach this amount.
Irrigate during early morning for more efficient water use and to minimize lawn diseases.
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 (ufl.edu)
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 (ufl.edu)
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 (ufl.edu)
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!
Need an excuse to not mow your lawn this month? UF/IFAS Extension agents in the Florida Panhandle are asking residents to skip their soon-to-be-weekly outdoor chore until the calendar flips to April.
The idea for “No Mow March” is borrowed from “No Mow May,” a concept begun in the United Kingdom that has now spread to northern parts of the United States.
“Obviously, our lawns are growing way too quickly by the time May rolls around,” said Beth Bolles, UF/IFAS Escambia County horticulture agent who is leading the pilot effort this year. “Here in North Florida, March is our transition period, when grass is exiting dormancy. But it’s also when pollinators are starting to become more active, so it’s the perfect time to celebrate them and promote their health and habitat.”
Bolles is quick to point out, though, that the month is about more than just turf.
“We recognize that some communities have rules to follow regarding their lawns,” she said. “There are other things you can do to encourage pollinators to visit, whether it’s container plants or adding new shrubs or pollinator houses. We encourage everyone to find their own way to participate.”
The first step in participating is to sign the pledge at go.ufl.edu/NoMowMarch. Visitors can also use the website to find virtual or in-person events geared to the topic, learn tips for adhering to homeowners association guidelines while still promoting pollinators, and record observations to a No Mow group on iNaturalist.
Weeds are basically unwanted plants or plants growing out of place. Proper identification and some understanding of how and why weeds are present in a lawn are important when selecting the best management tactics. All turf weeds can be grouped into one of three life cycles: annual, biennial, or perennial.
Annual: Produces seeds during one season only
Biennial: Produces seeds during two back-to-back seasons
Perennial: Produces seeds over many seasons
Knowing the types of weed previously present in an area also can help one to be better prepared and what control measures to employ in the future.
Weeds may appear in multiple categories, either broadleaf, grass, or Sedges/rushes.
Broadleaves, or dicotyledonous plants, have two cotyledons (seed leaves) when the weed seed germinates.
Appearance: Broad, flat leaves with net-like veins and usually have showy flowers.
Common types: Clover, ground ivy, dandelions, chickweed, plantain, henbit, beggarweed.
Grasses are monocotyledonous plants that have only one cotyledon, or seed leaf, present when seedlings emerge from the soil.
Appearance: Narrow leaves with parallel veins in their true leaves. Hollow rounded stems.
Common types: crabgrass, goosegrass, crowfoot grass, bull grass, annual bluegrass, alexander grass, cogon grass, torpedo grass, and smut grass.
Sedges/rushes. Both favor a moist habitat. Appearance: triangular-shaped, solid stems, while rush stems are round and solid.
Common types: yellow and purple nutsedge and, to some degree, globe, Texas, annual, and water sedge.
One of the first steps in managing weeds is to have a healthy dense lawn/ turf to provide shade that prevents seed germination. Having a healthy lawn depends on turf species selected – making sure you put the right plant and right place. Other factors that influence a heathy turf and a reduced amount of weeds include proper cultural control, fertilizing regularly, mowing at the appropriate height, watering deeply, reducing traffic, pest control, and sanitation. If you only have a few bothersome weeds in your lawn, you may be able to dig them up by hand—but if your lawn is overrun with weeds, you may need to start from scratch. If you decide to start from the beginning, you have a choice ahead of you. Do you want to lay down seed or sod? There are pros and cons to each.
Pros: Less expensive, more variety
Cons: Takes longer to germinate, can only lay at certain times of year depending on grass type
Pros: Instant grass, can lay any time of year, requires little maintenance
Cons: More costly, less variety in grass can mean less healthy lawn overall
To prepare the soil after either method, make sure you till it down to roughly 6 to 8 inches.