Written by: Khadejah Scott, Horticulture, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Extension Agent, UF/IFAS Extension – Wakulla County
A well-manicured lawn not only enhances the beauty of your property but also provides a welcoming outdoor space. In North Florida, where warm weather and abundant rainfall create ideal conditions for lush green lawns, proper mowing practices play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy and vibrant landscape. With the right techniques and considerations tailored to the unique characteristics of this region, you can achieve a pristine lawn that becomes the envy of the neighborhood. In this article, we will explore essential tips and insights for mowing your North Florida lawn, helping you unleash the full potential of your outdoor haven while ensuring its long-term health and sustainability.
The turfgrass species’ growth pattern and leaf width influence the ideal mowing height. Grass species that grow horizontally and have narrow leaf blades are often cut lower than grasses that grow upright and have wider leaf blades. Because of its numerous tiny leaf blades, Bermudagrass is an example of a plant that is mowed at low heights. St. Augustinegrass, on the other hand, has wider leaf blades and is cut at a higher height. Rooting depth is also influenced by mowing, with deeper roots developing in response to higher mowing heights. Greater resistance to drought, insects, disease, nematodes, temperature stress, poor soil conditions, nutritional deficiencies, and traffic are benefits of the deeper root system. The main cause of turf damage is frequent mowing below the suggested heights for each species, which should be avoided.
The frequency of lawn mowing is determined by the rate at which the grass grows, which is influenced by various factors such as the type of grass, time of year, weather conditions, and the level of maintenance. In North Florida, the need for mowing during winter months may vary depending on the climate and the type of grass present. Grasses like bahiagrass, which require less maintenance, may primarily be mowed to remove seedheads rather than cutting the leaf blades. To maintain a healthy lawn, it is recommended to mow frequently enough to remove no more than one-third of the blade height at a time. Preserving an ample amount of leaf surface is crucial to allow for photosynthesis, especially when the grass is exposed to environmental or site-related stresses.
Using Grass Clippings
Leaving grass clippings on the lawn is generally beneficial as it aids in recycling nutrients and organic matter, while reducing waste in landfills. When lawns are regularly mowed, clippings pose minimal issues. Microbes in the soil readily decompose the clippings, returning valuable organic matter and nutrients to the soil without contributing to thatch buildup under normal conditions. However, infrequent mowing can lead to excess clippings, resulting in clumping and potential thatch formation. Excessive thatch can create various problems, including reduced water infiltration, increased risk of pests and diseases, and diminished turf quality. To mitigate environmental concerns, it is crucial to sweep up any grass clippings from hard surfaces like sidewalks or driveways. These clippings contain nutrients that, if washed into storm drains or water bodies, can contribute to water pollution. By sweeping them back onto the lawn, the grass can benefit from the nutrients while minimizing environmental impact.
Proper mowing practices are essential for maintaining a healthy and vibrant lawn in North Florida’s unique climate. Understanding the growth patterns of different grass species, adjusting mowing frequency accordingly, and leaving clippings on the lawn to recycle nutrients are key aspects of lawn maintenance. By following these guidelines, homeowners can achieve a well-manicured lawn that enhances the beauty of their property while promoting environmental sustainability. Additionally, regular mowing helps prevent thatch buildup, ensures optimal photosynthesis, and reduces the risk of pest and disease infestations. By implementing these best practices, residents of North Florida can enjoy a lush, resilient, and visually appealing lawn that serves as a welcoming outdoor space for years to come. Remember, mowing is not just a chore but an art that contributes to the overall health and aesthetics of your landscape. UF/IFAS provides a wealth of information online regarding maintaining a well-manicured lawn. For any questions or concerns, be sure to consult with your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.
It’s early spring which means time to pull the mower out of the garage and turn that engine over for the first time in months. As with most years, this task may be easier said than done. You fill the tank, check the oil, then pull that string hoping to hear that engine hum to life. Instead with a disappointing spurt, it putters back to sleep. Discouraged, you bounce between the carburetor and spark plug just knowing there is a simple solution. Finally, everything gets cleaned then reassembled, you pull that cord but this time the mower springs to life. As you stand there feeling the cold air on your skin you survey the lawn and think about how little you’re up for this effort today. Why not take another month off of this lawncare duty by partaking in your Panhandle horticulture agents’ “No-Mow March” initiative. Doing so can not only save you the early season frustration outlined above but may help you hold on to a little bit of your hard-earned dollars.
The Underlying Cost
It’s time we talk about the price of cutting your grass. A universal expense should you push your mower or ride on top is gasoline. Have you ever taken a minute to determine how much it costs to mow your lawn across the course of a season? For our purposes here, we’ll consider a single season to be March through September. Assuming you mow weekly as you should, that accounts for 28 sessions. On average, assuming your grass is dry, a walk behind mower will burn through about a liter or roughly a quarter gallon per acre of mowed lawn. With gas prices in Florida running at $3.45 per gallon according to AAA, that will cost $24.15 to cut your lawn across a single mowing season. Riding mowers exacerbate this even more burning through half to three quarters of a gallon per acre mowed. To be fair, they have a bigger job being as they must propel their own weight and that of the operator. In this instance, the cost of gas can run you anywhere between $48.30 and $72.45 in a season. All of this assumes that your mower is running efficiently. Why not cut yourself and your wallet a break and avoid mowing at all early in the season. Sit back and relax for a while longer this year and skip mowing in March and save yourself a little time and money. Your neighbors may complain. Tell them you’re helping both your back and the bees.
Early spring begins with emerging pollinator species. They spent the winter months holed up in their nests bunkered against the cold weather. Around March they stick their heads out and begin looking for nearby nectar sources. A good place to start is with the flowers which have popped up in your yard over winter. We see them as weeds, but to these titans of pollination they might just be the key to life.
Information on “No-Mow March” may be found by heading over to our information page located here. Information on pollinators may be found on these Ask IFAS documents or by contacting your local extension agent for this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.
Summer should be the time to relax and enjoy the fruit of all the hard work performed in the landscape over the previous winter and spring. However, there are still some essential tasks that need to be completed during the summer. Perform them in short energy bursts early in the morning or late in the evening.
1. Aerate Your Lawn
If your yard is starting to look weak and thin, even with fertilizing and proper moisture, it may need aeration. Aeration, which is creating channels into your lawn, allows water and nutrients to reach the deep roots of your grass more efficiently.
To test if you need to aerate your lawn, shovel up a patch of grass to a depth of at least four inches. If the layer of thatch is a half-inch thick or higher, your yard would benefit from aeration. There are self-drive aeration machines and tractor-pulled devices you can rent to make quick work of large areas. For smaller areas, simply punching multiple holes with a pitchfork will do the job.
Turf grass often displays a yellow color during the mid-summer rainy seasons due to the heavy rains flushing nitrogen away from plant roots. If your lawn is looking sad and yellow, chelated iron can often give a temporary green-up. Iron is not a replacement for nitrogen, but it can work well during our summer rainy season.
If you soil test revealed a potassium or magnesium deficiency, summer is a good time to make the last corrective application. Potassium (K) is an essential macronutrient. Fertilizer bags typically show the percentage of potassium in a product as the third number displayed on the front of the bag (e.g., the “8” in 16-2-8). Potassium acts as a “vitamin” for turf grass, increasing root strength, disease resistance and cold hardiness.
Magnesium (Mg), also a macronutrient, is essential for the production of chlorophyll, necessary for photosynthesis, and also plays a part in the movement of carbohydrates from leaves to other parts of the plant.
3. Don’t Mow Too Short
It’s a natural inclination to want to mow your grass as short as you can, so you have the longest time until you have to mow it again. However, giving your grass a buzz cut every time you mow can hurt your lawn over time.
While some turf grasses can be mowed relatively short, like Bermudas and some Zoysias, most grass types shouldn’t be cut shorter than two-and-one-half to four inches high. Mowing shorter than that can damage the growth point and leave it susceptible to disease and pest infestation. It can also dehydrate the grass and lead to long term damage.
5. Water Infrequently but Deeply
One common mistake made by many is watering too often and too shallow. When only given frequent shallow waterings, grass will begin to grow their roots upwards to take advantage of the small amounts of water, which makes weak and unhealthy. The grass becomes even more dependent on water and very susceptible to disease and insect attack.
Try watering only once or twice a week, but for a considerably longer time so that the water can penetrate deeper into the soil and encourage downward roots. Ideally, each irrigation zone is calibrated to determine the length of time it take to deliver ½ – ¾ inch. Then set the system to run every 3-4 days for that number of minutes. While checking the irrigation delivery system, make sure the rain shut-off device is working and set to the same ½ – ¾ inch.
6. Prevent Mosquitoes
Summer rains on a nearly daily basis lead to lots of standing water. In less than one inch of water, hundreds of mosquitoes can hatch 3 -5 days later. Not only are these blood-sucking pests annoying, but they can also transmit dangerous diseases like West Nile and Zika Virus. Even without disease, their bites are painful and irritating.
To prevent mosquitoes, make sure no standing water is allowed to remain in your yard, either in low points or in empty containers like flower pots or wheelbarrows. Any amount of stagnant water is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. Take a walk around the yard, dumping out water and disturbing the oak and magnolia leaves that are acting a collection cup. Treat birdbaths and water features with floating “donuts” specifically designed to kill mosquito eggs.
While getting tasks done in quick morning trips to the yard, make sure to keep hydrated. Heat exhaustion can happen fast.
Dr. Bryan Unruh with robotic mower. Credit: UF/IFAS
With gas prices increasing, there are practical ways to reduce gasoline use in your own backyard.
There are electric, battery, solar powered and robotic (autonomous) lawnmowers. Do you remember the non-motorized reel mower? Or, you could use sheep. But, for the time being, most people have gasoline powered mowers. There are costs involved with mowing, including the cost of gas or diesel fuel.
Be smart as to where you grow grass. Use grass where it serves a purpose. Concentrate your efforts in growing grass where it will grow. It’s normal for lawns to decline in close proximity to large trees. As a lawn gives way to tree competition, do something else in that area. Use mulch under trees or plant shade tolerant plants.
Fertilize smart. Lawns need fertilizer. But, too much fertilizer, particularly too much nitrogen, results in excessive grass growth that requires more mowing.
Many homeowners overdo it with too much nitrogen and too little potassium. Fertilizers with the correct ratios of nitrogen to potassium will produce the right balance of shoot to root growth. Choose a fertilizer such as 15-0-15 or some similar analysis with some slow release nitrogen. Fertilize to produce adequate growth and the correct color. If your lawn is a healthy green and you’re mowing, mowing, mowing… why add more fertilizer?
Centipedegrass and bahiagrass will grow best with fewer problems when fertilized sparingly. This would be one or two light applications of fertilizer per year, or none at all if these grasses are performing well. St. Augustinegrass and zoysiagrass might get by on one spring application; however, it’s more common to apply a second time during summer.
Never apply more than the recommended amount of fertilizer per application. You can always split the total amount into two or more applications, which will produce more even growth and minimize sudden growth spurts.
Though it’s a popular practice, reconsider overseeding your lawn with ryegrass this fall. Weigh the desire to have a green lawn through winter with the extra time and costs (gas, fertilizer, water and pesticides) involved with maintaining it.
Finally, keep your gas-powered lawnmower in good working condition. It can make a difference in how efficiently it operates. Make sure the equipment is clean. Change the oil if needed. Replace or clean the air filter and spark plug. Keep lawnmower blades sharp. Basically, follow the owner’s manual for routine maintenance.
Implementing these ideas can help conserve fuel and result in a healthier lawn.
Hot, summer months are not the time to be using most lawn herbicides.
One issue is the heat of summer. Most lawn herbicide labels include statements such as the following.
“Do not apply when temperature exceeds 90°F.” “Do not broadcast apply this product when air temperatures are above 90°F (85°F for St. Augustinegrass) unless temporary turf injury can be tolerated.”
Every year we’ll see lawns that are injured or killed because of lawn herbicides being applied when temperatures are too hot.
Summer is usually a rainy and windy time of the year. Many lawn herbicide labels include statements such as the following.
“Allow 12 hours after application before watering lawn for maximum effectives on listed weeds.” “Apply only when wind is no more than 10 mph.” “Applying this product in calm weather when rain is not predicted for the next 24 hours will help to ensure that wind or rain does not blow or wash pesticide off the treatment area.”
It is critical to read and follow the label directions and precautions for any pesticide you use. Pesticide labels, including herbicides, include the following statements.
“To the extent consistent with applicable law, the buyer assumes all risks of use, storage, or handling of this product not in accordance with label directions.” “It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.”
Crabgrass growing in centipedegrass lawn. Photo credit: UF/IFAS Extension
By the time summer arrives, many of the lawn weeds are mature, which means they are well established with extensive root systems. These mature, well established weeds are much more difficult to control. They are more susceptible to herbicides when they are small, young, and not well established. Also, these mature weeds have been allowed to produce countless numbers of seeds as they move into summer. Most weeds are prolific seed producers. For example, a single crabgrass plant (a common summer lawn weed) can produce 150,000 seeds.
Applying a preemergence lawn herbicide in February to help prevent summer annual weeds such as crabgrass or applying a postemergence lawn herbicide during spring while the weather is mild and before the weeds are out of control simply makes more sense than waiting until summer.
The best options now with lawn weed control involve continuing to follow good mowing practices, maybe hand removal of some weeds, and just simply waiting it out until next February and spring to worry with the use of lawn herbicides.
In the meantime, you may want to read the following UF/IFAS Extension publication on lawn weed control.
Nearly everyone likes turfgrass lawns. They’re pretty and green. They filter water, chemicals, and nutrients before they enter our groundwater systems. They provide a recreation spot for people and pets. But lawns also come with maintenance tasks, one of which is weed control. Fortunately, keeping our common Centipedegrass lawns relatively weed free is as simple as smart management and utilizing herbicides effectively. Though the number of herbicides available for purchase can be overwhelming, you only need three to keep weeds at bay – a selective grass herbicide, a strong broadleaf herbicide, and a sedge herbicide!
Dollarweed, one of the toughest broadleaf weeds for homeowners to control. Picture courtesy of Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS.
First up on the essential herbicide list is the selective grass herbicide Sethoxydim. While most folks’ weed focus is centered on broadleaf weeds, grassy weeds like Crabgrass, Bahiagrass, Goosegrass, and others can be just as problematic and make for a very unsightly lawn. Enter Sethoxydim. Cheap and easy to find, Sethoxydim is offered as the active ingredient in many branded products like Fertilome Over the Top Grass Killer, Hi-Yield Grass Killer, and many more. These products control weedy grass species without seriously harming Centipedegrass or broadleaf ornamental trees and shrubs (Centipedegrass may temporarily be yellowed after sethoxydim application but will recover). Not only will it kill out the unwanted grass growing in your Centipede, but it will also remove these weeds from your flower beds!
Second, having a strong broadleaf herbicide on hand is necessary. I say “strong” because many of the homeowner grade products available at garden centers simply don’t have the “juice” to control tough broadleaf weeds like Dollarweed, Doveweed, Virginia Buttonweed, and others. For this job, I prefer to use a commercial grade 3-way product like Celsius WG by Bayer. Celsius WG is a 3-way combination herbicide with a healthy dose of Dicamba as its primary ingredient. Though Dicamba is a notoriously volatile chemical known to cause damage to unintended plants through drift in hot weather, combining it with the two other products in Celsius WG makes it safe to use in lawns, even in the heat of summer. While strong broadleaf herbicides like Celsius WG are expensive on the front end, don’t let that deter you. These products wind up being very cost effective in the long run due to minute mixing rates (one bottle goes a very long way in most residential lawns) and effectiveness – you simply will not need to waste time and money spraying lawn weeds over and over to obtain control like is necessary with lesser products – one or two applications will solve the toughest broadleaf weed problems.
Finally, any good lawn weed control program will include a quality sedge control herbicide. Sedges (often called “nutgrass”) look like grasses but are a completely different category of plants and as such, require specialized herbicide chemistries to achieve control. Sedge weeds prefer wetter areas of lawns, though they can occur in pretty much any lawn site and are very unsightly. For this weed category, there are several options available to homeowners. The one that consistently provides the best control in lawns is Halosulfuron-methyl, the active ingredient in the aptly named product Sedgehammer. Conveniently coming in individually pre-mixed packets for small lawns or a larger bottle when more acreage is to be treated, Sedgehammer couldn’t be easier to mix and use. While Sedgehammer and similar products are extremely effective in controlling various sedge weeds, they tend to work very slowly, and patience is required. Weeds immediately stop growing following a Sedgehammer application, but it can take up to three weeks to notice the sedges dying.
While having and using the above three herbicides can control almost any weed homeowners may encounter in their lawns, it is important to remember that herbicides are not substitutes for proper lawn management. When good cultural practices in lawns are followed, such as mowing at the correct height, only watering when necessary, following UF/IFAS fertilizer recommendations, etc., chemical weed control may not even be necessary in many cases! Also, once the decision to purchase and use chemical herbicides has been made, it is critical that one always read the label before using any herbicide product. This ensures safe and effective use of the product; the label is literally the law!
For assistance in choosing the correct herbicide for your lawn and other lawn care concerns, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office! Happy Gardening!