Summer Tasks

Summer Tasks

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.

2. Fertilize

Gardener fertilizing yard
Commercial landscape fertilizer applicators must obtain state certification.

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.

Reduce Gasoline Use in Your Yard

Reduce Gasoline Use in Your Yard

UF/IFAS Extension Turfgrass Researcher Dr. Bryan Unruh with robotic mower

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.

Timing is Everything when Controlling Lawn Weeds

Timing is Everything when Controlling Lawn Weeds

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 plant growing in centipedegrass lawn

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.

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/EP/EP14100.pdf

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS

Centipedegrass Weed Control:  You Only Need 3 Herbicides!

Centipedegrass Weed Control: You Only Need 3 Herbicides!

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 in flower

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!

 

AUGUST What to Plant? What to Do?

AUGUST What to Plant? What to Do?

Native Gaillardia. Photo courtesy UF/IFAS.

The hottest days of the summer are here and you might be thinking, “There is no way something could survive this heat!”. You might also be wondering “What can I do in my landscape?” Well, you are correct – it is hot and there are not many plants that thrive in this type of weather, but the good news is we are at the end of the summer season and there are things we can begin to do to get ready for fall. It’s not too late to get the last of the summer vegetables going such as lima beans, cucumbers, eggplants, and peppers. Many cool season crops can also be planted by seed now and tomatoes will thrive going into the fall season. See Vegetable Gardening in Florida

There are some heat-tolerant annuals like vinca, gaillardia, bulbine, and coleus that can be planted now in the landscape. See Annuals. Any time of the year, even late summer, bulbs like Aztec Lily, Butterfly Lily, Walking Iris, and Spider Lily can be planted. See Bulbs for Florida. Not many herbs do well in our Florida sun this time of year, but Bay Laurel, Ginger, Mexican Tarragon, and Rosemary can be planted as transplants now but not as seeds just yet. See Herbs.

August and late summer is the time of year that you may be seeing damage in your lawns. This could be caused by insects, disease, or irrigation failure. It is important to determine the cause, so the proper remedy is used. Some ways to avoid lawn damage are checking your mower blades regularly and making sure they are sharp. Also only cut the top one third of the blade of grass to not stress it in the heat of the day. It is good practice to test your irrigation clock and have a rain sensor. Some municipalities in north Florida prohibit the application of fertilizer during the summer rainy season from June to September so check with your local extension office. See Insect Management in Your Florida Lawn

You can become more self-sufficient by growing your own healthy food in your backyard. Photo by Molly Jameson.

There are some other maintenance measures you can take in August to help your landscape and prepare for the fall season. If older palm fronds are yellowing, this could indicate a deficiency in magnesium or potassium. Talk to your local agent or visit your local store for an appropriate palm fertilizer. See Palm Nutrition and Fertilization.  Are you holding on to those beautiful fall mums or decorative Christmas poinsettias? Now is the time to pinch them back to allow time for buds to set for winter blooms. Finally, it is a good time to deadhead (remove old blooms) and fertilize flowering annuals and perennials. We’ve had substantial rain this summer, so keep in mind that the soil could be lacking nutrients. A soil test can give you data that indicates what you need for the up-and-coming growing season.

Information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication: “North Florida Gardening Calendar” by Sydney Park Brown: ENH1190/EP451: North Florida Gardening Calendar (ufl.edu)

Winter Annual Weeds, a Great Place to Hide Easter Eggs

Winter Annual Weeds, a Great Place to Hide Easter Eggs

As a boy in a small town in Georgia we had a St. Augustinegrass lawn. My dad started the lawn before I was born. That lawn was still doing fine when I left for college at age seventeen. I don’t remember weeds in the lawn during summer months. I do fondly remember winter “weeds” in that lawn.

To see clumps of winter annuals in our yard and in neighbors’ yards was a natural part of the transition from winter to spring. They added interest to what

Bluish Easter egg hidden in chickweed

Blue Easter egg hidden in chickweed. Photo credit: Larry Williams

would have been a plain palette of green. It was expected to see henbit with its square stiff stems holding up a display of small pinkish purple flowers in late winter and early spring. A clump of henbit was a great place to hide an Easter egg, especially a pink or purple one.

Wild geranium, another common winter annual, offered another good hiding place for Easter eggs with its pink to purple flowers. Large clumps of annual chickweed would nicely hide whole eggs. Green colored eggs would blend with chickweed’s green leaves.

Pink Easter egg hidden in crimson clover and hop clover mix

Pink Easter egg hidden in crimson clover & hop clover mix. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Crimson clover with its reddish flowers, hop clover and black medic with their bright yellow flowers were good hiding places for Easter eggs. Plus clovers add nitrogen back to our soils.

I never remember my dad using any weed killer, he rarely watered. The lawn was healthy and thick enough to be a deterrent to summer weeds. But during fall and winter as the lawn would naturally thin and go dormant, winter annual weeds would run their course.

I’ve heard that the sense of smell provides our strongest memories. I remember the first mowing of the season with the clean smell of chlorophyll in the spring air. It was refreshing. Once mowed and as the heat took its toll, by late April or mid-May, these winter annual weeds were gone. What was left was a green lawn to help cool the landscape as the weather warmed. The lawn was mowed high as St. Augustine should be, played on and typically not worried with.

Most people have winter weeds in their lawns that let us know spring is near. Perhaps we worry too much with these seasonal, temporary plants that may have wrongly been labeled as weeds. Besides, how long have we been doing battle with these weeds and they are still here. Most lawns have countless numbers of winter annual seeds awaiting the cooler temperatures and shorter days of early winter to begin yet another generation. By May they are gone.