Sally Scalera: Florida lawns need less water in cooler months, but they still need care – Florida Today

sally-scalera:-florida-lawns-need-less-water-in-cooler-months,-but-they-still-need-care-–-florida-today

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Support local journalism: Find offers for new subscribers at floridatoday.com/subscribe.Fall is coming, and when the cooler temperatures arrive, along with the shorter days, the lawn won’t need to be mowed as often. Cooler weather will also make it more enjoyable to care for the lawn so it can take off next spring. Here are some suggestions to help your lawn do great next year.Establish a soil food webI always recommend establishing the soil food web around the roots of plants, because that is how nature grows plants in wild, undisturbed areas where no human broadcasts synthetic fertilizers or applies pesticides. If you care for your lawn yourself, email me at [email protected] for more information on this topic. Get a soil sample to find best turf fertilizerFertilizing turf is very beneficial when the lawn is experiencing any problems. If that is the case, send a soil sample to the Extension Soil Testing Laboratory in Gainesville to discover the soil pH and the levels of phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese and zinc.The soil testing lab form can be found at this link edis.ifas.ufl.edu. Pay for the $10 Test B. Hopefully the soil test results will show that the phosphorus level is low, because that is perfect for the establishment of a relationship between the grass roots and beneficial mycorrhizal fungi. Organic fertilizer can be used to supply any deficient nutrients.Water deeply but infrequently in cooler monthsWhen it comes to watering the lawn, think deeply but infrequently. Calibrate the sprinkler heads so they apply ½ inch to ¾ inch of water every time they run. When mycorrhizae become established in the soil, the lawn may not require supplemental irrigation. The lawn will also be able to tolerate less frequent watering when we turn the clocks back one hour, so if you have an automated irrigation system, set it to run just once a week. To comply with the St. Johns River Water Management District’s watering restrictions, all homes with odd numbered addresses should water on Saturday and all homes with an even numbered address should water on Sunday.Mow high for a healthier lawnFor mowing, remember to mow high. For St. Augustine (except the dwarf cultivars) and Bahia, mow the turf 3 to 4 inches high. For dwarf varieties of St. Augustine, such as Seville, mow it to a height of 2½ inches. Mow often enough so that no more then ⅓ of the leaf blade is removed. This means that for most of the year, a weekly mowing is needed to maintain a healthy lawn. The shorter day lengths of winter will also slow down the growth of the lawn to the point where you can mow every other week. If you have weeds (and most of us do), be sure to keep them mowed so they can’t produce seeds. Mowing is an important weed control strategy.The establishment of the soil food web will also create an aerobic soil, which will help the lawn (along with trees and all other plants), but won’t benefit the weeds.Speaking of weeds, consider the fact that their presence is an indication that your plants are growing in dirt that is anaerobic and dominated by bacteria. An important way to keep weeds from growing so well is to establish the soil food web (needed to support all the plants we want to grow) which will turn your dead dirt into living soil.Over-seed lawn with ryegrassPurchase annual ryegrass seed now so you’ll be ready to over-seed your lawn when the daytime temperatures are consistently in the low- to mid-70s.  Warm season grasses go dormant during the cooler, shorter days of winter, so broadcasting annual ryegrass seed will create a green lawn throughout the winter. When broadcasting the seed, walk in one direction to sow half of the seed, and then walk at a 90º angle to broadcast the second half of the seed. To ensure that the seed contacts the soil, sweep the ground with a stiff broom after broadcasting. Proper watering is crucial for germination. Lightly water the over-seeded lawn for 10 to 20 minutes once or twice a day for 7-10 days to improve seed germination. For more information,Visit sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu and search for "overseeding Florida Lawns."In late spring, when the ryegrass dies, it will provide more organic matter to the soil. This is an easy way to enjoy a green lawn through the winter and amend the soil in the spring.Keep lawn healthy with liquid seaweedIf your lawn is experiencing problems or you want to keep it healthy, spray it weekly (or as often as possible) with liquid seaweed (i.e., Maxicrop, Liquid Kelp, etc.) to provide important trace elements and growth hormones. If the area is small, use a hand pump-up sprayer to thoroughly spray both sides of the foliage, but if it’s a large area, a hose-end sprayer can be used.Top dress lawn with organic matterFall is a great time to top dress the lawn with biochar and/or organic matter. The biochar and/or organic matter (i.e., Comand, mushroom compost, compost, etc.) will increase the water- and nutrient-holding capacity of the soil, and if you’re lucky, add some beneficial soil microorganisms. Our sandy soils are seriously lacking in organic matter, and the aerobic bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes that make up the soil food web. A healthy, living soil will support your plants, build organic matter and protect water quality. Building a healthy soil, which has a thriving soil food web, will help reduce the irrigation and fertilization needs of your lawn. Healthy soil will also produce a healthy lawn and protect water quality. If you maintain your own lawn, consider maintaining it a little differently and work with nature, instead of against it.Sally Scalera is an urban horticulture agent and master gardener coordinator for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences. Email [email protected]​​​​​​​Support local journalism: Find offers for new subscribers at floridatoday.com/subscribe.
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