Lawns are greening up all over Northwest Florida, and you can practice some simple techniques to ensure yours is healthy and environmentally friendly.
Applying the proper amount of fertilizer will help promote a vigorous lawn that can out-compete weeds and serve as a filter to protect Florida’s ground and surface waters.
Applying a half-pound of water-soluble nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn will get your lawn off to a good start. Use a low phosphorus (second number on the bag) and high potassium (third number on the bag) fertilizer such as 8-0-8, 10-0-10 or 15-2-15.
Mowing is one of the most important management practices. However:
•Never remove more than one third of the leaf blade at any one time. Removing more can stress your lawn, making it susceptible to other problems.
•Mow at the highest height for your grass species. For St. Augustinegrass and Bahiagrass, this is 3.5 to 4 inches. If you have St. Augustinegrass cultivars Delmar or Seville, mow at 2 to 2.5 inches. Mow Centipedegrass at 1 to 2 inches.
•Leave grass clippings — they don’t contribute to thatch and return a small amount of fertility back to the lawn.
•Keep mower blades sharp. Dull blades tear leaf blades, making them look bad and leaving grass susceptible to insect or disease invasion.
•Don’t mow when it’s wet — this is dangerous for you, tough on the mower and bad for the grass.
•If you miss a weekly mowing, raise the mower height so you don’t remove too much tissue. Slowly bring the height back down to the recommended level.
Most lawns die from improper irrigation practices, but you can train your lawn to be more drought-tolerant with these tips:
•Irrigate less frequently for longer periods each time. This helps train roots to grow deeper, which makes your lawn more drought-tolerant. Grasses irrigated this way will survive once-a-week watering restrictions.
•Turn your automatic sprinkler system off and irrigate as needed. Your lawn is ready for 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 percent of the lawn shows these signs, unless rain is forecast in the next 24 hours.
•Apply one-half to three-fourths of an inch of water when you irrigate. Place empty, straight-sided cans around the perimeter of the irrigation and see how long it takes to reach this amount.
•Irrigate around sunrise to allow leaf blades to dry during the day.
Larry Williams is an agent at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension office in Crestview.