By BJ Jarvis
Who would have thought Pasco County would again see weather as weird as last year? It seems to have already started with unusually cold temperatures accompanied by drying winds. What can gardeners do to help the lawn survive?
At this time of year, talk is usually about preparing turfgrass for dormancy, but not in 2011. Freezing temperatures have already turned lawns brown, but don’t panic. Even in sunny Florida, turfgrass needs a rest and dormancy is a normal, healthy part of the plant cycle.
Hopefully the lawn has not been fertilized since early fall. An actively growing turf has little resistance to cold or freezing temperatures. For the same reason, the next fertilization should not occur until at least mid-March. When daylight is longer and temperatures are warmer in the spring, green growth will start again. Do not try to push early green-up by fertilizing early. New growth can be easily damaged by another freeze.
Weed and feed products for pre-emergent weed controls are not especially effective in central Florida. If my lawn is any indication, the weeds seem to take advantage of the fertilizer part, and the turf sees no benefit. So save yourself time and money by only treating with a pre-emergent to control warm season weeds. Timing is critical when using pre-emergents. Apply these around Valentine’s Day when day temperatures reach 65-70 degrees for four or five consecutive days.
When turfgrass is not actively growing, it requires less water. From November through February, your lawn will only need to be irrigated every 10-14 days. Turn the irrigation controller off and skip a week. If it rains at least 3/4 of an inch during that time, you won’t need to turn on the system to irrigate. Purchase a rain gauge if you don’t already have one.
While mowing will be intermittent in winter, good care should be taken to keep turf as healthy as possible. A sharp blade is essential, and regular cleaning of the mower deck will help avoid spread of disease and weed seeds throughout the landscape. Optimal mowing heights vary by species, but in general, St. Augustine, bahia and zoysia grasses should be cut at 3.5-4 inches long. Dwarf varieties may be cut at 2.5-3 inches. Mowing high promotes deep root growth, and it has the added benefit of creating inhospitable conditions for weed seed germination.
How can you tell if your lawn has truly succumbed to cold weather? Plant a small plug of grass in a container of good potting mix. Place it in a warm, sunny location and keep it slightly moist but not wet or about three weeks. If new growth appears, your lawn should recover when the warm weather comes again. If not, you will probably need to replace at least the brown areas in your lawn when the weather warms up.
For more information about lawn care, visit the University of Florida’s website at www.yourFloridalawn.ifas.ufl.edu or visit the Pasco Extension website at Pasco.ifas.ufl.edu for more gardening information.
BJ Jarvis is Horticulture Agent and Extension Director for Pasco Cooperative Extension, a free service of Pasco County and the University of Florida. She can be reached at .
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