If you live in the Southeastern United States, your lawn is most likely Bermuda, Zoysia, Centipede, St. Augustine (known as warm season grasses) or Fescue (known as a cool season grass). It is important for you to know which type you have so that appropriate care and timing can help you obtain peak results and optimal long-term health of your lawn.
An effective turf management program involves cultivation, fertilization, mowing and irrigation. And although warm and cool season grasses have different cultivation requirements, Atlanta lawns have a number of things in common. We’ll review these first, and then focus on the particular timing requirements for the second quarter (April, May, June) for cool and warm season grasses.
Testing is key…
First, all lawns thrive in soils with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Therefore, if you don’t know your soil’s pH, get it tested. Your County Extension Office can provide everything you need, and for only four dollars you’ll get an analysis of your soil that is extremely useful.
This report will:
· Provide the exact pH of your soil and let you know what to do to start getting your soil into the ideal range for your lawn to thrive.
· Specifically indicate if lime needs to be added, and if so, at what rate. In the absence of a soil test, a rule of thumb would be to add 40 pounds of lime per 1000 square feet.
· Fertilization, as well as rate of application and timing. If you have Fescue, April should be your second fertilization of the year (February, September and November are the others). If you have Zoysia or Bermuda you’ll wait until your grass has greened up at least 50% before your first application of the year (followed by June, July and August). Pay attention to the soil test for the recommended fertilizer ratio to apply to your lawn (i.e. 10-10-10 or 34-0-0, etc.) More about this in another issue.
Weed control is best managed in turf as pre-emergent and post-emergent applications of herbicides. Pre-emergents are typically applied in the fall and late winter and they act as a barrier to prevent annual weed seeds from germinating. Do not apply pre-emergent and grass seed in the same season or your grass seed will be prevented from germinating as well.
Post-emergent herbicides deal with weeds already germinated, and can be applied to spot treat problem areas, applied as a broad foliar spray or delivered granularly in your spreader. Post-emergent herbicides are best dispersed once new grass has had plenty of time to establish, and when temperatures are within a comfortable range (not too hot or cold). Read the labels!
All lawns can benefit from core aerating, when done during seasons of active growth. Aeration aids in improving soil compaction and delivering oxygen to the roots of your grass. The plugs of soil (or cores) will, in a matter of a few weeks, disappear back into the ground as they break down. If you are liming, fertilizing or over-seeding, aerating is a great first step, and provides an ideal opportunity for lime and fertilizer to get where they need to go. When you aerate, make sure soil is moist enough to penetrate.
All turf grasses have an optimal mowing height and it is important for you to know what that is. However, always avoid cutting more than 1/3 of the blades height each time you mow. Otherwise you subject grass to stress and increase the chances of future problems and disease.
Irrigation is another characteristic common in Atlanta lawns. Water at night or early morning, and at the rate of one inch per week on average, delivered all at once or twice at the most. By watering deeply and infrequently, you will be promoting a tougher turf, as roots will be encouraged to grow down as they seek soil moisture. Light, frequent irrigation discourages grass roots from having to go deep and roots remaining near the surface can quickly dry out in Atlanta’s hot dry summers. You can be setting the stage for heat stress, disease, and turf decline. In fact, many of Atlanta’s lawns are more adversely affected by over-watering rather than under watering.
Finally, a few specifics that can and should be done in the Spring:
Fescue owners, aerate, lime, fertilize and over-seed now! Although fall is the best time to over-seed or establish a Fescue lawn, you can over-seed now at the suggested rate on your soil test, or per the instructions listed on the bag of seed you purchased. Water enough to keep seed moist until germination, which should consist of several short waterings throughout the day. Don’t apply seed in excess of instructions. Although your spring lawn will look lush and beautiful, you are creating a poor environment and likely demise of that same grass this summer. Fertilize in April and again in September, November and February.
Bermuda and Zoysia owners – relax until your grass is at least 50% green later in May. At this time you can fertilize, and apply a post-emergent to control established weeds.
Centipede owners – use this May timetable as well.