Based on long range weather forecasts, it looks like we may be spared another freeze, so most folks are moving ahead with landscape cleanup. Large piles of brown debris are lining roadways, and folks are already spreading fertilizer to give lawns a kick.
Lawns are greening up, which is way ahead of last year. Winter kill was not as severe this year, but there is some spotty damage.
Our lawns were stressed last year going into the winter, due to extreme drought or problems such as chinch bugs. Landscapes without an irrigation system or with an inefficient one were the most vulnerable. Lawns that are under stress or weak going into the winter are always the ones most susceptible to winter kill.
If your lawn falls into this category, try to determine why this is occurring and fix it during the upcoming growing season.
Replant damaged areas
For lawn areas that are obviously dead, go ahead and prepare the area for planting. If there are existing weeds, apply a systemic herbicide like Glyphosate. It doesn't help to spray the soil with these products; it only works on weeds that have leaves. To allow the herbicide to move through the plants, leave weeds in place for several weeks (refer to herbicide label). Then rake out dead material and prepare the soil.
If you have a sandy soil and are installing muck-based sod, add some organic material to your existing soil. Sod is grown on sand (versus muck), which tends to perform better in our area but is sometimes difficult to find. Work to loosen soil while mixing in organic material and then rake smooth.
Fill in dead areas with sod or plugs. If you install plugs now, they will probably not spread out until soil temperatures are consistently warmer.
For new turf, water several times a day for six to 10 minutes for the first week. The root system is shallow, so all you are doing is keeping the lawn from wilting. If it is cloudy or there is rain, reduce the amount of irrigation.
After a week or so, the grass should start rooting into the existing soil, so gradually increase the run time and decrease the frequency of watering.
Choose the right fertilizer
Now is the time to fertilize your lawn if it is actively growing. To get your lawn off to a good start, select a quality fertilizer.
Find a fertilizer where the first and third number on the bag is equal or near equal and the middle number is 2 or less. Examples include 15-0-15, 18-2-18, etc. This represents the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium based on a 100-pound bag.
A 100-pound bag of 15-2-15 fertilizer contains 15 pounds of nitrogen, 2 pounds of phosphoric acid and 15 pounds of potash. The remaining 68 pounds are made up of other elements (oxygen, calcium, etc.), conditioners and fillers. Actual numbers are not important; it's the ratio that determines if it is acceptable.
Next, look at the nitrogen source. Find a fertilizer that has 30 percent or more of the nitrogen in a controlled release (water insoluble) form. IBDU is a good source of slow release nitrogen to use in the spring in drier, cooler weather.
To calculate the percentage of slow-release nitrogen in a fertilizer, take the number listed for slow release, divide by the first number on the fertilizer bag and multiply by 100. For example, if a 15-0-15 has 7 percent water insoluble nitrogen, divide 7 by 15 and multiply by 100 to get 46.67 percent.
Then look at secondary plant nutrients. Calcium, magnesium and sulfur are required less frequently and in smaller quantities.
Others, commonly called "micronutrients," are necessary but in very small amounts and include manganese, zinc, molybdenum, boron, iron, copper and sulfur. For lawns, iron and manganese are beneficial, especially in soils with a pH over 6.5.
It may be difficult to find a fertilizer blend that fits the bill just described. Just find one that is the closest match.
How much to buy and apply
The first step is to determine the overall square feet of lawn area by dividing the lawn in to rectangles. Then multiply the length by the width of each rectangle and add together to get the total area.
Once you have the square feet and know the fertilizer analysis, calculate how much fertilizer to purchase. If the fertilizer has 30 percent or more water insoluble nitrogen, apply at a rate of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. If less than 30 percent water insoluble nitrogen, apply 0.7 pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.
The fertilizer bag will state how many square feet can be covered based on the analysis.
How often to fertilize
Know what type of lawn is in your landscape. The number of pounds nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year in Northeast Florida based on lawn type are as follows: 2 to 3 for Bahia grass, 3 to 5 for Bermuda grass, 1 to 2 for centipede grass, 2 to 4 for St. Augustine grass and 3 to 5 for zoysia grass.
Notice there is a range. Lower amounts of nitrogen are for low-maintenance lawns vs. larger amounts are for a higher-maintenance lawns.
For lawns that require 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year, the most critical application times are March to early April (at the beginning of the growing season) and September (going into the winter). Depending on the lawn type and other variables, additional fertilizer applications may be needed. For centipede lawns, don't over fertilize if you want to keep a healthy turf.
• Do not apply fertilizer prior to a heavy rain. Much of the fertilizer will be lost due to runoff or leaching if a heavy rain occurs within eight to 12 hours of a quick release urea application.
• Lightly water in fertilizer with 1/4 inch of water to prevent nitrogen loss and burning the grass.
• Do not apply fertilizer within 10 feet of a body of water unless using a spreader with a deflector shield. If using a deflector shield, stay 3 feet away from water.
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