In the Garden:
Lower South
August, 2012
Regional Report

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Dead areas of turf beginning near a curb or concrete walkway can indicate a chinch bug infestation.

Late Summer Lawn Care

The sound of water sprinklers, the roar of lawnmowers, and the song of cicadas in the trees are the symphony of summer. Despite the heat our warm season lawns are growing well, perhaps too well for the person in charge of mowing the lawn! Whether we have an expansive stretch of turf or a tiny postage stamp yard just large enough for a few lawn chairs, we would like our lawn to look nice and not cost an arm and a leg to maintain.

I learned from a turf specialist many years ago that the secret to an attractive lawn is a simple three step process: mow, water and fertilize. Sounds obvious, right? But we often tend to not do one or more of these steps correctly, to the detriment of our lawn.

In my opinion there is something about mowing that is therapeutic. Walking behind a roaring mower is not only good exercise but an opportunity to go into a rather mindless trance or to shut out the outside world and get some good thinking done! Unfortunately 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity tend to disrupt my train of thought. So I tend to stretch the intervals between mowings. Yet a professional turf manager will tell you that the more often you mow the denser you turf will be. My life schedule allows for a weekly mowing at best, but a five day schedule would be better.

The rule of thumb on mowing is to cut off a third of the leaf blade height whenever you mow. So higher mower settings mean less frequent mowing and also promote deeper rooting.

We recently moved to a place with a smaller lawn and I've been seriously considering one of the reel type push mowers. These retro machines don't pollute the air nor awaken sleeping neighbors should I want to mow early the morning before the sun turns up the heat.

Watering is perhaps the most controversial part of lawn care. Lawns are often shunned as water hogs. I'll not delve into the lawn vs. no lawn battle here, but I will say that there is a huge variation in the amount of water people put on their lawns. Most lawns are overwatered. Watering several times a week is just not necessary in almost any situation. Overwatering wastes water, wastes money, and can make conditions more favorable for some lawn diseases.

Water enough to provide a good soaking; one half to one inch is a general guide. Then allow the soil to dry out to the point where the grass begins to show the early signs of a lack of soil moisture. Signs include rolled leaf blades, footprints on the turf that don't bounce back up quickly, or a change in color where the bright green takes on a faint grayish or blue-gray tint. That means it is time to provide another good soaking. This schedule builds deeper roots and a more drought resilient grass plant, while saving water.

I'm a "hose dragger". In other words I don't have an automatic irrigation system. So it takes more time and effort for me to water the lawn, which tends to promote efficiency! It also makes it quite easy to vary the amount and frequency of irrigation for each area of my lawn.

Sunny spots get watered when they start to show stress. It is important to not let them stress too long or the turf will get thinner, allowing weed seeds an opportunity to sprout and grow. Even in hot, dry weather the sunnier spots in my lawn can be kept healthy with a weekly watering. There are shady spots under some live oaks that do well even if I only water every two or three weeks.

Fertilizing is the third step to a beautiful lawn. Moderation is the key. If you don't provide some extra nutrition a lawn will grow progressively thinner over a few years. Fertilize too much and you'll promote excessive growth and shallower rooting, setting the lawn up for drought, insect and disease problems. Extra vigor also means more frequent mowing! Our home lawns will do fine with one or two applications of fertilizer a year, in mid spring and/or early fall. During the summer months the clippings returned to the turf decompose quite rapidly, releasing their nutrients back into the soil. Think of your lawn mower as a fertilizer spreader!

Chinch Bugs
Late summer brings the second annual generation of chinch bugs, which is the most numerous and damaging. Their damage typically appears first in sunny areas adjacent to a sidewalk, driveway, curb or other masonry surface. The lawn gradually loses color ending up dry and dead as the marauding herd of bugs expands its damage outward into the lawn.

Early identification of an outbreak prevents a significant loss of turfgrass and helps minimize pesticide applications. Target the application to the spots where the damage is occurring. Your local Extension office can provide information on managing these pests and selecting an effective, labeled product.

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