Winter Lawn Care
Now that we’ve had some cold weather, homeowners often decide that there is a need for additional lawn care. Surely there must be some way to green up a browned lawn to make it look more presentable. Maybe we should give the grass some extra fertilizer and water? Or perhaps it should be mowed lower now, so that the good areas of lawn will be the same height as the brown areas?
While these thoughts are certainly understandable, the truth is that none of these things are necessary or even a good idea. It is not unusual for some lawns or areas of lawns to deteriorate to shades of brown after a period of cold weather. Though not always beautiful in winter, the lawn is now dormant and should be allowed to stay that way until spring arrives and the grass has already become green. The recommended first feeding time is around March 1 in our area, though April 1 would be better for Zoysia grass. Stimulating the grass to begin vigorous growth right now, with fertilizer and extra water, can actually set it up for more serious damage from the cold. There could also be an increased risk for fungal problems.
So what is the best thing to do? First, we can resist the temptation to fertilize too soon. Also, we can reduce watering to one half inch per week, though watering the one half inch is OK any time the green grass blades fold in half and wilt. This will occur more often once spring has arrived. Mowing height, which should be 3.5″ to 4″ for St. Augustine and 3″ to 4″ for Bahia grass, can be left a bit higher during periods of dry weather. Zoysia is not likely to grow just yet, but is generally mowed lower.
What if the grass has weeds in it? Applying weed control should be OK now, if perennial weeds are growing in the lawn. Just be sure you know which kind of grass you have, and find a weed killer with your type listed. The three major grasses used here are St. Augustine, Bahia, and Zoysia. Using a weed and feed product is not OK right now, as it also contains a fertilizer which we don’t yet want. Also, landscape plants with roots underneath the grass can be damaged by weed and feed products.
Fortunately there are other ways to control weeds. The most important thing is to keep your lawn in good condition so that weeds are less likely to get in. Next, you must figure out which types of weeds you have, and purchase a product labeled for your lawn type, as well as the type of weeds you have.
There are three basic types of weeds. First are the broadleaf weeds, which have netted veins. Sedge, which has triangular stems and groups of three leaves, is the second type. Weed grasses, which have parallel veins, are the third. They pose a tougher problem, as whatever you use to kill them will also kill your lawn. Generally, areas that are heavily infested should just be totally killed and re-sodded. However, if you had crabgrass before the cold weather set in, a pre-emergent is an option to prevent new seeds from germinating. This would be our first lawn chore and can be done in mid February.
By April 1, we can resume our usual lawn fertilization. We can also put out a chinch bug killer if we are dealing with a St Augustine lawn. Chinch bugs can do major damage and become active whenever the soil becomes very warm.
People often wonder if there isn’t some way to winterize your lawn in advance of the cold weather. Actually there is something that can be done in October. A fertilizer with low nitrogen and high potassium can actually help. The nitrogen (N) is the first letter on the label, and the Potassium is the last (K). An example would be 05-0-20 or something similar. This formula can help to increase drought tolerance and will not interfere with the dormancy that is supposed to occur during winter.
Whenever shopping for your spring fertilizer, do not worry if the middle number is a zero or a small number. Our soils generally already have enough phosphorous.
Hopefully this information will help to get us through the winter. If you would like additional information or a publication on lawn care, just call or visit the UF/IFAS Extension Services at 1921 Kissimmee Valley Lane, Kissimmee, in Heritage Park. Master Gardeners are there to assist you Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. We also have a location in the Mary Jane Gym and Aquatic Center at 625 Country Club Drive, Poinciana, which is open on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Our phone number is 321-697-3000 and the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org . If the Master Gardeners are not available, Eva Pabon is the residential horticulture agent, and she will be happy to assist you.
We are offering two classes that will help you to understand more about Lawn Care and Florida Friendly Landscaping. Here are the links if you will like to register:
All you need to Know about Your Lawn
Florida Friendly Landscaping Series
BY: Sandi Switek, Master Gardener since 2005 and Eva Pabon