Your Lawn in Winter
As the morning temperatures start to dip and the days shorten, it is a sign that winter has arrived in Northeast Florida. Plants that are adapted to our climate are going to begin going dormant and that includes the lawn.
Oftentimes, turfgrass in winter seems to be an issue for homeowners who like a lush green lawn as the warm-season grasses such as St. Augustinegrass, Zoysiagrass, and Centipedegrass go dormant. During winter, the plants stop growing to protect themselves from the cold and can sometimes turn a brownish color.
These features do lead to the benefit of less mowing but that is not the only management practice that should be changed for the colder weather.
Last week, we moved out of Daylight Savings Time, which changes the St. John’s Water District watering restrictions to one day a week. If you live in an odd-number home, you can only irrigate on Saturday and even-number homes can water on Sundays. Non-residential properties can only irrigate on Tuesdays and no one can water between the hours of 10 and 4.
Outside of watering restrictions, your lawns water requirements are lessened by the weather. In fact, the average days St. Augustinegrass can go without water in our area can be between 7 to 28 days compared to the 1 to 5 days at the peak of summer. The dormant turfgrasses do not need much water to keep going and watering your lawn more will not lessen the winter discoloration from cold.
Fertilizer in the winter should be avoided at all costs because it will not be used by the plants and will be wasted. This fertilizer will also eventually make its way to the groundwater and waterways. Wait to do any fertilizing until mid-April.
If you missed your September fertilizer application or were thinking of using winterizer, do not at this point as the new growth that will flush from the fertilization will be very susceptible to frost damage.
So, if fertilizer and irrigation will not make my grass greener during the winter, what can I do? One popular choice is to overseed your lawn with a cool-season grass. It is too late to plant for this year but you can consider it for next fall.
This option can be practiced in October or November and would require you to rake your yard well to remove clippings and create good seed to soil contact. Following this you would spread the new seed, most commonly Ryegrass, and irrigate it well until germination, which is usually in 7-10 days. Once established, this grass would be maintained much the same as your permanent lawn. However, the overseeded grass will die out in late spring once temperatures begin to rise.
While some browning due to cold is typical, disease can still occur and create similar signs. In the winter, a common culprit is Large Patch, which occurs when the turf becomes overly moist for an extended period of time. This can be caused by either weather or over-irrigation. If you see signs that you believe could be disease, insects, or you have no idea, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office for help.