Lawn Care

Grass

Soil and Water Testing

For a small fee, the UF/IFAS Extension Soil Testing Laboratory can test your soil and water and provide detailed reports. These analyses can help you make informed decisions about buying fertilizers and soil treatments. Water and soil test forms and instructions for a variety of crops may be found at: Extension Soil Testing Laboratory.

Lawn Care Practices for Healthy Turf & Waterways

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Healthy lawns are not only pretty but they also cool the air, produce oxygen, reduce stormwater runoff, eliminate soil erosion, support soil microbe populations, and assist in the creation of soil organic matter. The production of soil organic matter, along with a thriving population of soil organisms, will create a soil that acts like a sponge. In the event of heavy rains, the soil will be able to absorb and hold onto the rainfall. This can greatly reduce both stormwater runoff and flooding. In addition, the soil will also have increased water and nutrient holding capacity.

Below are practices that can be used to grow healthy turf while protecting our waterways. The more practices you adopt, the healthier your lawn can grow and benefit the environment. Here is a “to do” list for your lawn.

Test the soil annually

The UF Soil Lab tests for pH, phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg) for $7 per sample when Test B is selected. This will give you an idea of what nutrients you need to apply, or not. The soil testing form can be found here. There is also an optional $5 minor element test. The soil test will reveal if any nutrients are in high levels, which will tie up other nutrients. Here is an example:

Nutrients in Excess Nutrients Affected (Deficient)
N K, Ca
P Zn, Fe, Cu
K N, Ca, Mg
Ca B, Mg, P
Mg Ca, K
Fe Mn
Mn Fe, Mo, Mg

Choose the fertilizer analysis based on the soil test results

As homeowners, we can only look for a fertilizer blend that has the closest ratio of nutrients shown by the soil test results. For example, if phosphorus is medium and potassium is low, then a 16-4-8 fertilizer would be the best fertilizer analysis to apply.

Fertilize turf a minimum of two times each year

  • Use a fertilizer that has at least 50% slow-release nitrogen.
  • Do not apply more than .25 pounds of P per application.
  • Do not apply more than .5 pounds of P per year.
  • After broadcasting the fertilizer, apply ¼ inch of irrigation water.
  • Refer to the UF/IFAS publication for your grass type

Apply 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet

To determine 1 pound of fertilizer, take the first number of the fertilizer analysis and divide it into 100 for the pounds to apply per 1,000 sq. ft. of lawn. For a chart of fertilizer types, square footage of lawns, and amounts of fertilizer to use, refer to the bottom of page 26 of the UF/IFAS Florida Yards and Neighborhoods booklet.

Follow the fertilizer ban

All of Brevard County and every municipality has adopted a fertilizer ban for lawn & landscapes which means:

  • No nitrogen (N) or phosphorus (P) can be applied from June 1 – Sept. 30th.
  • A minimum of 50% slow release nitrogen must be applied.
  • Phosphorus can only be applied if a soil test shows that it is needed.
  • Check the ordinance page to view a chart containing links to all of the ordinances.

Activate the shield on the spreader if fertilizing near waterbodies, roads, sidewalks, and driveways

This will keep the fertilizer granules out of the water and off of impervious surfaces.

Designate a maintenance free zone

Designate a minimum of a 10 foot “maintenance free” zone where there is no mowing, fertilizing or applications of pesticides! Refer to the ordinance chart mentioned above because some municipalities require larger “maintenance free” zones.

Don’t fertilize if heavy rain is forecasted

Nutrients can leach through the soil and/or the fertilizer could be carried off site by stormwater runoff.

Calibrate the fertilizer spreader

Proper calibration of the spreader will prevent the over or under application of nutrients. For more information on how to calibrate a fertilizer spreader refer to this publication.

Water the turf thoroughly

Insufficient water is a common stress that turfgrass can suffer from. Water deeply but infrequently and aim to apply ½-¾” of water every time the turf is watered. For information on how to calibrate your irrigation system refer to page 19 of the FYN Handbook.

Water early in the morning

Best time start time for the system is just before or at sunrise, if all of the zones can be watered by 10 am. If more time is needed, then set the start time that much earlier. This will keep the amount of time that the leaf surfaces are wet to a minimum, which will reduce the opportunity for disease.

Get well water tested for conductivity

High salt content in irrigation water can harm or kill plants. Let the irrigation system run for 20 minutes before collecting a sample. Water testing is done at our office for $2.

Use a rain gauge in your yard

Buy one, if needed, so that you will know how much rain your yard receives (or doesn’t receive) in a storm! A rainfall of ¾” means that the lawn has been thoroughly watered. A rainfall of 1” means that the trees and shrubs have been watered thoroughly.

Mow the grass high!

  • Mow St. Augustine and Bahia 3-4 inches high
  • The taller the leaf blades, the longer the roots
  • This could be the 2nd most common stress for turf after insufficient watering
  • Read more about Mowing your Florida Lawn

When mowing, let the clippings fall

  • Be sure to get the grass clippings off the impervious surfaces and back where they belong
  • Clippings add organic matter and nutrients to the soil!
  • Don’t remove more than 1/3 of leaf blade at each mowing.

Use organic fertilizers, if possible, because they:

  • Are a food source for the soil microbes
  • May contain soil microbes too (just check the ingredients listed on the bag)
  • Help the soil build organic matter (OM). Research from the University of Illinois shows that synthetic nitrogen (N) depletes soil OM
  • If synthetic fertilizers are used, the lawn will benefit from adopting other practices such as the overseeding with rye and applications of liquid seaweed.

Top dress your lawn with organic matter

  • Apply ¼- ½ inch layer of organic matter over the lawn every 6 months. Monterey mushroom compost substrate or compost are just two examples of organic matter that can be used as top dressing for lawns.
  • Another way to add organic matter to the soil is to overseed with ryegrass during the winter. Rye will create a green lawn through the winter and then will die off in spring, adding organic matter to the lawn. Central Florida lawns can be overseeded from October through early December. Learn more about how to overseed your lawn.

Inoculate your lawn (and landscape) with arbuscular mycorrhizae (AM).

Research done at the University of Florida has found that St. Augustinegrass has mycorrhizal relationships with a number of AM species within the genus Glomus.  AM fungi form symbiotic relationships between the fungi and most vascular plants, up to 90%.  This mutualistic relationship is accomplished by the plant supplying carbon and energy to the fungus and the fungus, in exchange, supplying the plant with mineral nutrients (a main one being phosphorus), water, and protection. Read the research study.. 

Click here for more information about mycorrhizae and on-line sources.  You can purchase mycorrhizae locally at Sun Harbor Nursery at 920 E. Eau Gallie Blvd, Satellite Beach where they sell Dr. Earth products such as the Dr. Earth Life All Purpose Fertilizer in a variety of sizes.

Add worms (at least once) to your newly enriched soil

After applying organic matter to the lawn, landscape, and garden, purchase some red wigglers and distribute in the enriched areas. This may only need to be done once if you are continually amending the soil with organic matter or following these practices, which help the soil to create organic matter.

Re-mineralize the soil

Our Florida soil has been leached, due to heat and rainy conditions, of many nutrients over the years. To help your lawn, consider applying sea minerals (i.e. SEA-90) and/or rock powders (i.e. Azomite).

  • For applying SEA-90 to lawns – application can be done through a hose end sprayer (example model is the Miracle Gro hose end sprayer) by filling the reservoir ¾ full of SEA-90 and spray the grass blades every 2 weeks. The rate for broadcasting is 1 pound per 1,000 square feet (or 50 pounds per acre if you have a large yard). This can be applied in spring. If lime is needed due to low pH levels, the foliar product of SEA-90 can be mixed with lime (or dolomitic limestone if Mg is low) and broadcast in spring also. If broadcasting SEA-90 you may not need to use the foliar applications as often, possibly just once a month.
  • Concerning Azomite, a 10 lb. bag will cover 2,500 to 3,500 square feet of turf. Apply up to 4 times per year. If establishing a new lawn, till into the soil before planting seed or laying sod

Spray your lawn with biostimulants such as liquid seaweed

Biostimulants are applied to plants or soils to enhance the plants health and/or microbial populations.

  • Use a hose-end sprayer for applying biostimulants to the lawn.
  • Liquid seaweed (or kelp) has over 60 trace elements, growth hormones, etc. Research has shown that it helps plants through environmental stresses of flood, drought, and cold. Seaweed can also provide a remedy for minor element deficiencies due to incorrect pH levels and excess nutrients.
  • Blackstrap molasses is the best type of molasses to use because of its high vitamin and mineral content. This is a source of Ca, Mg, K, and Fe. In addition, the natural sugars are food for the microorganisms in the soil. Any unsulfured molasses can be used.
  • For poor or stressed soils, use 1 cup blackstrap molasses to 1 gallon water.
  • For healthier soils, use ¼ to 1 cup blackstrap molasses to 1 gallon water.
  • Molasses helps to increase the bacteria population in the soil.
  • Another source of natural organic matter for soils is humic substances. These products are similar to compost in that they are decomposed organic matter, but they generally have been decomposing for thousands of years and may come from deposits of peat, lignite, coal, or marine algae. These all contain humic acids in addition to carbon, nitrogen, and often plant hormones. Sometimes the addition of supplemental hormones may provide benefits; for example, the plant hormone cytokinin is often found lacking in turfgrass that has suffered a root dieback or decline. Application of cytokinin can offset the resulting stress from the root decline.1

Eliminate or reduce the use of pesticides

  • Consider adopting the philosophy “if it is low growing and green, just mow it.”
  • Biodiversity is good, so weeds can be a good thing. Weeds confuse chinch bugs.
  • Herbicides kill the soil microbes that photosynthesize which are the base of the soil food web.
  • Insecticides and fungicides harm soil microbes also.
  • The presence of plant pest insects and diseases are a sign that the plant is under stress.
  • Eliminate the stress, don’t just treat the symptoms! If the stress isn’t environmental, then it will be nutritional.
  • Liquid seaweed can help eliminate environmental and nutritional stresses.
  • Search for biorational pesticides.

Healthy soil equals healthy plants

Biologically active soil produces thriving plants that can protect themselves from insects and diseases! This is how nature grows healthy plants without human intervention!

Would you like help with your lawn problems? My Brevard Yard (MBY) is here for you! For more information on MBY, or to sign up for a workshop or a site visit, just go to http://brevard.ifas.ufl.edu/ . The site visit includes a soil test, well water testing for salt content, fertilizer recommendation based on soil test results, and answers to all of your questions!

Resources

  1. Organic Lawn Care
  2. The Florida Lawn Handbook
  3. Lawn Maintenance

Lawns: Considerations for New or Renewed Lawns

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Most often, when a home is built, shrubs and other perennials are planted around the home with a few trees and palms planted about.  Typically, the remainder of the yard is then covered in sod.  For smaller yards, this isn’t necessarily a problem.  For large yards, ranging anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 plus square feet, problems are not uncommon.  After all, large lawns, as well as large neighborhoods made up of small yards, are essentially a monoculture.  A variety of pest problems can occur, including insects, diseases, and weeds.  There are a number of items to consider when choosing the type of grass to grow along with possible suggestions to consider for reducing the amount of lawn to care for.

When planning for a new lawn, here are some things to consider:

  • Think of turf as “functional” as in: Why do you want a lawn?
    • For aesthetics because it is pretty?  Maybe a smaller area of turf will do the trick instead.
    • For children to play on?
    • For pets to play on?
    • To wiggle your toes in?
  • Recognize the “cost” of a “perfect” lawn.  If you insist on having a “perfect” lawn, with no weeds and a deep green color, then say goodbye to all of your other hobbies and cancel your health club membership!
  • Decide: Do I want this much grass?  The more grass, the more likelyhood of insect and diseases!  Think of your lawn as a monoculture, like a corn field.  The more grass, and your neighborhood as a whole is part of this equation, the increased chances for pest problems.
  • Consider adding a tree island to reduce turf, if you have the space.  Plant a variety of five or more trees together in a group, planting the trees 10 feet apart.  Mulch underneath the entire tree island.  For a group of pine trees, use pine needles as the mulch.  Observations have shown that the trees can provide extra protection for buildings during storms.  A group is defined as five or more trees, each growing within 10 feet of each other, but not in a row.  Trees provide many environmental benefits, such as providing shade and energy conservation, reducing the well-known “heat island” effect in cities caused by concrete and pavement, and increasing property values. For more information refer to Chapter 5: Wind and Trees: Lessons Learned from Hurricanes http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FR/FR17300.pdf
  • Plant a turf alternative to increase biodiversity.  For sunny locations, there is our native sunshine mimosa, Mimosa strigillosa, which is excellent for erosion control, our native frog fruit, Phyla nodiflora, the native twinflower, Dyschoriste sp., and the non-native perennial peanut, Arachis glabrata, etc.  For shady locations, there is mondo grass, Ophiopogon japonicus, or our native Browne’s savory, Clinopodium brownei, which can also tolerate moist locations, just to name a few.
  • Observe: Is there enough light throughout the yard for grass?  Determine if turf is the best plant for the different locations throughout your yard.  Does the location receive full sun (which receives a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight a day) or partial shade?  There are some cultivars of St. Augustinegrass (i.e. Seville, Bitterblue, Jade, etc.) that are shade tolerant.
  • Too much shade?  Don’t grow grass if the location receives no direct sunlight, or very small amounts.  Instead, grow shade tolerant ground covers or just have mulch or pine needles to cover the soil.
  • Is there irrigation? An irrigation system will make growing grass much easier when ample rain doesn’t fall often enough.    
  • Is the location level? The more the ground slopes, the harder it can be to water. 
  • Is the site poorly drained or does it stay wet for long periods?  If the answer is yes, then don’t try to grow grass there!
  • Know the soil pH for turf selection.  Bahiagrass is acid loving and prefers a pH of 5.0-5.5, whereas St. Augustine and Bermuda can tolerate a wide range of pH from 5.0-8.0.
  • Choose the right grass for your lawn.  Refer to this website  http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/yourfloridalawn/turfgrass_selection.shtml and read the bulletins for the types of turf that you are considering.  Every type of grass will require care, so read about the pros and cons of each grass when making your decision. 

Thoughtful planning, when landscaping a new home or replacing an old lawn, can lead to reduced time and effort for maintenance. In addition, the curb appeal of the home can be improved, which can increase property values.