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News-Press: Proper irrigation, mowing, fertilizing keys to great lawn

Monday, April 08, 2013

Spring is in the air, with lovely plants abloom and lawns poised to begin their annual growth spurt. That means it’s time to consider how to best maintain the expanse of green that can greatly enhance the look of your home.

Done right, that comes down to just a few things, said Bob Cook, a certified horticulture professional with the Florida Nursery Grower Landscape Association.

“I’d say that proper irrigation, ideal mowing height and the right fertilizer will make the best lawn,” Cook said. “Negatively, a dull blade, set too low, kills more lawns than insects.”

Start with the best ground cover if possible. In Cook’s opinion that is turf grass — a gardening term for grass used on lawns. There are certain types of grass that work well here, he said.

• Bahia grass is great for drought areas. The Department of Transportation uses this sod to eliminate the need for irrigation.

• St. Augustine will grow well for those with irrigation systems. This type of grass is also called Floratam. This name comes from the combination of Florida and Texas A&M coming together to produce it. The blades of grass are coarse and big.

• A new trend is toward the Zoysia grass. “It looks like a fur coat and is very green,” Cook said. Unfortunately, nematodes — microscopic worms that flourish in Florida soil — love this grass.

Want to take a closer look? The Backyard Nature exhibit at the Imaginarium Science Center in Fort Myers displays the different types of turf with helpful signs.

“The exhibit was developed to show how anyone can create a ‘Florida Friendly’ landscape in their own yard. A ‘Florida Friendly’ yard utilizes the theory of ‘Right Plant Right Place,’ which is if you choose plants that are (appropriate) for the conditions, they will be healthier and require less maintenance, including water, fertilizer and pest control,” said Matt Johnson of the Science Center.

Looking good

Once you have the right grass, consider how to keep it looking good. Typical Florida turf grass requires a mowing height of 3 inches. This is for the thick, coarse type of grass. Some turf grass requires a mowing height of 1½ inches because of slender blades and fineness.

However, some lawn mowers available here cannot be set at 3 inches, thus resulting in a scalped lawn; so choose wisely. It is best to mow the lawn when no more than a third of the blade height is removed per mowing. Stress to the grass caused by mowing can be minimized by removing only a third of the leaf blade at each mowing.

Irrigation is another important factor in lawn care. The best time for lawn irrigation is early in the morning, experts say. Watering in the late morning or afternoon will waste water because of excessive evaporation, which may be detrimental if it extends the time the lawn is naturally wet from dew. This extended wet period can accelerate disease occurrence.

A simple watering schedule would be to apply 1/2 to 3/4 inch of water when the grass shows symptoms of water deficiency. Once this amount of water has been applied, don’t apply any more until drought symptoms are again noticeable.

If rainfall occurs, suspend irrigation until visible drought symptoms appear.

Unfortunately, warmer weather and rainy days help other subtropical plants grow — including dollarweed and other nuisances. Cinch bugs are a bane of Southwest Florida homeowners. They can produce up to seven generations per year here, resulting in a lot of insects that suck the juices from grass leaves through their long beaks. Nymphs and adults feed in groups and attack the same patches of grass until the blades die.

Start keeping an eye out for chinch bugs later this month, according to “The Gardener’s Guide to Common Sense Pest Control.”

“Chinch bugs are attracted to lawns that have an excessive build-up of thatch, are insufficiently irrigated (often due to soil compaction) or have either too little nitrogen or too much in a highly soluable form that forces grass to grow too rapidly,” the book notes.

If chemical controls are needed, consider insecticidal soap, pyrethrin or neem products, the book recommends. But the best prevention is something you should consider anyway — regular walks around your yard to monitor its health.

“You can best protect your lawn from damage by chinch bugs (or any other pest) through regular monitoring,” it notes.

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