Best Practices For Your Lawn In Northeast Florida

Now that spring has come and we are all working on our landscapes, people are trying to make their lawn healthy. There have been a large number of phone calls to the extension office lately from local residents who want to know why their lawn is not looking as good as they would like it to be.

Many homeowners seek the services of a lawn care professional who believes this will solve all of their lawn problems. My answer to this is that the lawn care professional can only do so much. The resident and the lawn man should work as a team.

Most of the practices that contribute to a healthy lawn are still controlled by the resident. If the resident does not do his part, the lawn care professional cannot keep the lawn healthy on his own. In this article, we’re going to look at all of the practices that, when done correctly, will keep your lawn healthy. They are fertilizing, watering, mowing and pest control.

There is no lawn care practice that has more impact on the Florida environment than lawn fertilization. If fertilizer is improperly applied to the lawn, the excess nutrients can drain away or pollute through the soil and our surface water. For this reason, the state of Florida passed a rule in 2007 that all urban lawn manure sold in the state had specific instructions on how to properly apply the manure to lawns. This makes it easier for the homeowner to apply the correct amount if the label on the bag is followed. Urban lawn fertilizers have slowly available nitrogen and little to no phosphorus (most soils in Florida are abundant in phosphorus).

Fertilizer should be applied when our lawn grasses can best absorb and use the nutrients. This is when they are actively growing. If we fertilize at any other time, we are wasting money and helping nutrients get through the soil or drain into surface waters. It is important to wait for our grasses to grow before applying fertilizer. One way to think about it is that if you have to mow it often, it will grow.

The University of Florida recommendations call for the use of ½ pound to 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of turfgrass per fertilizer application. If you follow the directions on the lawn fertilizer bag, you are in good shape. However, the Florida Lawn Fertilizer Rule allows late spring and summer (when the lawn is actively growing) to be fertilized with up to 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet when the fertilizer contains at least 65 percent of the nitrogen in the form of a slow release.

In North Florida, the maximum pounds of nitrogen that should be applied annually are as follows: Bahia, 1 to 3 pounds; Bermuda, 3 to 5 pounds; Centipedes, 0.4 to 2 pounds; St. Augustine, 2 to 4 pounds; and Zoysia, 2 to 3 pounds.

Further information on determining the fertilizer quantities can be found at:

While many homeowners have automatic irrigation systems for their lawn, most don’t know how much water to put out and how to measure it. This is very important as overwatering is the leading cause of turf grass disease.

To make this easier, use a simple schedule of watering the lawn between ½ and ¾ inches of water each time you water. During the hot dry season (summer time) this can be done twice a week. In the cooler months (Eastern Standard Time) no more than once a week.

If there has been enough rainfall to achieve this amount of irrigation, then irrigation is not required. If you don’t know how many inches your sprinkler system is putting out, it’s time to calibrate it. This is done with the “catch can” method. By laying out several cans of tuna or cat food, you can easily determine how long it will take your system to apply ½ to ¾ inch of water. Measure the amount of water in the cans after operating the system for 15 minutes. For example, if you have ¼ inch of water after 15 minutes, it will take 30 to 45 minutes to apply the correct amount of water (½ to ¾ inch) through your irrigation system. Once you know how much water your system is putting on your lawn, you can set the timer accordingly.

Mowing your lawn at the correct height can result in healthier grass.

If you remember high school during your biology class that the leaves of a plant are the fodder for the plant, you can understand how high mowing your lawn can have a huge impact on the health of your lawn. When you cut too short, you are essentially putting your lawn on a diet. Over time, this can affect the health and vitality of your lawn. The recommended cutting heights for your lawn are as follows: Bahia, 3 to 4 inches; Bermuda, 0.1 to 1.5 inches; Centipedes, 1.5 to 2 inches; Dwarf St. Augustine, 2.5 inches; St. Augustine, 3.5 to 4 inches; and Zoysia, 2 to 2.5 inches.

Scalping or removing too much bud tissue at the same time can damage the lawn in the long term. This can expose lawns to other stresses such as insects, disease, drought and suntan. Mowing at the correct height promotes a deeper root system and creates a lawn that is more tolerant of drought, insects and disease.

Finally, it’s time to talk about pest control. If you’ve had year after year problems with lawn diseases or insects, it is time to treat these pests before they become a problem. For example, the Duval Extension Office determined that all lawn samples brought into the office all contain root rot. Although not at damaging levels on the lawn, the time to begin treatment for this disease is before weather conditions create stressful conditions that trigger the disease.

When you’ve fertilized, watered and mowed properly, your lawn will have fewer problems with weeds, insects and diseases. On the other hand, over-fertilized, overly lush lawn is more attractive to lawn insects. While it is not possible to control how much rainfall your lawn is receiving, it is possible to reduce the severity of the disease in damp soil by turning off your watering until it dries up. Mowing at the right height can improve the resilience of your lawn so it can ward off disease and insects.

A healthy lawn is more attractive and also requires fewer herbicide, insecticide and fungicide applications. This important difference is good for your lawn and the environment.

Larry Figart is an urban forestry representative at the University of Florida / IFAS.

Comments are closed.