Maintaining Established Lawns
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During the establishment period, fertilization, mowing, and watering are geared to getting the planting to cover the ground as rapidly as practical. Once a good turf is established, fertilize and water only as necessary to maintain a turf tight enough to resist weed invasion and to keep the grass in a healthy condition so that it is producing adequate growth for a fresh, neat appearance.
Dull mower blades "chew" the grass rather than "clip" it, and leave it with a scared appearance and in unhealthy condition. Always keep your mower blades sharp. Mow Bermuda, Carpet, and Zoysia grasses at about 1.5", Centipede at 2", and Tall Fescue, Bahia, and St. Augustine at about 2.5" to 3". All grasses can be mowed with a rotary mower, but for a finer finish, a reel mower may be used on Bermuda and Zoysia grasses.
Growth rate of the grasses varies with the presence of moisture, fertility, and temperature. Mowing frequency recommended for best appearance during the peak growing season is every 4 to 7 days for Bermudas, every 5 to 10 days for Bahias, Carpet and St. Augustine, every 7 to 10 days for Zoysia, and every 7 to 14 days for Centipede. Less frequent mowing is needed during the cool weather of spring and fall except for Bahias, Carpet, and seeded Bermudas, which require continued frequent mowing because of the daily production of unsightly seedheads.
Fertilize Bermudas, St. Augustines, and Zoysias in spring and the summer at a rate of approximately 15 lbs. complete fertilizer per 1,000 square feet.
Continue to feed Bermudas during the growing season every 30 to 40 days with approximately two pounds ammonium nitrate per 1,000 square feet. St. Augustines and Zoysias should have one or two supplemental applications of two pounds ammonium nitrate per 1,000 square feet during the summer growing season, best spaced 60 or more days apart. On good soils, Centipede and Carpet will do better if never fertilized. On poor soils, first water well for an extended period of time (several weeks) to be certain that drought is not being confused with hunger. If Centipede continues to appear thin and unthrifty, fertilize with not more than 10 lbs. per 1,000 square feet of a complete fertilizer low in nitrogen. Carpet is usually destroyed by continued fertilization, and if it persists in being thin when well watered, the probabilities are that it is not adapted to your soil.
Once a turf is mature, it produces an abundance of organic material and there is little reason to buy high-priced organic fertilizers. However, there are new, slow release chemical fertilizers on the market which are advantageous for Bermudas, St. Augustines, and Zoysias during the summer and early fall. Avoid using in early spring.
Frequent, light watering helps the grass to spread more rapidly during the establishment stage. At the same time, frequent light watering will result in a shallow root system and cause the grass to suffer during brief droughts.
The correct program is to water frequently and lightly during the early establishment stage, and as the turf begins to mature gradually change to less frequent, deeper watering.
Once a turf is established, water only to prevent damage or poor appearance during dry periods. When the grass begins wilting before noon, it needs water. When you water, really soak the lawn well. Most sprinklers need to be run several hours at each place before moving. Such waterings are healthy for the grass, and last a long time. Dig into the soil with a spade to see what is actually being accomplished with water applied.
Plants, like animals, are affected with many diseases. Manage the better grasses as recommended and the disease problems will seldom be serious, as the grass will normally outgrow the disease. Proper disease diagnosis and treatment is difficult at best, but chemicals for disease treatment will usually hurt nothing but your pocketbook if the chemicals are correctly used, and may often cure the disease. Solicit the advice of your Cooperative Extension Service, landscaper, or a competent nurseryman, and beware of chemicals that are for purposes other than disease control.
Good garden stores can supply appropriate insecticides, often in needed fertilizers, for controlling ants, mole crickets, and most other small insects.
Chinch bugs can destroy St. Augustines, but good information on control measures is widely available in areas of severe infestation.
The Spittle bug can seriously damage any grass, but is not apt to increase population to disastrous levels if the grasses are kept mowed at recommended heights, because the Spittle bug likes tall, thick grass.
Bill bugs can be a problem in Zoysia and Tifdwarf Bermuda. Use only chemicals to control, and flush deep into the soil by watering.
Army worms and sod webworms frequently damage Bermudas, but they are easily killed with insecticide and the grass usually recovers after considerable foliage has been eaten by the worms.
Cutting: Never mow grass when it is suffering from drought, or the lawn will be discolored and unattractive for several days. During dry seasons, water well a day or two before you expect to mow.
Watering: The best time to water a new planting is in early afternoon, as it will stay moist throughout the night and early morning. The best time to water established turf is early morning, as this permits the grass to dry and provides fewer hours favorable to the growth of disease causing fungi.
Fertilizing: There is no way to over-emphasize the importance of fertilizing only after noon when the grass is dry, and then watering well to avoid chemical burn. Fertilizing before a rain or during a rain is asking for trouble, because if the grass is damp, fertilizer particles will stick to the foliage and burn in a matter of minutes.
Renovation: Soon after a good turf of any grass is matured, a thatch problem develops. Periodic aerification and vertical thinning will benefit almost any lawn. Check with your garden store to see what rental equipment may be available to enable you to renovate your turf.