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Sowing Grass Seed - Best Practices

  • For renovations that are needed due to an abundance of weeds, apply non-selective chemicals such as glyphosate in advance of planting to control existing vegetation.
  • When possible, completely till the soil to a four- to six-inch depth prior to seeding.
  • If soil tests indicate lime or other nutrients are needed, apply them prior to tilling in order to incorporate the material into the profile.
  • Apply a starter fertilizer emphasizing phosphorus (P) levels as compared to nitrogen (N). These products will have typical nutrient ratios of N-P-K (potassium) of 1:2:1 or 1:2:2. It is equally important to provide some degree of soil preparation even for inter-seeding situations into existing turf.
  • A few passes with a coring machine (aerifier), a power rake, or a vertical mower (dethatcher) can be used to prep the soil prior to planting to encourage seed-to-soil contact.
  • Simply applying seed over the top of an existing turf without any soil preparation usually does nothing more than feed birds and other wildlife.
  • Good soil to seed contact is very important but do not want to bury the seed. Lightly rake or drag the seed in to maximize seedling establishment.
  • Some tillage also is required for the successful establishment of sod (either warm- or cool-season grasses), sprigs (shredded sod), or plugs.

Feeding

  • Mid-spring through summer is the optimal period to fertilize Bermudagrass, Zoysiagrass, St. Augustinegrass, and Centipedegrass.
  • As a rule of thumb, initiate fertility programs after the complete spring greening of the warm-season turf. The warm-season grasses begin to emerge from winter dormancy as soil temperatures gradually rise above 50° F, but it usually takes three to four weeks for complete greening.
  • Heavy nitrogen fertility (levels of one pound of water soluble nitrogen per 1,000 square feet in the months of April and May) can be very detrimental to the grass, especially if there is a late frost after green-up.
  • Frost events during and/or after spring greening are very damaging to the spring root development of warm-season turfgrasses.
  • Depending upon the degree of injury, the plant may be forced to completely exhaust its food reserves, to initiate another generation of leaves and shoots.
  • Apply other supplemental nutrients (for instance, phosphorus or potassium) and lime according to soil-test results.

Watering - Do's & Don't's for Your Lawn

  • Initial irrigation
    • After planting the seed, irrigate lightly and frequently until seed germination is complete.
    • Avoid excessive amounts of water because this could wash away or drown the seed. As establishment progresses, gradually cut back on the amount of water applied in order to start promoting a deep root system.
    • The irrigation philosophy is similar for sod establishment, but larger amounts of water can be applied to sod less frequently because these plant materials have soil and some root mass intact. 
  • After Establishment
    • Depending on conditions the yard will require watering throughout the summer.  To maintain a lush, perfect lawn throughout the heat of summer watering beyond that provided by Mother Nature will be required.
    • When growing, supplement rainfall as needed so that the lawn receives1 inch of water a week. A bluish-gray appearance or wilted, folded, or curled leaves may indicate that it is time to water
    • It is best to water your lawn in the early hours of the day, anywhere from 4 AM to 12 PM. The cooler night and morning temperatures reduce evaporative loss and reduce the amount of water needed.  
    • Additionally, following this schedule reduces the fungus pressure on your lawn by allowing the turf to dry in the afternoon. 
    • Even though in winter you won’t have to water much, make sure the soil doesn’t get powder dry.

Selection

  • The primary warm-season species include: Bermudagrass and Zoysiagrass, Centipedegrass and St. Augustinegrass.
  • Monostands (single cultivars) are recommended for warm-season turfgrasses in almost all situations.
  • Choose these grasses according to climate, the lawn site, and the level of maintenance you desire. 
  • A lawn is something you expect to have indefinitely, so a commitment to choosing the best possible grass goes far towards long-term success.

Timing

  • Mid-spring through mid-summer is the optimum time to plant warm-season grasses.
  • Warm-season grasses need soil temperatures in the 65° to 75°F range for seed germination.
  • Soil temperatures are suitable for planting as late as August, but the turf is less likely to mature satisfactorily to ensure winter survival following such a late planting date.

Mowing - "Rules of the Road"

  • Mow turf when it needs to be clipped according to its recommended cutting height and follow the one-third mowing rule that says you should never remove more than one-third of the leaf blade at any mowing event.
  • For example, if the current height of a Zoysiagrass lawn is one and one-half inches, mow the turf no lower than one inch.
  • Regular mowing at the low end of the recommended range for the respective grasses encourages lateral growth.
  • Be sure your mower blade is sharp, properly balanced, and that your soil surface is sufficiently firm so you do not cause ruts or footprints on the surface.

Core Aeration & De-thatching - Why and When

  • Core cultivation
    • Core aeration (commonly called "plugging") is the typical type of cultivation done on home lawns to relieve soil compaction.
    • Aeration on warm-season grasses should be done when the turf is actively growing and not during the spring transition period. It can be done anytime from mid-spring through mid-summer as long as the soil is sufficiently moist to allow for tine penetration.
    • Core aeration is very disruptive to surface smoothness, but it is the best way to relieve the physical limitations of soil compaction and improve soil oxygen levels.
    • To encourage turf recovery, use an aggressive fertility and irrigation program to restore turf density to its desired level after core aeration during the growing season.
    • Spring cultivation can disrupt weed control if you applied a pre-emergent herbicide. If possible, avoid aerating until four to six weeks after the herbicide application to keep from breaking the desired chemical barrier in the soil.
    • Ideally, core aeration of warm-season grasses should not take place until after complete greening of the turf. An actively growing grass is better able to quickly recover from the cultivation event later in the year.
  • Vertical mowing
    • Perform vertical mowing, i.e., de-thatching as needed on warm-season grasses during the primary growing months of summer.
    • The key words here are "as needed" - its effects are very disruptive to the turf and detract from a lawn's appearance.
    • One of the primary reasons for vertical mowing is thatch removal. Thatch, a layer predominantly comprised of undecomposed stems, signals an imbalance between the biomass that the turf is producing and how fast it can be decomposed.
    • Leaf clippings are not a significant component of thatch, so it is still wise to return clippings to the turf rather than bagging them.
    • Roots residing in thatch layers that are more than one-half inch in depth will quickly suffer from moisture stress during the summer months.
    • Plus, the thatch layer is a haven for many insect pests and fungal spores that can incite disease.
    • Vertical mowing physically removes thatch. Expect significant turf thinning due to the process. Once vertical mowing is complete, remove the thatch and other debris that has been brought to the surface by raking or sweeping.
    • Note that many of the stems that have been brought to the surface can actually be used as planting material, i.e. sprigs, in other areas of the lawn. You can vertically mow warm-season turfgrasses from late spring through mid-summer when the turf can quickly recover by way of proper fertility and irrigation applications.
    • Avoid this cultivation in late summer and fall because there is insufficient turf recovery time prior to winter dormancy.
    • Vertical mowing is not a tool to improve soil aeration, and you should use it only when needed for thatch removal or in the preparation of a seedbed.

Pest Control

  • The best way to minimize pests is to maintain a healthy, dense turf. You can achieve this by following sound management programs based on the principles previously discussed and by buying the correct turfgrass for the situation.
  • However, weeds, diseases, and insects will invade turf periodically even with the best management programs in place.
  • The occurrence of diseases and insects usually is sporadic, but it is highly likely that most lawns will have some level of weed pressure. For that reason, more detail is provided for chemical control alternatives for weed management than for disease and insect pests.
  • Proper identification of the pest is obviously crucial in determining how (and even if) a treatment is made.

Weed Control

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  • Pre-emergent Weed Control in Established Turf
    • Summer annual grasses (crabgrass, goosegrass, foxtail, etc.) are the most common targets for pre-emergent herbicide treatment in the spring.
    • But many other grass and broadleaf weeds also germinate as soil temperatures warm and days grow longer.
    • The rapid growth potential of these summer annual weeds warrants the use of pre-emergent herbicides to prevent weed germination and the subsequent reduction in turfgrass quality.
    • The key to the effectiveness of pre-emergent herbicides is timing the applications to before the weeds emerge.
    • Mother Nature provides reminders for proper pre-emergent herbicide treatment timing in the form of the following ornamental plants: daffodils, forsythia, and dogwoods.
    • Forsythia and daffodils bloom early in this window of application, and dogwoods bloom at the end of the recommended application period.
    • In addition to applications of herbicides alone, many formulations of "weed-and-feed" materials (products with a pre-emergent herbicide impregnated on a fertilizer carrier) are popular in spring lawn applications. Simply check the product bag for the common chemical names. These products are well suited for established cool-season turfgrass in spring.
    • It is necessary for all pre-emergent herbicides to be watered in soon after application to the turf surface.
    • Tenacity herbicide can be applied just before or at seeding of fescue for crabgrass control. After seedling emergence, post-emergent herbicides such as the aforementioned Tenacity Herbicide can be applied after the newly planted turfgrass has been mowed 3-4 times and is well established.
    • You must follow label directions very carefully in order to maximize crabgrass control without damaging or killing turf seedlings.
  • Post-emergent Crabgrass Control in Late Spring and Summer
    • Quinclorac is an early post-emergent crabgrass herbicide with excellent efficacy on summer annual grassy weeds.
    • As a post-emergent herbicide, Quinclorac requires an adjuvant such as crop-oil concentrate or methylated seed oil to maximize effectiveness.
  • Spring and Summer Broadleaf Weed Control
    • In mature turf, applications of broadleaf herbicides can usually be made as soon as temperatures warm such that the weed is actively growing.
    • Controlling weeds before they flower in the early spring is an excellent way to prevent them from completing their life cycle and producing seed.
    • As temperatures warm, the use of many broadleaf herbicides require extra caution because of the potential for damage to the turf and other desirable landscape and garden plants.
    • Pay careful attention to environmental conditions such as wind and relative humidity in the summer because of the potential for off-site movement onto desirable plants.
    • Spot treating of winter weeds can be done throughout the late fall and winter on occasional days that rise near 50-60 degrees. 
  • Control of Sedges
    • Sedges can be distinguished from grasses by their distinctive triangular stem.
    • Sedges are highly competitive in poorly drained soils, but they can be a problem anywhere in the landscape.
    • There are both annual and perennial sedges, but the primary sedge of importance is the perennial yellow nutsedge.
    • ProSedgeTM (Halosulfuron) controls more species of sedge than any other herbicide available for use in warm-season turf lawns.
    • This herbicide should be applied to young sedge and at least two to three treatments are needed for complete control.
    • Treat sedges when they are actively growing in late spring through summer.

 

Sedges

  • Sedges can be distinguished from grasses by their distinctive triangular stem.
  • Sedges are highly competitive in poorly drained soils, but they can be a problem anywhere in the landscape.
  • There are both annual and perennial sedges, but the primary sedge of importance is the perennial yellow nutsedge.
  • Halosulfuron controls more species of sedge than any other herbicide available for use in warm-season turf lawns.
  • This herbicide should be applied to young sedge and at least two to three treatments are needed for complete control. Treat sedges when they are actively growing in late spring through summer.
  • Control of Winter Weeds
  • When warm-season turfgrasses enter dormancy, they turn brown and contrast with emerging green winter weeds such as annual bluegrass, chickweed, wild garlic, etc.
  • Annual bluegrass and other cool-season grasses (perhaps ryegrass from winter over-seeding) can be controlled in Bermudagrass and Zoysiagrass with Monument.
  • If you are dealing with a major winter-weed problem in the spring in your warm-season turf, you might want to consider a fall pre-emergent herbicide application.
  • Wild garlic and onion can be controlled with repeated applications of products such as Triplet that contain 2,4-D. These products also perform best when applied in fall while the garlic is young, but many times garlic control is not attempted until late winter or early spring. 

Diseases

  • Diseases on warm-season grasses are typically not as severe as on cool-season grasses. This is due primarily to the relative health of plants during the disease development period.
  • The fungi that cause the most severe diseases in turf are active during the warm, summer months. This is also the time when warm-season grasses are growing the best; therefore, they are more able to tolerate disease. 
  • It is very important to know that you actually have a fungal-incited disease before planning a treatment program. One of the most common "diseases" in the lawn is caused by dull mower blades.
  • While the control recommendations for each disease can vary, there are several cultural strategies that can reduce the severity of most diseases. 
  • Minimizing the duration of leaf wetness will decrease the chances of most diseases developing. 
  • Modify irrigation schedules and air circulation. Set irrigation to run in the early morning hours with the cycle being completed around sunrise.In areas with poor air circulation, thin and "limb-up" surrounding trees. The increased circulation and decreased shade will result in more rapid drying of the turf. Another strategy to reduce disease pressure, as discussed above, is thatch management. 
  • The thatch layer should not exceed one-half inch. Large thatch layers can reduce the overall health of the plant, while also serving as a reservoir for many fungi. 
  • High levels of nitrogen may increase the severity of Rhizoctonia blight, while low levels may promote dollar spot.
  • Typically, St. Augustinegrass has the highest disease pressure of the warm-season turfgrasses with diseases such as gray leaf spot and brown patch likely to occur each year.
  • Zoysiagrass is particularly susceptible to yellow patch, a disease incited by a species of Rhizoctonia that occurs in early to mid-spring. 
  • Bermudagrass usually has minimal disease pressure unless it is receiving higher than recommended nitrogen levels.  

Primary Diseases

  • Spring Dead Spot
    • This is by far the most serious disease of Bermudagrass. As the name implies, the symptoms appear in the spring as Bermudagrass emerges from winter dormancy.
    • However, the disease is caused by a soil-borne fungus that attacks the turf's root system in the fall and there is no evidence of the damage until the dead grass is seen next spring.
    • Treating with a fungicide in the spring is futile and at this time, the best thing to do is to make note of the location because this is where the disease is likely to occur next year.
    • Treat the noted areas with a fungicide in September in order to control the disease next season. For more effective control, a sequential application should be made in October. Multiple studies have shown that control is less than stellar after the first year of applying fungicide. The level of control is greatly increased after consecutive years of applying fungicide in the fall.
    • Raising the mowing height and ensuring that potassium nutrition is satisfactory are two cultural methods of reducing disease pressure. Avoiding excessive nitrogen applications in late summer and early fall can reduce disease severity.
    • In addition, when thatch accumulation exceeds one-half inch, the disease is more severe. High levels of spring dead spot are often associated with compacted and poorly draining soils. The cottony-like web of the fungus is clearly visible early in the morning when dew is present, and the leaves will have characteristic hourglass shaped lesions.
    • This disease is often an indicator of low nitrogen fertility, but do not apply excessive nitrogen because it can increase the likelihood of other diseases and negatively affect the root to shoot ratio.
    • Limited infections usually do not cause massive turf loss, but the plant can be weakened such that it is subject to environmental stress later in the summer.
    • Plants that have been stressed by drought become more susceptible to this disease. Dollar spot can be confused with webs spun by spiders or insects, or with "dull-mower injury," so be sure to properly diagnose the pest before making any chemical application.
  • Rhizoctonia-Incited Diseases
    • There are three important diseases incited by Rhizoctonia fungi. Collectively, these diseases are referred to as "brown patch."
    • "Coolweather brown patch," also called "yellow patch", occurs on Zoysiagrass and Bermudagrass in the early spring just after the turf emerges from dormancy.
    • The classic symptom is a yellow to straw-colored circular patch or ring that gradually increases in size as the fungus spreads through the foliage.
    • The primary Rhizoctonia-incited disease is Rhizoctonia blight or "brown patch" that can attack all warm-season turfgrasses.
    • While Rhizoctonia blight is most severe on cool-season turfgrasses during warm, wet periods, the disease is more severe on warm-season grasses in the spring and fall, when the turfgrass is not thriving.
    • However, if the fungus begins to attack the growing points of the plant, the disease can be quite destructive.
    • Rhizoctonia leaf and sheath spot, or "hot-weather brown patch," can cause irregularly shaped leaf lesions similar to those associated with Rhizoctonia blight. This disease develops during hot, wet weather but generally does not progress beyond the leaf lesions phase. The lesions on the leaves affected by a Rhizoctonia fungus are quite distinct from those of dollar spot.
    • High levels of nitrogen fertilization often exacerbate each disease. Apply moderate levels of nutrients monthly, or in accordance with soil-test results.

Insects

  • Due to the rapid growth rate of warm-season turfgrasses, most insect pests are not major problems.
  • However, grub worms, chinch bugs, and caterpillars such as armyworms, cutworms, and webworms can all cause significant damage if their numbers are high enough and the turf is under stress.
  • As for diseases, proper identification of the pest and an understanding of where the pest is feeding (above ground or below ground) are necessary to maximize control.
  • If you suspect an insect is feeding on your turf, a soap flush is an excellent way to identify aboveground pests. Simply remove both ends of a large coffee can and drive the cylinder into the soil at least an inch deep.
  • Fill the can half way with a soapy-water solution and watch for the pests to float to the surface.
  • The most significant insect pest most often is the white grub. When disturbed in the soil, the grub will curl into a "C" shape and lay motionless for a brief period.
  • White grubs are the larval stages of several different beetles, and they come in many different sizes ranging from less than one-quarter inch in length for grubs of the Black Turfgrass Aetinius to over one inch in length for the grubs of the Green June beetle. 
  • Grubs feed on turfgrass roots with chewing mouthparts. Because of the damage to the roots, the most noticeable symptom is wilting turf during dry periods.
  • Overwintering grubs burrow several inches in the soil to survive the cold and then begin to migrate to the surface as the soil temperatures warm in the spring, all the while feeding on plant roots.
  • By late spring they will reach their maximum size as worms before they go through their final metamorphosis from grub to beetle.
  • Due to their size, chemical control is very difficult at this time. As the adults emerge, they are going to emphasize mating in order to set the stage for next season's grubs, and a few of the beetles can be a major problem on other landscape plants.
  • From a turfgrass perspective, this is still not the appropriate time to chemically treat the beetles. This should be done in mid-July through mid-August after the recently laid eggs have hatched and the immature grubs are very small and near the soil surface. Based on the location of feeding, chemicals must be watered into the soil according to label directions in order to be effective.
  • Any insecticide application should be carefully considered before treatment because of the potential for killing non-target, beneficial insects. In particular, it is not always necessary to treat for grubs. If only a few are present, their damage to turf is negligible.
  • Scout the turf using a shovel to lift the sod in a one-square foot area if you suspect grubs might be causing damage. Numbers of six to ten grubs per square foot justify treatment for most species.Still, just because you see a few grubs when digging in the lawn and garden in the spring does not mean that you should apply chemicals. Grub damage will be associated with moisture-stressed (i.e. wilted) turf that simply does not respond quickly to irrigation or rainfall events because its root system has been attacked.
  • Warm-season turfgrasses usually grow so quickly that they can withstand grub attacks, and you never see signs of wilt. Another likely sign that you have a grub problem is if you observe lawn damage by burrowing animals (especially skunks) that feed on grubs. As mentioned above, be sure to scout the soil to identify the problem before you make a broad-spectrum chemical application.
  • Chinch bugs feed on above ground stems with piercing and sucking mouthparts. They are gold and black in color and are typically one-quarter inch in length. Damage can be significant when 15 to 20 insects per square foot are observed from a soapy-water flush. Both immature and adult chinch bugs feed on grasses, usually feeding on the stems under the protection of the leaf sheaths.
  • Since chinch bugs feed above ground, foliar applications of insecticides are recommended and irrigation or rainfall immediately after the application is undesirable.

groSMART Seed - Benefits to the Homeowner

  • Tolerates heat well.
  • Drought tolerant.
  • Fast establishment time.
  • High disease and insect resistance.
  • Survives in a variety of soils from sandy to clays.
  • Grows well on infertile, dry soils - Good drought resistant qualities.
  • Withstands traffic wear - Can be mowed low.
  • Aggressive growth chokes out weeds.
  • With proper care & fertilizer, creates a dense green lawn.