Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
April, 2006
Regional Report

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We all enjoy a great lawn area. Proper mowing, watering, and fertilizing can help create attractive turf without damaging the environment.

Spring Lawn Care Primer

Like most folks, I appreciate a beautiful lawn. But in an effort to have such a lawn we southerners tend to pamper our turf into problems, both for the turf and for our environment. Great lawns are the result of basic attention to three simple practices: mowing, watering, and fertilizing. So let's take a look at these three keys to good turf.

Frequent mowing is the best way to have a great-looking turf. Resist the urge to set the blade too low. There is a direct relationship between taller grass height and more extensive root development. A strong root system is better able to handle the demands of summer.

Return clippings to the turf. Clippings mulch the surface and reduce weed competition. They decompose rapidly to provide nutrients to the growing grass plants. Think of those clippings as free, slow-release, organic fertilizer.

When the weather heats up and rain becomes scarce, give your turf a good soaking on an infrequent basis. Light sprinklings encourage development of a shallow, sprinkler-dependent root system. This makes a plant even more susceptible to dry spells and nutrient deficiencies. Frequent wetting also increases the incidence of fungal turf diseases.

A slow, thorough soaking will insure a deeper, healthier root system, and more drought-hardy plants. Apply 1/2 to 1 inch of water, and use a rain gauge or coffee can to collect water so you'll know when you've provided that amount.

The best time to make your first fertilizer application is after the second mowing of turf. Note that I said turf, not weeds! Weeds grow vigorously in early spring, but your lawn "sleeps in" until the weather warms a bit more before really starting to grow. By about mid-April in our lower south zone the turf is growing fast enough to benefit from an application of fertilizer. If you fertilize too early, the grass will green up but won't start growing due to cool temperatures. The weeds, however, will thank you and grow like ... well, like weeds!

New lawns will benefit from the standard application of a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 nutrient ratio product. Older lawns are typically very high in phosphorus and may be high in potassium. In such cases a nitrogen-only fertilizer would be in order.

Your County Extension office has information on hand to guide you in how much of various products to apply. If a product is not slow-release, consider splitting the recommended amount into two applications. This spreads out the feeding over a longer period of time.

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