Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
September, 2001
Regional Report

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Oxblood lilies announce the end of summer and the arrival of the fall gardening season. Read more about them in the "Favorite Plants" section.

Fall Nutrition Important for Southern Lawns

Fall lawn care is important in having a healthy, cold hardy turf. During the fall our turf stores up carbohydrates which will make it more cold hardy in preparation for winter.

The fall fertilizer application is the single most important one of the year for our southern lawns. Your turf will soon be shutting down for winter and needs a balanced supply of nutrients to maintain hardiness and get a good start on next spring. The best time to make your fall fertilizer application is about mid October.

Proper Nutrient Ratios

The proper ratio of nutrients for southern turfgrasses is 3-1-2 or 4-1-2. The element most important in preparing a lawn for winter is potassium (the third number). Nitrogen (the first number) is needed to help in uptake of potassium, but only in small amounts. The middle number, phosphorus, is needed in much smaller amounts and may not be needed at all. Many lawns that have been fertilized for a number of years may already have more than enough phosphorus. Excessive amounts can contribute to iron deficiency.

Apply approximately 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn. The numbers on a fertilizer product represent percentages of the three major nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. To determine how much fertilizer to apply to get a pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet simply divide 100 by the first number on the fertilizer label.

Don't Fertilize Before a Rain

Watch the weather report before fertilizing you turf. Never fertilize immediately before a rain. Medium to heavy rains can wash away the nutrients that you paid to put out on the lawn. Those nutrients end up in lakes and streams and underground aquifers. When nitrate levels are measured in streams, our urban areas are often much higher than rural areas. Let's do our part to fix this problem. Apply fertilizer at the recommended rate, taking care to keep in on the turf and not on driveways, walks or streets where it is easily washed away. After applying fertilizer, water it in with one inch of sprinkler irrigation. This will move it into the upper soil zone where it will be most available to turfgrass roots.

Don't Mow Too Low

As we move into fall our lawns begin to grow more slowly. But unlike a deciduous tree, a lawn doesn't go truly dormant in the winter. It is therefore not a good idea to "scalp" (closely mow) your lawn prior to winter. The grass blades help mulch and protect the tender runners. They remain somewhat green over winter and can continue to make carbohydrates to strengthen the plant. Grass growing under deciduous trees will get stronger during the winter when light can shine through the bare branches.

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