Tampa Landscape Maintenance : Lawn Care, Protection from Pests and Diseases

In this page you will find an excellent article on Tampa Tree and Landscape maintenance

The Below snippet is taken from the book “Florida’s best fruiting plants” by Charles Boning. This books talks very detailed about fruiting plants and trees that people in Florida can choose for their gardens. This book contains wealth of information regarding tips and techniques on turf maintenance, lawn care, lawn mowing, watering and fertilizing. This books also talks about different diseases and pests plants, trees and sod in Florida gets and also provides different solutions to protect your plants and trees from these pests and diseases.

TURF MAINTENANCE AND MANAGEMENT

This section provides information on key issues affecting how to make your lawn look as good as it can year-round with the least amount of time, expense, and disruption to the environment. Often homeowners who desire “low maintenance landscapes” want only turf and just a few tree and shrubs, thinking they are reducing time, effort and expense. In fact, however, making sure the grass is green and healthy is the single most demanding because of the frequency with which lawns need to mowed, watered and fertilized. In addition, it provides little for birds and other wildlife, but adds chemicals and toxins to their, and our, environment and water resources. Therefore, you are encouraged to use grass only where it fulfils specific functions, and where there are no other suitable options (such as groundcovers, permeable hardscapes, or mulch).

     Given the fact that almost all landscapes will rely on some turf, (for example; play areas for children and pets, paths, contrasting spaces for trees, and beds), this section outlines how lawn management can be done most effectively and efficiently to save you time and expense and to protect our environment and water resources.

     Since many homeowners inherit the choice of lawn made by the developer or community governing boards (usually St. Augustinegrass or Bahiagrass), this discussion focuses on how to maintain your lawn. If using a lawn service, hire one which follows the kinds of practice and activities outlined below.

ROUTINE CARE/MAINTENANCE: WHAT TO DO, HOW OFTEN AND WHEN

Knowing the kind of grass, you select of already have will suggest the kind of characteristics, discases, and pests to expect. It also has preferences for care and maintenance. Once the lawn is established, the following practices will ensure the healthiest lawn with the least amount of effort and expense while also being friendly to the environment.

Mowing

Both St. Augustinergrass and Bahiagrass should be regularly maintained at 3-4 inches with no more than 1/3 of the blade cut at a time, in order to reduce stress and likelihood of disease and pests, and to increase drought tolerance. Although the growth rate will depend upon the amount of fertilizer and water, it is likely that both Bahia and St. Augustinergrass will need to be cut every week during their active growing season. Gradually cut higher (to 4 inches) to promote more drought tolerance. Cuttings should be left in place to decay and provide nutrients to the soil unless the amount is excessive and will smother the grass. Do not mow when wet and use sharp blades. For Bahiagrass, a heavy-duty mower with sharp blades is needed to provide a good cut.

Watering

For St. Augustinergrass, supply supplemental water when the grass indicates it is needed, not because it is certain day of the week.  If 30-50% of the lawn shows signs of wilting (bluish gray, blades folding in half and footprints), irrigate with ¾ inches of water as soon as watering restrictions allow. St. Augustinegrass needs regular water in order to maintain its health and vigor, and prolonged period of drought will cause damage to the plant and make it more susceptible to pests and disease.

     Although Bahiagrass is the most drought tolerant of the grasses which can be grown here, it may need supplemental watering in times of drought. Look for the same symptoms of wilting, and then supply ¾ inch of water as soon as watering restriction permit.  In times of severe drought, as long as Bahiagrass is properly conditioned, it can be allowed to go dormant (without additional water) without long-term damage.

In both cases, water when the plant will have time to dry out and when it is least windy, usually early morning.  The amount of water supplied with each irrigation will not change (3/4 inch), but the frequency (or number of days between watering) may change based on the weather condition and other circumstances (heat, drying winds, cloudy days, recent rainfall, time of year, etc.). Provide water at a rate at which it can be readily absorbed into the soil.

     Both over watering and under watering cause plant stress.  It is important to get it just right.  Often plants are watered too frequently and too lightly.  It is better to water less often and more deeply (3/4 inch), as long as you are responding to plant symptoms of water need.  The signs of under watering have been previously described. The sign of over watering is less obvious but could include the presence of weeds such as: dollar weed, sedges and pennywort; chronic wet spots; dead areas caused by fungus disease; and thatch build-up.

Fertilizing

At a minimum, the fertilizing schedule for St. Augustinegrass and Bahiagrass is two applications per year (spring and late summer) of a complete fertilize such as 16-4-8 at a rate of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet per application for a total of at least 2 pounds per year. (Higher maintenance levels are provided in The Florida Lawn Handbook, but those levels are likely to require more frequent mowing and other care). Check to see that at least 30% of the fertilizer is “slow release” and that it contains potassium (K) because that increases drought tolerance.  Or better yet, choose fertilizers where all of the nutrients are slow release. Both St. Augustinegrass and Bahiagrass may benefit from additional nitrogen or iron.  Iron is preferred because it does not run off and cause problems like excess nitrogen and additional iron should definitely be considered for Baha grass since it is susceptible to yellowing due to iron deficiency.  Iron can be applied to Baha grass at 6-8week intervals during the active growing season if needed to keep the lawn green.  Just like over watering, over fertilizing (particularly excess nitrogen) increase grass growth rates and the likelihood of disease and pests.  If you have palms in your landscape, consider using the fertilizer which has 100% slow release of all nutrients as described in Chapter 7. Fertilizer of any kind should not use between late October can early February in central Florida.

     If top dressing is needed, consider Milorganite, or other organic amendments, instead of sand or topsoil.  Light, (1/8 to ¼ inch per application) more frequent applications are more effective than heavier applications which only increase thatch and likelihood of disease. Apply top dressing when grass is actively growing.

DISEASE/PESTS: WHAT TO DO WHEN THERE ARE PROBLEMS

Disease

Bahiagrass is sometimes susceptible to dollar spot. The symptoms are large brown spots growing on the seed head.  It is managed by supplying nitrogen at a rate of ½ pound per 1000 square feet which will cause the plant to outgrow the disease.

     St. Augustinegrass may get brown patch (most likely happen in spring and fall) and gray leaf spot (more likely in warm humid conditions) caused by excess nitrogen.  Both can be treated with fungicides suggested by the country Extension Office.  Information about other disease can be found in the Florida Lawn Handbook.

Weeds

The weeds which are most likely to appear are: summer annual (crabgrass, goosegrass) or perennial broadleaf weeds (such as knotweed, spurge, lespedeza). They can be controlled by a per emergent herbicide applied before the soil temperature reaches 65 degrees (usually before February 15) specifically targeted to treat the weeds that were present last year.  In May, post emergent herbicides may be used on weeds which have surfaced.  Generally, “Weed and Feed products should not be used.  If they, or any product containing Attrazine is used, it should not be used when the temperature is over 85 degrees or it can kill or damage the grass.  It should never be used more than twice a year once in the spring and once in the fall.  Instead of “weed and feed” which is a broad purpose, combination product, it is more desirable to target the weeds which are actually growing and to treat the weeds which are actually growing and to treat accordingly.  Consult with the country Extension Office to assure correct weed identification and to get suggestions for the most appropriate, least toxic treatment options.

     Neither St. Augustinegrass nor Bahiagrass should have to be thatched if mowed regularly.

Pests

Fortunately, both Bahiagrass and St. Augustinegrass are somewhat nematode resistant.  Instead the pest most likely to be associated with St. Augustinegrass is chinch bugs, and mole crickets for Bahiagrass.

Chinch Bugs

If you have St. Augustinegrass, when the weather gets warm, look for yellowish or brownish patches of grass near sidewalk or driveways in dry areas where there is full sun.  Chinch bugs can be flushed out by inserting a coffee can (with both ends cut out) into the grass and filling it with water. The cinch bugs will float to the water surface in about 5 minutes.  The adults are black with white patches on the wings and about 1/5 inch long. The nymphs are reddish with a white band across the back and turn black as they mature.

     Because chinch bugs are capable of serious damages, repeat applications of an insecticide may be necessary for control.  Consult with the country Extension Office for the most appropriate treatment options. Webworms, armyworms, grass loopers, and mole crickets also cause problems to St. Augustinegrass. Identification and treatment options should be explored with the country Extension Offices. High levels of nitrogen encourage these pests.

Mole Crickets

The most likely pests of Bahiagrass are mole crickets which can be detected by finding tunnels and flushing them out with soapy water.  As suggested in the Florida Lawn Handbook, mix 1.5 ounces of liquid dishwashing soap in 2 gallons of water; apply with sprinkling can in several areas.  If 2-4 mole crickets emerge within 3 minutes and tunnels are present, treatment is needed.  They are most likely to be seen at night after rain showers or irrigation or near light sources. The adults are brown and about an inch long with strong forelegs for tunneling.  They damage grass by disrupting and / or chewing the roots of the grass.  June is the optimal time for controlling mole crickets because the nymphs can be treated before severe damage is done.  The country Extension Office can suggest control methods for severe problems.

Cold Weather Damage   

The inclination of too many homeowners when their lawn turns brown because of freezing temperatures, is to apply nitrogen to “green it up.”  Unfortunately, that practice stimulates premature growth making the plant susceptible to more serious damage if more cold weather comes back.  A better practice is to water it before the freezing weather, and then again afterwards, but to avoid fertilizing until there are signs of new spring growth.  If the grass has an odor or is easily pulled out, it may be permanently damaged and need to be replaced.  Wait until the grass around it has begun to show signs of green (contrary to the areas in questions which remains brown) before reseeding Bahiagrass or replacing St. Augustinegrass with spring or plugs.

     In summary, although higher maintenances levels are possible to produce a showier lawn, the levels outlined here should produce a lawn that performs all important functions, with minimal maintenance and expense, while actually being better for plants. Good cultural practices (proper mowing, fertilizing and watering) all help to produce a great looking lawn that affords maximum pleasure while actually reducing the likelihood for more major problems.  Consult the Maintenance Checklist in the Appendix for a summary of chores for you or whomever you designate to do them for you.

     As indicated in the chapter describing the first 90 days, it is important that these that cultural practices be followed to get satisfactory results even if you decide to use a lawn care professional. Whenever any chemicals are used (fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides), use the least toxic option available and read the labels. Follow the instructions completely and carefully, paying attention to any potentially harmful consequences to yourself and family members, pets, wildlife, and the larger environment including water resources. The county Extension Office can help solve serious problems associated with pests and diseases and should be consulted before potentially toxic chemicals are used.

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