Autumn Turf Care

As autumn arrives, we begin to see a group of contradictory conditions. The weather is both friend and foe.
At this time of year, we are still experiencing high heat and humidity levels, yet the daylength is slowly disappearing. Our turf areas are still growing, but slower than in summer. The slightly cooler nights are better for our comfort, but also foster several fungal problems. We need to remember that we should start reducing fertilizer and water levels now to slow grass growth, as well as slow down tree growth. We can reduce watering to once a week on turf and most landscaping areas unless plants show signs of wilting or drought stress. If we 'toughen up' the turf for Fall, the grass will need less water, and we'll all be better prepared for the inevitable water restrictions that the Water Management District will likely impose.

St. Augustine grass

Healthy St. Augustine grass
In cooler weather, we can also spray for weed control better than in summer months, but many weeds can be controlled by cultural methods as well. The presence of dollarweed usually indicates too much water, leading to wet or soggy soil. Broadleaf weeds can be controlled simply by routine fertilizing with a good quality fertilizer that will promote grass growth to such an extent that the grass will crowd out the weeds. Turfgrass types are really vigorous, so much so that they'll choke out weeds. One of the ironies of fertilizing turf areas is that we fertilize the weeds at the same time as the grass. The grass usually wins !

Chinch Bug damage on turf grass

Many fungal and insect problems are culturally-related to poor growing practices. Overwatering grass leads to weak grass, which falls prey to fungus problems. Watering at dawn allows grass to dry off thoroughly before night-time. Using very sharp mower blades helps reduce ragged leaf tips, which foster both fungi and insects. Clean grass cuts reduce problems, so keep the mower blades razor sharp. Grass can be stressed by cutting it too short. Many lawn cutting companies cut grass too short; St. Augustine grass should be cut at 3 1/2" in summer months, 2 1/2"-3" in winter. Many maintenance companies think that shorter grass leads to increased growth, but short-cutting can have the opposite effect.

Cultural practices can affect the growth of many aspects of horticulture, with turf being no exception. "Smart" watering, routine fertilization, attention to proper trimming practices, routine weed control, and the right grass for the right spot are fundamental yet highly effective tenets for good grass growth. A lower-nitrogen fertilizer is a good idea for autumn turf care, and experiment with organic fertilizers like Milorganite. The effect can be quite noticeable. Pay attention to the recommended fertilizer rates, and keep Milorganite away from edible plants or fruit trees if possible.

The basic idea is to slow grass growth down, and the rest of the landscape will respond in kind to the shorter days. We'll all save water resources, and have a lot less groundwater contamination as well. In the process, you may notice that your landscape plants have fewer pest troubles, and many plants respond favorably to a drier winter season to promote flowering.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens                

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