2016 LAWNS

By Harold Jones
Southern Horticultural Consultants

This year we have had the predicted El Nino. That typically means it is colder and wetter than normal during the winter. The weather has been wetter than normal but the colder than normal is questionable. I did note this year that the red maples and redbud trees which normally start showing color in late January didn't start showing color until mid to late February.

Historically February is our coldest month of the year. We have had some cold weather, but not the extreme lows we can get in February. There has been some cold weather damage to lawns this year, but we won't know how much until mid-April.

We have had some 70 degree temperatures and one day in the 80's. Just because the plants and lawns think it is spring, doesn't make it true. If we do get a frost, there is a very good chance that we will see some damage to the lawns and possibly the more tender shrubs.

Look for dry weather in April, May and early June. This is typically the time of year when our lawns need watering the most. The temperatures are higher and rainfall totals are not enough for the landscapes.

Why should we worry about dry weather when we have irrigation systems? The answer is simple. Rainfall is delivered at 100 percent efficiency (meaning everything gets the same amount of water when it rains. An irrigation system works at about 60 percent efficiency (at best). That means water is not distributed evenly over the lawn and landscape and drought stress can occur, particularly when the temperatures are in the upper 90's or over 100.

When a St. Augustine grass lawn is under drought stress it is more susceptible to chinch bug attack. Landscape plants may wilt and die; trees suffer and can die also. Watering is critical during drought. Irrigation systems should be adjusted to apply more water than normal and should be checked to be sure all the heads and zones are working properly.

Another adjustment during drought is height of cut. Many people mow their lawn too short. St. Augustine lawns should be mowed at 3.5 to 4 inches high. There is a direct relationship between the height of cut and depth of the root system. The shorter the grass is cut, the shorter the root system will be. If you cut your own lawn, raise the height of cut to help the grass survive the drought.

We may see more chinch bug activity, especially if the weather turns dry. Chinch bugs are again our most serious lawn pest and since we have lost older chemicals that were very effective against them, they are harder to control. Sometimes it is taking multiple applications of the currently available insecticides for adequate control.

Lawn caterpillars (sod webworms and army worms) can also be a problem for lawns during the late summer and fall. Remember, although they may make a lawn look bad for a short time, they will not kill your grass unless it is newly planted sod. They are relatively easy to control when they occur which is generally from August through October.

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El Niño produced a wetter North Florida winter
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