2015 LAWNS

By Harold Jones
Southern Horticultural Consultants

This year all the weather forecasters were predicting the formation of El Niño. That typically means it is colder and wetter than normal during the winter. It started out that way with the November 18 heavy frost and freeze. The cold weather continued until mid-December and then it began warming. It is very possible that we may see some cold weather damage from the early frost in November. We won't know until the spring.

Althought we have had a little cold weather, it hasn't been much since mid-December. The lawns have turned green with new growth and some of the landscape plants are beginning to show new growth.

Historically, the worst freezes we have seen have tended to be the ones with a warm January and then hard freeze in February. We are set up for some severe cold weather damage if a freeze does occur. Just because the plants and lawns think it is spring doesn't make it true. Lawns should not be mowed this time of year. Removing that top growth will reduce the insulation for the roots and may result in severe damage, even from a light frost. If we do get a freeze, there is a very good chance that we will see some severe 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.

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Dry conditions are expected to impact north
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