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2017 POST HURRICANE IRMA LAWN CARE ISSUES
By Harold Jones
Southern Horticultural Consultants
 

Two hurricanes struck Fernandina Beach, Florida lawns within one year - Matthew in early October 2016 and Irma in September 2017.

Irma caused significant flooding damage because of the high rainfall amounts, tides and the fact that it was such a huge storm. It also struck when we have had an extremely wet year. As of October, we are 18 inches above normal rainfall according to the NOAA records at Jacksonville International Airport - 16 total inches recorded at AMELIA WALK. If we don't get another drop of rain this year, we will still be 11 inches above our average rainfall for 201 7.

With all the heavy rains this summer and in the hurricane, our problems are primarily lawn and landscape disease issues.

Plant roots (grass, trees and shrubs) need oxygen in the soil to function properly. If the soil is saturated with water and no air is present, the roots cannot absorb water or nutrients. Usually this is a short-term problem with our sandy soil, but continued heavy rainfall can cause substantial damage to our landscapes.

As the plant roots rot because of too much water, diseases such as Pythium and Take-All root rots can become serious issues. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for Take-All root rot. The severity can be reduced by managing the symptoms over several years and even then, it may be necessary to replace the damaged sod. Pythium can be controlled with fungicide applications, but if the wet weather continues it may take several applications and time to stop the damage.

Adjusting the height of cut and spacing out the mowing is important for healthy turf. Many people mow their lawn too short. St. Augustine lawns should be mowed between 4 to 4.5 inches high and during periods of stress the height may need to be raised. 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.

There have been a number of lawns/landscape plants that died following the hurricane because of root issues. (There are no published studies on the survival rates of uprooted tees due to storm damage). Declining lawns should be treated with a fungicide for Pythium. This may slow the disease down and save the lawn or plants. It will all depend on how wet the lawn got and how fast it dried out. Those that dried out more quickly are less likely to suffer significant damage.

Lawn fertilization is important this fall since they are weakened and need the nutrients to begin recovery.

We will not know for sure exactly how much damage has occurred to our lawn and landscapes until next spring and if we get a cold winter the damage could be very extensive because of the weakened root systems.

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Florida lawns saturated by heavy rains and hurricane damage make roots susceptible to rot and disease.

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