January 11, 2013

Cool Season Lawn Care Calendar for Tidewater Virginia

A "Turf Calendar" to Guide You with Cool Season Grasses, such as Tall Fescue

Below is a basic "lawn care primer" to get you started. Follow it faithfully and you should see a big difference in your cool-season grass next year. The month you jump into this schedule will make a difference. But when it's your lawn (a rather expensive property), better late than never.

If you have a lawn care service, cut and paste this calendar and give it to them.

January: Avoid walking on dormant lawns since dry grass is easily broken and the crown of the plant may be damaged or killed.

If you're getting antsy and need a garage job, sharpen your mower blades. Virginia Tech experts recommend that homeowners sharpen mower blades at least three times per growing season. A dull blade causes excess leaf damage and becomes a site for fungal entry, leading to a diseased lawn.

February: It's time to prevent crabgrass seeds (from last year's crop) from germinating with a pre-emergent herbicide before it takes over. Apply a crabgrass pre-emergent as early in February as you can. A second application two months later is recommended as well. The golden rule was to wait for forsythia to bloom to put down crabgrass control, but that may be too late. Crabgrass pre-emergent will also help keep spurge and a few other weeds from germinating as well.

March: You might still have time to prevent crabgrass by reading the February tips above. Better late than never. ALERT: You’ll see crabgrass preventer PLUS fertilizer in many garden aisles. Your cool-season fescue lawn does NOT need fertilizer in the spring—unless you forgot to put down those three applications last fall. Look for a pre-emergent alone product.

April (a biggie month): It's time for your second application of crabgrass pre-emergent to prevent any just-now-waking-up seeds from germinating--or by May at the latest. Once these hardy little weeds emerge, you'll have no choice but digging them out. And one little piece of root always seems to remain, and you will see the weed again.

This is also the month to atttack common Bermuda weeds when you notice their ugly nasty little sprouts sticking out. Frequently, there's an easy solution to choke out Bermuda- by simply allowing your fescue to grow taller by mowing higher. That's why it's called "tall." Tall fescue is very happy at 4 inches. But if you had a major infestation of common Bermuda last year, keep on reading.

The key is to take action every few weeks thoroughout the Bermuda grass growing season (that begins NOW) so that you don’t have to do a major “kill and replant” of your tall fescue turf in the fall. The "scorched earth" post-Roundup look in the fall is less than attractive.

Grass-Selective Herbicides that are available in retail establishments and are for homeowner use (recommended in the spring) include the active ingredient sethoxydim (Grass Getter) or fluazifop (Ornamec, and Grass-B-Gon). Another application that has shown to be promising is a solution of 50 percent Ornamec & 50 percent Turflon Ester mixed according to the label (Turflon Ester is reportedly available at Ace Hardware; it is not cheap).

After Bermuda green-up starts, two applications 2 weeks apart in the spring and 2 applications 2 weeks apart in the fall should do the trick There are similar herbicides with the same active ingredient. Some local homeowners report success using Bayer Advanced Bermudagrass Control for Lawns. This is available at Lowe’s and attaches to your garden hose. As with all herbicides please read and follow the label directions

For best control with these herbicides, make the first application in spring when new bermuda growth is less than 6 inches in length, then re-apply the herbicide before the regrowth reaches 6 inches again. Additional applications on regrowth may be needed through the spring and summer. It is important to be consistent with treating regrowth in order to eliminate the weed, but read the label of each product for information on the total amount that can be used per year per area. The best control is achieved when the bermuda grass is growing vigorously, has lots of leaf surface and is not drought stressed, is not dusty, and has not been damaged by insects.

Many people have problems with Bermuda invading their juniper beds and they may think they can just spray the junipers. There is a product called Grass Getter, made by the manufacturer of Turflon Ester, that can be applied directly to control Bermuda growing in shrubs. BUT READ THE PRODUCT INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY.

May (another biggie month): Re-read April tips and continue your warfare against common Bermuda.

Sharpen your mower blades for the second time this year.

June: Mow high (3 1/2 to 4 inches) to keep the roots cool, conserve water, and choke out weeds. Never remove more than 1/3 of its blade growth at one time.If your lawn has a white hue rather than a green color after you mow, it is a good bet that your blades are too low.

Irrigate as needed if we have less than 1 inch of rain per week. Instead of once per station, set your system to half of the necessary time around 4 a.m., then the other half around 6 a.m. This will allow the second watering to soak down into the soil instead of running off.

July: Mow high and irrigate as in June.

Do NOT fertilize cool-season grasses in the summer. Only warm weather grasses such as Bermuda, Zoysia, and Centipede need to be fed during the summer.

One-quarter to one-half inch of compost on top of your lawn is good for any variety of grass at any time--especially if you see "hot spots" that easily dry out and turn the grass crispy.

Watch for lawn fungus and turf diseases such as brown patch and dollar spot when the temperatures stay above 70 degrees at night. Call the James City County Extension Office (757-564-2170) for advice.

August: Mow high (3 1/2 to 4 inches). Continue watering your lawn as needed (see June and July); continue to watch for lawn diseases. You might choose to let your grass go dormant if you've previously managed your grass for strong root growth. But many homeowners found their lawns dead instead of dormant. So choose whether to water your turf deeply (paying the accompanying water bill) or pay to have your lawn top-dressed and over-seeded every year.

Get a SOIL TEST done before applying lawn fertilizer in September, October, AND November. You may be applying more fertilizer—or the wrong kind—if you haven’t had a soil test done in the last 3 or 4 years. The testing will give you information on your soil texture and composition, pH, lime content, and available phosphorus and potassium. Get a “Turf Love” soil test and home visit by a Master Gardener for $30 by calling Virginia Cooperative Extension at (757) 564-2170. .For more info, click on http://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/452/452-129/452-129.html  

If you have large patches of Common Bermuda weeds, it's time for a nonselective herbicide such as Glyphosate (Roundup and other brand names) every 10 days to 2 week--for 6 weeks. The herbicide must get down into the root system, in addition to killing top-growth. For glyphosate to be most effective it must be applied to bermuda grass that is not drought stressed and has lots of leaf surface, so don't mow for 2 to 3 weeks before treating. Wait 7 days after applying to mow or cultivate the bermuda grass.

Cultivation/rototilling will bring the underground parts of the plant (stolons and rhizomes) to the surface of the soil so they can dry. If left uncultivated, deeper rhizomes and roots may survive the first application and regrow. A second or even a third glyphosphate application may be necessary to completely eliminate bermuda weeds. Read the product instructions carefully!

Reducing lawn size can significantly save you water. Consider eliminating hard to water areas like narrow strips, irregularly shaped areas, or areas that are losing the water battle to trees.

September: Now is the time to core-aerate and over-seed your lawn if you need to fill in areas killed off by heat and drought. Many of us with super strong root system lawns only aerate and overseed every 2 or 3 years.

PRIOR to aerating (and even if you're not this year), top-dress your lawn (and bed areas) with 1/2 inch of compost to break apart clay particles and promote better drainage while it helps hold moisture in sandy soils.You will discover that you'll no longer have 'hot spots' in the lawn that burn out every year. This is something you can do yourselves (if you need some serious exercise) or landscapers can do it for you. Compost counts as a VERY small fertilization, so you can slightly reduce the September amount of fertilizer used.

There are many Nutri-Green compost fans in our area but it may not be available any more. This product comes from Hampton Roads Sanitation District’s (HRSD) wastewater treatment plant. HRSD sends treated biosolids to a company that adds recycled paper products and woodchips. This mixture is turned frequently and proper aerobic conditions are monitored. After about 60 days, the product (regulated by the Department of Environmental Quality) is fully stabilized, free of weeds and pathogens, and tested for nutrient and trace metal content. It has a guaranteed analysis of 2% nitrogen, 2% phosphorus, and 0% potassium, and won’t burn your lawn. It’s sold at Ace Hardware and Anderson’s Greenery.

The day or two before core aeration, if it has not rained recently, water the soil well. This will allow the aerator to get deeper penetration into the soil.

Plan on fertilizing three times--at initial seeding and each 4-6 weeks thereafter. Use a high nitrogen (low to no phosphorous) fertilizer. Apply at the recommended rate. Water in the grass seed so that it stays moist. This usually means about 5-10 minutes per irrigation zone per day. Germination will take 2-3 weeks.

While you're waiting for the new grass seeds to germinate, sharpen your mower blades for the third time this year. Then they won't mangle the newly emerged blades of grass.

Cut the grass when it needs it but don’t wait so long that you have to cut more then 1/3 of the blade. You might need to bag the clippings the first cutting so that you don't smother the new grass seedlings. Keep the mower blade high.

October: Fertilize your lawn for the second time. It might be getting late for aeration and over-seeding. But if the weather still promises warm sunny days, go for it.

November: Fertilize for the third time. Rake leaves off the lawn if they're really a heavy layer, but mulch if possible. If you bag your mulched leaves and whatever grass is still growing, use it as mulch around your shrubs.

December: Other than removing the leaves still on the lawn, relax. You deserve a rest.