By Mary Glazer
While the rest of the country enjoys some cooling-off temperatures this time of year, air-conditioners still run full blast in most Gulf states. Soon my Facebook friends who live in northern climates will be posting their vivid autumn pictures. Typically I see photos of plaid-shirted family members, leaves, rakes, and this year’s favorite apple cider vendor. Those of us in the Gulf wait for a massive blizzard in the north before retaliating with posts of our favorite beach pictures.
The dog days of summer in this part of the country easily last through September, or even October in some years. But, in anticipation of the upcoming cool down, lawn care prep remains on the to-do list.
From St. Augustine to zoysia and everything in between, as long as the grass grows it needs to be cut, but never more than one-third its height during the active growing season. Where I live, in northern Florida, we’ve had a record-breaking amount of rain this summer. With a phenomenal response in turf growth (cutting grass twice a week), it is very tempting to scalp the lawn with a super-short cut. However that would be like cutting down a landscape plant in the middle of summer and exposing its roots to glaring sunshine. The potential for killing grass—especially St. Augustine and centipede, which grow via aboveground stolons—increases dramatically.
Conversely grass that gets too tall has reduced air circulation, which could lead to fungus problems. Recommended mowing height for Bermuda, zoysia, and carpet grass stays the same in fall. St. Augustine lawns should be mowed at a height of 3 in to promote winter hardiness.
In anticipation of the next growing season, fall is a good time of year to have a soil test done. These tests will show the pH of the soil and list any deficiencies that should be amended prior to next spring’s growing season. Most grasses will become dormant when the frosts and freezes start to hit. But, for those who like the look of a bright green lawn in winter and don’t mind the year-round mowing, planting annual rye grass when temperatures drop to the 70s is an option for a greener winter landscape.
Shorter days mean less watering. Monitoring empty tuna cans is an ideal way to check a watering system. In general ½ inch to ¾ inch of water every 10 days should be enough.
October is too late in the season to use fertilizers with nitrogen (N), as the grass is no longer actively growing and will not absorb this nutrient. Excess nitrogen then leaches from the soil and contributes to water pollution. Phosphorus (P) can also be a problem due to run-off into storm drains. Potassium (K) is the only major nutrient that might be needed at this time of year -- and a soil test will tell you whether that is the case.
For recommendations on fall fertilization, contact your local extension agent. With differences in climate, type of turfgrass, and age of a lawn, the agents can recommend the best course for your part of the Gulf.
See more Gulf Coast Gardening Articles.