Lawn Care by Charles Bohmfalk
Mowing is the most important part of lawn care. A lawn should be cut to the appropriate height. Since most of the lawns in this area are common bermuda or St. Augustine, I will address most of my comments to those grasses. Common bermuda grass lawns should be mowed when they reach approximately 2 1/4 inches in height and mowed to a height of 1 1/2 inches. St. Augustine and most other grasses in our area should be cut when they reach 3 inches and cut to a height of 2 inches. Many hybrid bermuda grasses should be kept shorter. A good rule of thumb about how much to cut is to only cut 1/3 of the total blade length at one time. Mowing the grass too short can cause several problems. First, shorter mowing can inhibit root growth. There is a direct relationship between blade length and root growth. Another important function of the leaf blade length is heat insulation. Removing too much leaf can also make the grass more easily damaged by high summer heat, and more susceptible to wear.
Mower blades should be kept sharp to insure a clean cut that will heal quickly. Dull blades will leave grass blades jagged and torn. Grass cut with dull mower blades may show a tan shade over the lawn.
Lawn watering is one of the most necessary and basic needs of a lawn, but is frequently done incorrectly. Watering too often (daily in many cases) can cause the lawn to put down shallow roots. The lawn will not be able to survive a hot, dry summer, especially with watering restrictions. Appropriate and deep watering will encourage the grass to establish a deeper root system that will help it to survive our hot and dry summers. Wait for the lawn to tell you when to water. Look for a few dry spots to begin to appear. They can indicate that the time to water is near. If it is just a small spot or a few small spots consider spot watering. As more and larger sections of the lawn show up, it is time to water. Another indicator that the lawn is about to wilt is when the lawn takes on a dull purplish cast and the blades begin to curl or fold, or when footprints remain after you walk across the lawn.
Different soil types require different amounts of water for a normal watering. About 1/2 inch of water may be adequate for a soil that is high in sand. A loam soil may need about 3/4 inch of water while a highly clay soil will require about 1 inch. Water the lawn until the water begins to run off. The best time to water is in the morning when it is cool and the wind is generally calmer.
Fertilizing is another important part of lawn care. The best way to determine what to use and how much to use is to have a soil test. Many nurseries provide the service, generally for a fee. If a soil test is not available, apply a fertilizer with 4-6 parts nitrogen, 1 part phosphorus and 1-4 parts potassium. A fertilizer with a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio is a good choice. (For example a 9-3-6 or a 20-5-10 ratio.) It should have a portion of the nitrogen listed as slow release. Slow release nitrogen fertilizers may be difficult to identify or find. Look for terms like sulfur-coated urea, resin-coated urea, ureaformaldahyde, isobutyliene diurea or natural organics as the slow release nitrogen portion.