Irrigation Season Requires Measured Approach

Quench your lawn’s thirst, but don’t drown it
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Summer is here, and plants are responding with unrestrained growth.

Landscape and garden tasks are many and must be prioritized based on their importance to the homeowner. Lawn care will likely be at or near the top of the list.

Unless adequate rain occurs every three or four days, extra water should be applied to the lawn.

Guidelines for lawn irrigation include applying ¾ to 1 inch of water each application. This ensures that roots will penetrate as deep as possible in the soil and are not concentrated on the surface, making the turf more susceptible to drying out and dying.

Supplemental watering should be based on the needs of the turf as determined by the heat and rain frequency. If the grass begins to curl or discolor or the soil is dry to the touch, it is time to water.

Watering should occur between 5 and 10 a.m. This minimizes the loss of water to evaporation and gives the grass time to dry out before nightfall. Wet turf at night is a recipe for numerous fungal diseases.

As with excess fertilizer, too much water applied is a waste and will cause problems for the lawn. In addition to disease and decay, the surplus water will promote weed growth, especially dollarweed (Hydrocotyle umbellate).

Summer is the peak growth period for Florida’s turf varieties and may necessitate supplemental plant nutrients. Fertilizers used correctly can produce a dense green lawn but applied in excess have the potential to contaminate the water table.

The selection of fertilizers should be based on a soil test for a specific turf type. The report will state the amount in pounds of nitrogen (the first number on the analysis tag), phosphorus (the second number) and potassium (the third number) for a specific area.

Most Florida soils have sufficient phosphorus and do not need it in fertilizer applications. Many retailers offer products without phosphorus, such as 15-0-15.

Once applied, the fertilizer should be watered in by rain or irrigation, ideally within an hour to prevent burning from the nitrogen in the product.

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Establishing New Plants

Shrubs can be added to the landscape during summer if proper techniques are used. Only plants established in pots can be successfully translocated.

Loosen the soil in the hole and supplement with peat moss or composted cow manure but not granular fertilizer. The root ball should be about an inch above the soil’s surface after installing. 

Mulch the new addition with leaves and/or pine straw. Keep a few inches between the trunk and mulch, extending it out beyond its drip line (the reach of the branches).

Water generously, but do not flood the new shrub or tree. Check daily for the first few weeks to confirm the soil in the plant’s root zone is remaining moist. When the addition begins to put out new shoots, reduce watering but continue monitoring a few times weekly to make sure moisture is adequate.

Mosquitos

Summer in North Florida means hungry bugs in the environment. Some eat plants, some eat other bugs and a few have a taste for people. There are over 80 species of mosquitoes in Florida. Most like humans, and some adapt easily to home landscapes. Removal of standing water reduces the probability of being “on the menu” during summer.

Even small quantities of water can host mosquito larva. Toys, drink cans, planters and associated saucers can all support this parasite’s quick development. Even plants —bromeliads are notorious — can hold enough water long enough for mosquitoes to hatch.

Hollow spaces in trees are another site where mosquito eggs can develop. Drain where possible or treat with a biological compound that kills the eggs.

 

Les Harrison is a retired University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Wakulla County extension director.

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