Skip Richter is the Brazos County Extension Horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, and the host of “Garden Success,” a call-in garden, lawn and landscaping show airing each Thursday at noon on KAMU-FM. We invited him to share a few lawn care tips you can use to keep your lawn going strong this summer.
Most people want a beautiful, lush lawn. But we tend to pamper our turf into problems — both for the turf and for our environment. Great lawns are the result of basic attention to three simple practices: mowing, watering and fertilizing.
Mow every 5-7 days to help build a thicker, more attractive lawn. Set the blade at least three inches high for St. Augustine and two inches for Zoysia and Bermuda. There is a direct relationship between taller grass height and more extensive root development. A strong root system is better able to handle the demands of summer.
Return clippings to the turf. Clippings mulch the surface and reduce weed competition. They decompose rapidly to provide nutrients to the growing turf. Think of those clippings as free, slow-release, organic fertilizer.
When the weather heats up and rain becomes scarce, give your turf a good soaking on an infrequent basis. Light sprinklings encourage development of a shallow, sprinkler-dependent root system. This makes a plant even more susceptible to dry spells and nutrient deficiencies. Frequent wetting also increases the incidence of fungal turf diseases.
A slow, thorough soaking will ensure a deeper, healthier root system, and more drought-hardy plants. From May to September, apply one-half to one inch of water using a rain gauge or coffee can as your guide to know how long that takes.
The best time to make your first fertilizer application is after the second mowing of turf. Note that I said turf, not weeds! Weeds grow vigorously in early spring, but your lawn “sleeps in” until the weather warms a bit more before really starting to grow. By about mid-April, the turf is growing fast enough to benefit from an application of fertilizer. If you haven’t already fertilized your lawn, you can still do so.
Many people like their turf to be a deep dark green color and really “push” it with fertilizer to attain this look. St. Augustine doesn’t really want to be this green and is normally more of a lighter green in color. Summer fertilizing may green up your lawn but will also make it grow faster, develop shallow roots and thus require more water.
The best way to determine what nutrients to apply in what amounts is through a soil test. The Extension office can direct you on how to have your soil tested. In the absence of a soil test, apply a product with a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 nutrient ratio. Some examples of products and the amount to apply per 1,000 square feet of turf are: 21-7-14 (5 lbs), 21-0-0 (5 lbs), 15-5-10 (7 lbs), 6-2-4 (16 pounds) or 8-2-4 (12 lbs). If you have had a lawn for several years, you may not need anything more than a nitrogen fertilizer such as 21-0-0. If a product is not slow-release, consider splitting the above amount into two applications. This spreads out the “feeding” over a longer period of time.
Finally, avoid fertilizing before rain. While it is good to water in your fertilizer with about one-half inch of irrigation, you can’t control how much rain will fall or how fast. All too often, a heavy downpour results in fertilizer being washed off into ground and surface water supplies. So, prevent this waste and water it in yourself.
Weeds usually are a problem in weak, patchy turf areas. An herbicide to kill weeds is not the best long-term solution if the real problem is weak turf due to lack of water, sunlight or nutrients. The best weed control is a dense, healthy turf, so let proper turf care be your first priority.
There are a few weeds that will become a problem in even a thick, healthy lawn. These may require special effort to control, such as spraying with an herbicide product or even hand pulling. Just note that broadleaf weed killers applied after the daytime temperatures are in the mid to upper 80s or higher can damage your St. Augustine turfgrass, and thus should be avoided over the summer months.
Talk to your local garden center professional or county AgriLife Extension office for proper weed identification and, if needed, appropriate product recommendations.
Listen to past episodes of “Garden Success with Skip Richter” on our website, or your favorite podcast platform. If you have questions you’d like him to answer live on the program, email email@example.com.