NORTH FLORIDA — Many North Florida lawns are not looking too good this spring. Some lawns are weak, and some have dead areas that used to be alive and green.
Unfortunately, this is relatively common.
Not being satisfied with the appearance of their lawn, many homeowners make matters worse by fertilizing too early. Sometimes, they fertilize already dead lawn grass.
All of our lawn grasses respond to day length and temperature to resume growth in spring. The correct day length happens first, slowly followed by the correct soil temperature.
Most lawns in our area will resume top growth (new green leaves) sometime in March, triggered by the correct day length. However, the second trigger (warm soil) lags behind. It takes consistently warm nights to allow the root area (soil) to sufficiently warm to allow optimal root growth and, subsequently, efficient uptake of fertilizer.
Most years, it’s not until mid-April or May before the soil warms up enough to allow the lawn roots to regrow and to take up the fertilizer efficiently. As a result, it’s best to wait until at least mid-April before applying any fertilizer to a North Florida lawn.
Fertilizing too soon, in February or March, can force new growth too soon only for that new, tender growth caused by early fertilization to be injured by the predictable last-killing frost of mid-March. This weakens the lawn even more.
In addition, fertilizing before the root area (soil) is sufficiently warm, results in the fertilizer quickly leaching. And fertilizer elements such as iron and potassium remain poorly available to lawn roots under cool soil conditions.
Finally, during the transition from winter to spring, the lawn is attempting to grow a new root system. Early fertilizer applications easily burn these young, tender roots.
Regardless of the cause, weak, declining areas within lawns are slow to recover in spring. Cool soil temperatures don’t allow rapid root regeneration in spring. Consistently warmer nights allow soil temperatures to warm, improving turf root growth, nutrient availability, and lawn recovery.
But this is a gradual process, not a quick recovery.
If your lawn has not significantly improved by late spring or early summer, it may be time to consider replanting those dead, declining areas. And take time to learn how to manage a Florida lawn correctly.
But whatever you do, don’t continue to follow lawn maintenance practices that do not work in Florida and that contribute to your lawn’s demise.
Here is a link to a UF/IFAS Extension publication on Best Management Practices for a Florida lawn: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep236. Call (850) 689-5850 to have a copy mailed to you.