All these pretty, spring-like days drive me bonkers because I have to go to work and be indoors. I’d rather play.
But look at the calendar again before you get started — especially before you work on that lawn.
There are only a few things you can do to your lawn during the winter. Most maintenance is out of the question and should not even be considered until late spring, when warm weather is here to stay.
The only thing likely growing in your yard during the winter is weeds.
Annual winter weeds are up by January and February and may be controlled with post-emergence herbicides or hand-pulling.
Avoid weed and feed products, as the “feed” part isn’t needed right now.
Additional pre-emergence herbicides for preventing spring weeds, including crabgrass, can be applied in March. (Note: Crabgrass seeds germinate when the soil temperature reaches 58-60 degrees.)
If you have not taken a soil test for your lawn lately, do it now. It only costs $7.
This should be your main objective in the fall and winter, so that you will know what fertilizer your lawn needs in the spring and how much to apply.
Stop guessing and buying specialty products that don’t work. Everyone’s lawn and management program is different, so there isn’t some magic product out there that works for all.
A soil test will also prevent over-fertilization, which is not only expensive but can also be harmful to the overall health of the lawn. Excessive nitrogen fertilizer has been linked to major insect and disease pests.
Most soils in Alabama are acidic and need lime to raise the pH level to the point where turfgrasses thrive best.
The exception would be the Blackbelt soils of Alabama, which are alkaline.
Your soil test results will show the pH of the soil and indicate whether lime is needed, and how much.
Lime can be applied anytime of the year.
Bagging lawn clippings is not a recommended practice anymore, as recent research has shown the lawn does much better when the clippings are mulched and recycled back into the soil. These grass clippings contain valuable nutrients that the lawn can reuse.
Bagging may be done in early spring and late summer as a way to clean up the lawn, capture fallen leaves and collect pesky weed seeds.
Centipede grass and some varieties of Bermuda grass and zoysia grass may be established through seed. This method is much less expensive compared to laying sod.
The major disadvantage with grass seeds is that they usually take a long time to germinate and grow into a thick lawn.
For successful establishment, it is best to broadcast seeds in late spring to early summer — from May to June, when the air temperatures are between 80 and 90 degrees. Seeds must have warm weather to germinate.
All four warm-season turfgrasses in Alabama — Bermuda grass, centipede grass, St. Augustine grass and zoysia grass — can be established by laying sod.
This method is expensive, but it provides for an instant lawn.
Sod may be laid anytime of the year and under a wide variety of conditions, as long as the ground isn’t frozen and temperatures are not too cold for growth.
However, like with seeding, it is best to lay sod in late spring to early summer. This gives the grass time to mature before the onset of winter.
Warm-season lawns should only be fertilized during the growing season: late spring, summer and late fall. Not in March!
Fertilizer schedules and rates primarily depend on the type of turfgrass. Bermuda grass, for example, has a higher nitrogen requirement than most, while centipede grass needs very little fertilizer.
Extension turf specialists recommend fertilizing home lawns no earlier than June and no later than September.
Lawns in Alabama do not need winterizing or fertilizing in the fall or winter, as long as they have been properly fertilized throughout the growing season.
Avoid purchasing fertilizer products, especially weed and feed products, that do not match the soil test results recommendations.
If it is growing, then you can mow it.
Mowing is the single most important factor in maintaining turf quality, yet it is often overlooked.
Always use a sharp blade. A dull blade that does not cleanly cut the leaf blade will leave the lawn looking ragged and increase moisture loss.
Mow frequently enough that no more than 1/3 of the leaf blade is removed at any one time. If mowing at 1 inch, mow before the grass exceeds 11/2 inches.
Raise the mowing height in heavy shade or during very hot weather.
Too much nitrogen fertilizer can lead to tall grass. Not mowing frequently enough then leads to excessive clippings. Solution: Back off on the fertilizer and mow more frequently.
Soil compaction is a major problem with lawns, especially in urban areas where the top soil has been removed or is inadequate.
Compacted soil literally has the air and water squeezed out of it. It leads to poor root growth, and makes the lawn susceptible to weeds, insects and diseases.
Soil compaction is the real reason many lawns suffer drought damage during hot summers, despite being watered on a regular basis. Aerate often, anytime the lawn is growing.
The general rule for irrigation of any turf: Water when it shows signs of drought stress: wilting, grayish or bluish color, rolling leaves.
Apply enough water to wet the soil to a depth of 4-6 inches, but don’t let water puddle or run off the surface. Usually 1 inch of water per week is sufficient.
Measure how much water the lawn is receiving from irrigation heads in a zone by catching the water in a small can. Time how long it takes for a zone to receive Ω inch of water, and adjust the irrigation time to deliver 1 inch per week.
Water only once or twice a week; early morning, prior to 9 a.m., is best.
Avoid overwatering. Run-off and poor water conservation are associated with many automated timers and irrigation systems.
Water the lawn when it needs it — not when it’s convenient for you.
Shane Harris is an extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. For more information, contact your local county Extension office or visit www.aces.edu.