Central Florida is the vacation capital of the world, and a great place to live – as we make very clear on our website’s home page! That being said, our beloved summer season isn’t necessarily kind to lawns. Although we’re in the rainy season – which runs from May 25 to October 10 – afternoon thunderstorms provide hydration, but they’re not always consistent. Even a few days without rain can parch grass when it’s subjected to searing sun and triple-digit temperatures. And we probably need not mention how expensive it is to run your irrigation system to keep your lawn alive and green!
The benefits of a healthy lawn go beyond curb appeal. As the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Gardening Solutions points out, lawns also cool the air, combat glare and noise, and reduce soil erosion. Perhaps most importantly, a healthy lawn actively filters and traps sediments and pollutants that could otherwise contaminate ground and/or surface water.
Fortunately, it is possible to have a thriving, beautiful lawn in Central Florida throughout summer. But it does take some planning and effort. We’ll cover the top lawn care questions and best practices to help maintain your slice of paradise at its lush, green best!
How Frequently Should You Water Your Lawn?
As mentioned earlier, thunderstorms typically occur during the afternoon and/or evening hours. Paying attention to weather reports is important for reasons other than knowing when to take an umbrella along, as it’s a good rule of thumb to never water your lawn 24 hours before the predicted rain. Overwatering grass leads to a shallow root system since the roots don’t need to extend deep in the soil to find water. This, in turn, reduces your lawn’s ability to tolerate stress – such as drought and foot traffic. Instead, UF/IFAS advises to let your lawn tell you when it needs water. A lawn is ready for watering when it shows at least one of the three signs of lawn thirst:
- Folded leaf blades
- Blue-gray color
- Footprints are visible in the grass (the grass isn’t springing back)
Water once or twice a week during the summer months, and once every two to three weeks over the winter. As for the optimum time of day, UF/IFAS recommends early morning, which allows the leaf blades to fully dry during the day. Although UF/IFAS advises against watering in the evening because it could increase the grass’s susceptibility to disease, it may be the only time you’re able to irrigate. However, never irrigate from mid-morning to late afternoon, as the water will quickly evaporate in the heat. Also, check with your municipality or county for summer watering restrictions.
So how much water is enough? Throughout most of Florida, ½-to-¾-inch during a single irrigation session should suffice. Sandier soils will require more, while denser soils need less. If you’re not sure about the amount of water you’re using, place straight-sided cans – such as coffee cans – around the perimeter of your irrigation zone, and see how long it takes to fill the cans to ½-or-¾-inch. This will tell you how long to run your sprinklers each time. Check your rain sensors frequently to make sure they’re functioning correctly.
Mowing Tips to Protect Your Grass
Mowing is perhaps the most important lawn maintenance task. As the grass grows more rapidly in summer, expect to mow weekly – or at least, every two weeks. UF/IFAS recommends mowing at the highest recommended height for your grass species.
- Bahia grass: 3.5 – 4″
- Centipede grass: 1 – 2″
- St. Augustine grass: standard cultivars, 3.5 – 4″; semi-dwarf cultivars, 2 – 2.5″
- Zoysia grass: The majority of these cultivars should be mowed at 1.5-2″
Never remove more than one-third of the leaf blade – While it may be tempting to do so in the summer, “scalping” (mowing too low) can badly stress your turf, leaving it vulnerable to disease, drought, and insect or weed invasion.
Leave grass clippings on the ground – These act as compost, returning valuable nutrients to the lawn. They add organic matter to the soil, thereby reducing the need for fertilizing.
Keep mower blades sharp – Dull mowers tear leaf blades, stressing the grass and making it more vulnerable to pests and disease.
Do not mow when your lawn is wet – Wet grass clippings keep your mower blades from making the cleanest possible cut.
If you do miss a mowing, bring the height of the grass back down to the recommended level slowly. Raise the mower height so you don’t remove too much leaf tissue at once.
But before you mow, you have to grow. And choosing the right species of grass – known in agricultural circles as turfgrass – can help you have a low-maintenance lawn that works best for your yard’s conditions and your lifestyle while still looking great! Our blog post – “What is the Best Grass Variety for Your Central Florida Yard?” – provides information on the most popular turfgrass varieties, including their characteristics and care. Florida Gardening is another helpful source of information on turfgrass species that are perfect for Central Florida’s climate, as follows.
St. Augustine – This blueish-green bladed turfgrass has a good adaptation to Florida’s soil conditions and climate. It’s tolerant of drought and salt. However, it doesn’t pair well with heavy foot traffic and grows quickly, so frequent mowing is necessary.
Bahia – This low-maintenance turfgrass is deep-rooted and forms thin green blades that thrive in sandy, infertile or acidic soils, and is drought-tolerant. This grass doesn’t require much moisture or fertilizer to produce healthy growth.
Bermuda – Bermuda turfgrass quickly spreads, creating a finely textured mat of medium to dark green grass blades. It’s most commonly used on athletic fields, so it’s perfect for active families that love being outdoors. This grass stands up well to salt, drought, and wear-and-tear. However, it grows quickly and can be high maintenance when it comes to pest control.
Centipede – This slow-growing grass is perfect for low-maintenance lawns. It forms a medium-textured blade that grows close to the ground, which means less mowing. It thrives in sandy, infertile soil – as well as acidic types – and is shade-tolerant.
Don’t Forget to Fertilize!
When it comes time to fertilize your lawn, start with a soil test to determine nutrient requirements as well as your soil’s pH level. Fertilizers are composed of three main elements — nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium — as well as a variety of other ingredients. Applying the proper amount of fertilizer will help your lawn resist an invasion of weeds. Applying fertilizer at the wrong time or applying too much fertilizer can damage your lawn. If you just installed a new lawn, wait at least one or two months before fertilizing so it doesn’t run off because the root system isn’t developed. Be sure to read the label carefully before applying. Never apply more than one pound of nitrogen per application.
Summer Lawn Pests to Look Out For
Florida’s lawn insect pests are abundant in summer, and you can’t count on our friendly birds and small reptiles to eat all of them! A healthy lawn can keep them at bay. As Florida Pest Control notes, destructive insects target grass and yards that are unkempt and unhealthy, to begin with. They commonly live just beneath the grass, making them almost impossible to detect until the damage is done. Here’s a list of the most unwanted.
- Sod webworms chew through small areas of grass. They create tunnels out of their silky web that runs under the grass. Signs to look for include raggedly chewed grass and smaller brown spots about the size of a baseball.
- Armyworms are small caterpillars that become moths. The females lay up to a thousand eggs at once in patches of fresh grass. These can hatch as quickly as two days. Look for them on the outside of dead or damaged grass areas.
- Chinch bugs attack your lawn by sucking the liquid out of the grass blades. In doing so, patches of grass on your lawn will dehydrate, turn yellow, then turn brown and die.
- Fire ants build their mounds on the lawn and bring the soil to the surface. They produce a painful, venomous sting that can last several days.
- Mole crickets tunnel through the top 1-to-2 inches of soil, loosening it and uprooting grass that then dries out and dies. The damage is most severe in young, newly planted lawns. When dealing with mole crickets, your grass will be covered with brown patches and feel spongy when stepped on.
- Grubs are beetle larvae that remain dormant through the winter. In the spring, they make their way toward the surface to feed on grass roots.
Despite the challenges, it is possible to have a healthy, attractive Central Florida lawn during the heat of summer. Better yet, our experienced team of professionals at Daniel’s Lawn Service & Pressure Washing makes it possible to do so with little effort on your part! We specialize in lawn maintenance, landscaping, landscape design, pressure washing, and more. Visit our website to learn about our services and contact us so we can do the work and you can do the enjoying!