Florida Landscape Doctor

Watering the Lawn during the Winter Season

Water management begins with you, the homeowner. To properly manage you need to know what to do. If you want to successfully control turfgrass or your ornamentals you must thoroughly understand the importance of soil moisture all year round. Plant-available moisture often is the critical environmental factor affecting turfgrass growth. When moisture becomes limiting, turfgrass plants weaken and become less competitive. Stressed plants can’t fight off diseases, insects, or weed encroachment. Irrigation management is an important component of any integrated turfgrass management system. It not only improves pesticide efficacy, but also potentially reduces the degree to which pesticide is needed. Irrigation should precisely satisfy the moisture needs of turf without giving any advantage to the weed population. Managing irrigation after applying herbicides is just as important as managing it beforehand. In the winter time herbicides, as well as insectacides react slower. Just as the grass slows down so does the reaction time of your chemicals. Cooler temperatures means changes in plant life which include turf. Most of these changes are climactic and as such you have little control. We all know that winter months bring shorter days, resulting in less sun exposure, and less photosynthesis. Couple that along with substantially reduced temperatures, and the end result has enormous implications for the plant world. In the summertime you scalp a lawn and within a week it has grown back out. Scalp it in the winter time and see how long it takes to correct the problem. Do not make big changes to the maintenance of turf or ornamentals in the winter time. It is too stressful on them. Remember the reaction time changes dramatically in the winter. Back to moisture levels in the winter. Although much of Florida receives 50-65 inches of rainfall yearly, it is not distributed evenly throughout the year. When rainfall is low, we need to irrigate to replace the water used by the grass. When rainfall is high, irrigation is often not needed. On average, turf water use in January through May often exceeds rainfall. These are the months when we generally have to irrigate; however, the other factors have to be taken into account. June through September is when rainfall generally exceeds turf water use. This does not mean that we never have to irrigate during these months, but that on average, we may not have to irrigate as frequently as when rainfall is less. These higher rainfall amounts may come in a couple of heavy storms rather than be spaced evenly across the entire month. October through December, rainfall is again less than turf water use. We may need to irrigate again during these months. Let’s get back to basics. When grass needs water, the leaf blades fold down the middle. When 30 percent of the lawn shows this stress symptom, irrigate the entire lawn, unless rain is forecast in the next 24 hours. If you have a hot spot in your lawn with a gray green color, put the hose on that area, let  it run for two hours to bring moisture back in that area. This is the lawns way of telling you it needs help in specific areas. If that area continues to be a hot spot over the years, it is a way of telling you to increase the irrigation in that area, or that a head is not working or that you need to add a head in that area. Listen to you lawn. You can under water as well as over water in certain areas. Learn what your landscape needs. It may take a couple of years but it will be worth it in the long run. Management of soil moisture is an extremely important part of turf management. Too much or too little can kill.

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