Treating Warm Season Grass

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Fall is in the air as leaves are starting to drop from trees. Temperatures are beginning to cool and less growth can be observed in our shrubs and lawns. Have you seen promotions encouraging fertilization of your grass? Let’s take a look at some of the differences in lawns.

In the eastern part of NC warm-season grasses are mainly grown. Grasses including Bermuda, Centipede, Zoysia and St. Augustine actively grow during the summer and go dormant in the winter months. These grasses are different from cool-season grasses like fescue and bluegrass which actively grow during the fall and spring of the year. We live in an area close to a transition zone. West of us cool-season grasses grow better than warm-season grasses.

Lawns generally need nitrogen when the turf is actively growing. Therefore, warm season grasses benefit from nitrogen fertilizer when active growth is occurring usually as spring begins to turn into summer. The date referenced for Centipede on the calendar is May 15 because of our climate. Applying a fertilizer containing Nitrogen after August or before May can set a warm-season turf up for injury.

Understanding the three numbers on the fertilizer bag is helpful in providing for the nutrition needs of plants. These numbers indicate the ratio of major nutrients plants in the product. A bag of 8-0-24 fertilizer contains 8 percent Nitrogen (N), zero percent Phosphorus (P) and 24 percent Potassium (K). Each nutrient helps plants in different ways. Nitrogen (N) promotes green, leafy plant growth. Phosphorus (P) promotes root growth along with flower, fruit and seed production. Potassium (K), also known as potash, improves the overall plant’s health by increasing drought tolerance, winter hardiness and disease resistance.

Soil tests are encouraged to determine the levels of nutrients in your soil. If the results indicate a deficiency in potassium, apply a potassium fertilizer such as muriate of potash (0-0-60) would encourage a healthier lawn increasing winter hardiness. For the best results, potassium fertilizers need to be applied six weeks before the first expected frost which is usually around the end of October in Lenoir County.

Encouraging a healthy lawn includes being sensitive to the local climate, knowing the type of grass best suited for your area, understanding the numbers on fertilizer bags, and careful timing of product applications. Read labels carefully before apply products.