As we prepare our yards for a fresh start in 2022, perhaps one of our New Year’s resolutions is to make some changes in how we preserve our landscapes. By doing this, maybe we can save some money and have a healthier landscape at the same time. Adopting these five resolutions can seem daunting. Instead, try adopting one as a starting point. By doing this, you are on your way to having a healthier landscape.
#1: Calibrate your sprinkler system
One of the biggest contributors to an unhealthy lawn is drinking too much water. When asked how much water is applied to our lawns, many of us give an answer in minutes like “15 minutes per area”. In the growing season, research has found that Florida grass varieties only need 1-1½ inches of water per week (including precipitation) to be healthy. Using more creates favorable conditions for lawn diseases such as complete root rot.
This means that if we have an irrigation system running twice a week as allowed by the Jacksonville ordinance, we should only use to an inch per irrigation at most. All it takes to calibrate the watering is a few flat, straight-sided containers like cat food or cans of tuna, and some time.
Scatter the cans all over your lawn randomly within the area. Run the spray system for 15 minutes. Then use a ruler to measure the depth of the water in each container. Calculate the average depth of water by adding the depths in the different containers and dividing this number by the number of containers. This will give you the number of inches you will give in 15 minutes. Use this shape to set your timer to apply to inches per watering. Go to: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/water/articles/systems/save_water.shtml for more information.
No. 2: Administer Herbal Weeds Appropriately
Most of us are applying the wrong weed control method at the wrong time. It is easy to control weeds when they are young – the smaller the better. Applying herbicides before the weed seeds germinate is a great place to start treating summer weeds. It is important to read the label and follow the directions when applying it especially when it comes to watering it.
Additionally, read the label to make sure it is effective on the weeds you want to control. A pre-existing herbicide creates a layer in the lawn or landscape environment that prevents weeds from germinating. Plenty of watering will wash the produce too deeply into the soil to prevent weeds from growing.
Primary herbicides may not work on every weed in a lawn or landscape. Some are better at controlling weeds, and others are better at controlling broadleaf weeds.
If you have a pest control company that treats weeds in your lawn, there are several formulations available to use. For homeowners, some of these products can be hard to find. If you want to control both weeds and some broadleaf weeds, some of the products available include Surflan (oryzalin), Pre-M, Halts Crabgrass Preventer (pendimethalin), and Weedgrass Preventer (Benesolide). For mainly broadleaf herbs, look for atrazine as the active ingredient.
Timing is important for pre-emergent herbicides because they must be used before the weeds sprout. In Northeast Florida, March 1 is a good target date. However, the most definitive answer is when daytime temperatures reach 65-70 degrees for four or five consecutive days.
And what about the fertilizer “weed and fodder”? Fertilizer/herbicide mixtures are suitable. However, as mentioned, the best time to treat weeds is early spring, and we should not fertilize our grass until it starts growing in April. If temperatures in April are still cool enough according to the instructions on the bag, fertilizer/herbicide combinations can be used as a second application of the herbicide.
To learn more about primary herbicides, the University of Florida publication, Weed Management Guide to Florida Lawns can be found at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP14100.pdf.
No. 3: When planting trees and shrubs, plant them higher than the surrounding soil
The biggest mistake when planting trees and woody shrubs is planting them too deep. The old rule was that when planting a tree, position it so that the soil level in the pot was equal to the natural soil surface.
This method is no longer recommended. The tree or shrub should be planted slightly above the surrounding soil. To do this, dig the hole less deeply than the container, and as wide as possible. Good practice is twice the diameter of the root ball. An easy way to remember not to dig a hole too deep is to use a saying that a wise forester once told me: “Plant it high and you will not die.” When the tree is planted deeper than it should, the root system is starved for oxygen, and the tree is not established in the landscape. Also, with trees planted at a great depth, the trunks are covered with soil, which enhances the states of decay.
#4: Use controlled or slow-release fertilizers when possible
Each compost bag should have a small box on the label called “Guaranteed Analysis”. This is where you can find out what is in the compost bag. To see if the compost is slow-release, you will need to check the source of the nitrogen used in the compost.
Look for a fertilizer that contains 30% or more nitrogen in a controlled-release form. You may find it listed in your compost bag as “slow-release,” “insoluble nitrogen,” or “coated with polymer.” To calculate the percentage of slow-release nitrogen in compost, take the listed ratio for slow-release, divide by the first number in the compost bag (total nitrogen) and multiply by 100. For example, if 15-0-15 contains 7% insoluble nitrogen in Water, divide 7 by 15 and multiply by 100 to get 46.67%.
By using a slow-release fertilizer, nitrogen is available to plants over a longer period of time which reduces the possibility of it leaching into groundwater, or drifting off as runoff into streams and rivers during rainy periods.
No. 5: Do not transplant and/or remove invasive plants
You may ask what does “invasive plants” mean? The University of Florida defines an invasive plant as “an introduced plant that causes harm to the environment, the economy and/or human health. These invaders often displace native species, distorting the delicate balance between animals, plants, and processes such as water flow and fire.”
In other words, it is a plant that does not occur naturally in our area and causes great harm to the environment by spreading uncontrollably and displacing native plants.
While cannabis is any plant that grows in an unwanted location, invasive weeds have the potential to cause widespread change in the natural ecosystem. For this reason, controlling invasive plants begins in our back (and front) yards. It is important to know what is growing in our landscapes and to determine if it is invasive.
The University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has an easy-to-use online tool at https://assessment.ifas.ufl.edu/ that can help us identify invasive risks for many trees and plants. It can be used to find out if a plant you wish to grow in your landscape is safe to use or if a plant you have already grown in your landscape is invasive. With this tool, we can determine if a plant is invasive, and either remove it or not plant it in the first place.
Again, trying to make all of these decisions seem impossible, and taking smaller steps by following any of these decisions can help us create healthy, sustainable and productive landscapes the following year. If you need help finding useful landscaping solutions in Florida, try using the University of Florida’s online resource “Ask IFAS” by going to https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.
Larry Vigart is an Urban Forestry Extension Agent from the University of Florida/IFAS.