Well it’s April 1st!   As usual we have some really warm days followed by a string of a few cooler days until the real heat begins.  You’ve started to see that flush of spring ryegrass growth if your lawn is overseeded, or you are starting to see a little color if your bermudagrass is coming out of dormancy.  I am going to go over some easy things you can do to help your lawn get through the next couple months and ease the “Spring Transition” anxiety. We have all seen our beautiful green ryegrass go away overnight as the temperatures change and many times people find nothing underneath except the soil you planted the sod on.  For this reason it is important that you follow a few basic steps.  Warm season grasses such as bermudagrass, St Augustine, and paspalums will not physically grow until the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees at a 6 inch depth at 8 am.  You don’t need to run out to buy a thermometer–just keep a watch on my blog and I will let you know when that time comes.  The general time frame for your soil temperature to reach 64 degrees is between April 15th and May 1st.  Does this mean you don’t need to cut your lawn until then?  NO–it just means you will not see the grass start to move and see an influx of growth until this happens. 

Most people out there overseed their lawns for winter color and are now coming to the period of transition.  As I said in the last paragraph your warm season grass will not grow until the soil reaches 64 degrees, but there are steps that need to be followed so when that happens you have very few transition problems.  The very first thing everyone needs to do is check your clock and sprinkler heads to make sure everything is functioning properly.  Your clock should be running twice per week for about 20-30 minutes per cycle.  If you can’t get 20 minutes of water on your lawn without runoff it is time to go rent an aerifier.  When you have extreme compaction your roots grow shallow and it does not allow water to penetrate or percolate into the soil. 

The next item is to start to lower your mowing heights.  I think everyone that has a tree has quickly learned that warm season grasses are not shade tolerant.  With that being said take note that your ryegrass is shading your underlying grass.  Shade is definitely not your friend during transition and neither is an extremely lush lawn.  By lowering your mowing heights and increasing the mowing frequency to two times per week, you will start to weaken the ryegrass and reduce the turf canopy.  The turf canopy and density can be managed when appropriate mowing practices are followed.  During the month of April your lawn should not exceed 1 ¼” inches, but it is best kept at 1” or below if possible.  If you are using a rotary mower it is unlikely that you can mow lower than 1” without scalping.  Scalping is not going to do you any favors and that is why mowing twice per week will help you get your heights down.  You never want to mow more than 1/3rd of the leaf blade in a single mowing so take your time. 

One of the best known secrets for reducing the ryegrass stand is to lightly verticut or aerify your lawn.  When you verticut you are reducing the amount of grass that is on the surface and not harming the root mass underneath the soil.  Your local rental place will have a “Ren-o-Thin” or a similar machine that is perfect for this job.  Anytime the turf density is reduced it will allow you to mow your lawn just a little shorter and also allow the sun to get into the grass and work its magic.  Since warm season grasses and shade don’t mix creating light from the verticut is extremely important.

When soil temperatures hit the magic number of “64” don’t be afraid to start your summer fertilizer program.  You have a couple of options to go with and it will depend on the amount of time you have available as to which option is best for you.  The first option is to slowly feed your lawn with nitrate fertilizers such as calcium nitrate 15.5-0-0 at ¼ pounds of nitrogen per 1000 SF per application.  (This is about pounds of product per 1000 SF)  You can spoon feed your lawn every 7-10 days and start to promote your warm season growth.  Once the grass is off and kicking it is time to switch over to a quick release fertilizer such an ammonium sulfate 21-0-0 and apply it at 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 SF every other month throughout the summer.  If you do not have time to spoon feed your lawn you can start right in with the ammonium sulfate 21-0-0 and apply it at a rate of 1-2 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 SF.  This is 5-10 pounds of product and as is important with all fertilizers it needs to be watered in immediately for about 10 minutes. 

Once your warm season grass is starting to poke through the ryegrass and is starting to transition out you can give it one more push of 21-0-0 before starting on a balanced fertilizer program.  Either option will work well, but keep in mind that if you are trying to promote the grass underneath so the ryegrass needs to be in check and kept at a low height to ensure the right growth.  Now that your warm season grass is up and growing you can get on a program to release your growth slowly over time.  Some great products to use monthly throughout the summer are Turf Royale 21-7-14, 15-15-15, Milorganite.  These products can be applied at 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 SF.  If you need a refresher on how to calculate the fertilizer analysis I have attached a link to a previous blog. http://www.westernsod.com/sodblog/111

These are all slow release products and will control your growth so when you do start to lose color 21-0-0 is always a cheap and quick fix to get your lawn to green back up.  If you have a paspalum lawn you do not want ever want to use ammonium sulfate and you are best sticking to Milorganite or another organic fertilizer.  The paspalums can use calcium nitrate to help aid in the transition but once you have fully transitioned make sure you switch your fertilizer program.  Here is a link to the paspalum maintenance schedule.  http://www.westernsod.com/sodblog/250

Now that we have covered a couple topics lets discuss watering.  NEVER, EVER LISTEN TO SOMEONE THAT TELLS YOU TO JUST TURN YOUR WATER OFF FOR A WEEK OR TWO AND YOUR GRASS WILL TRANSITION.  How is your underlying grass supposed to grow without any water?  Yes–you will smoke the ryegrass, but you will also affect your underlying grass.  Your watering should be reduced by 30-35 percent once soil temperatures are in the range of warm season growth.  You will want to reduce your watering for one to two weeks to help push out the ryegrass and at the same time maintain moisture for your warm season lawn.  Even though I told you not to turn off your water, you will hear someone say “I have always turned my water off and it worked.”  They are usually the people with some nice bare spots come midsummer.

If you have some areas that don’t transition out perfectly or have some dog repairs to make find a local retailer such as Sprinkler World (www.sprinklerworld.com) and pick up a few rolls of sod to patch the areas.  You can also call us to do a farm pick up if you are close by.  You will not find straight bermudagrass until May 1st or so because the roots are not strong enough to hold the plant together so don’t be led a stray by companies trying to push it on you before it is strong enough.  The color may look good, but root strength is the most important part of a good harvest.\

Do you have questions for me?  Do you need lawn advice?  Click the ask Jay button, include some pictures if you have them and I will answer you within 24 hours. 

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Just want to keep your neighbors “green with envy” over your lawn…….  Jay