Centipede grass [Eremochloa ophiuroides (Munro) Hack.] was introduced into the United States from southeastern Asia. It is well-adapted to the climate and soils of central and northern Florida and is the most common home lawn grass in the panhandle of Florida.
St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum [Walt.] Kuntze.), is widely adapted to the warm, humid (subtropical) regions of the world. It is believed to be native to the coastal regions of both the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean.
Bahia grass (Paspalum notatum Flugge) was introduced from Brazil in 1914. It was originally used as a pasture grass on the sandy soils of the southeastern United States. Additional varieties have been introduced since that time for use as lawn-grasses.
Zoysia grasses (Zoysia spp.) were introduced into the United States from the Orient and provide attractive turf throughout much of the United States. Several species and varieties are used for residential and commercial landscapes, athletic fields, and golf course tees, fairways, and roughs.
Bermuda grasses (Cynodon spp.) are among the most widely used warm-season grasses. Improved, fine-textured Bermuda grasses are used throughout the south on golf courses, athletic fields, and in high-profile residential and commercial landscapes.
Choosing a Turfgrass
Grass is a good choice for areas with high recreational use, for erosion control, or for use in a swale (an open channel with gently sloping sides that collects and slows the flow of rainwater). When planning a grass area, carefully consider which type of turfgrass is best for your site conditions and your desired maintenance level.
For example, bermudagrass and seashore paspalum are not usually recommended for home lawns because of their high maintenance requirements. (For more information about them, visit https://hort.ufl.edu/yourfloridalawn/.) Groundcovers may be more successful and practical in low-traffic areas, heavily shaded spots (such as under trees), or on steep slopes where grass is difficult to maintain. Keep these factors in mind when choosing a turfgrass:
Tallahassee and Northern Florida has a completely different climate than the rest of the State. Make sure that you factor this in when choosing what type of grass you want in your lawn.
Drought tolerance. St. Augustinegrass will not thrive in some sites without supplemental irrigation in dry times. Bahiagrass will survive without supplemental irrigation by going into drought-induced dormancy, but may not form a lawn as dense as other grasses. Centipedegrass and zoysiagrass need slightly less water than St. Augustinegrass but do require supplemental irrigation to remain green and healthy during dry periods.
Shade tolerance. Most turfgrasses grown in Florida are sun-loving, but some will grow in areas with partial shade. Dwarf St. Augustinegrass cultivars such as ‘Captiva’, ‘Delmar’, and ‘Seville’ are best for shaded areas and can tolerate as few as five to six hours of sunlight daily. ‘Floratam’ has the lowest shade tolerance and does best where it will receive seven to eight hours of sunlight per day.
Wear tolerance. This term describes how well a turf species will stand up to repeated traffic, either human or vehicular. Most zoysiagrasses have relatively high wear tolerance.
Salt tolerance. This is mainly a concern for lawns in coastal areas, where salt spray from the ocean or use of reclaimed/recycled water may expose the grass to higher concentrations of salt. St. Augustinegrass and zoysiagrass es are the better choices for these areas, although they may sustain injury with high levels of salinity. Bahiagrass and centipedegrass have relatively poor salt tolerance.
Fertility requirements. A lawn that needs more fertilizer costs a homeowner more time, money, and effort. Centipedegrass and bahiagrass have relatively low fertility requirements, while zoysiagrass and some cultivars of St. Augustinegrass need more fertilizer and consequently more water and pest control. When choosing a turfgrass type, consider the time and money you are willing to spend on maintenance.
Climatic conditions. Florida’s climate varies greatly from north to south. It’s important to research which species and cultivars are best suited to your region of the state and your soil type. Consulting your county Extension office is always a good idea.
Leaf texture. Leaf texture describes the width and coarseness of the grass blades. Although often preferred, the fine-textured leaf blades have higher maintenance requirements.
Pest & disease problems. Each species and cultivar of turfgrass is prone to certain insect pests and fungal or bacterial pathogens. St. Augustinegrass often suffers from chinch bugs, while zoysiagrass is prone to hunting billbugs and brown patch disease. Know which pests and diseases your chosen grass is most prone to, and be aware of what your control options are.
Monitor for pests instead of routinely treating areas.
Use the least toxic methods of managing pests.
Apply pesticides only with your approval.
Apply fertilizer only if plants show signs of nutrient deficiencies, and follow UF/IFAS recommendations and BMPs.
Use slow-release fertilizers.
Avoid fertilizers containing weed killer or insecticide.
Sweep fertilizer from sidewalks and driveways.
Mow turf areas only as needed, according to seasonal growth.
Mow no more than one-third the height of the grass blades per mowing, using a reel, rotary, or mulching mower.
Mow turf to University of Florida-recommended height for your species and cultivar.
Maintain sharp mower blades at all times.
Leave grass clippings on the lawn and use yard waste as mulch or compost.
By law, automatic irrigation systems must have a functioning rain sensor or other device to bypass irrigation if adequate moisture is present. Licensed contractors are required by law to install, repair, or replace these control devices if they are not installed and working properly before doing any other work on an irrigation system.
Inspect and test rain shut-off devices and other components and zones in the irrigation system regularly.
Make regular minor adjustments and repairs to irrigation systems such as head cleaning and replacement, filter cleaning, small leak repair, and minor timer adjustments.
Like most places in Florida, in Tallahassee during the summer it rains a lot. So make sure that your irrigation system is set to a different frequency when these weather patterns persist.
Don’t sweep or blow yard waste into storm drains.
Replenish all mulched areas regularly to maintain a 2- to 3-inch layer
Use pine bark, pine needles, melaleuca, eucalyptus, or other Florida-Friendly materials.
For more information on selecting a landscape maintenance service, please visit https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu.
We all know water is a limited resource and should be used wisely, but we often overwater our landscapes unintentionally. Overwatering does more than deplete the water supply; it also makes plants more prone to disease and pests. By choosing and operating a watering system correctly, you can reduce water bills, decrease plant problems, and lower maintenance requirements.
For example, the more you water your lawn, the faster it grows and the more it needs to be mowed. It’s also more likely to develop fungal problems that require treatment with pesticides.
Overwatering can also cause water pollution via a process called leaching. Leaching happens when more fertilizer is applied to a landscape than the plants can absorb, or when heavy rains and overwatering cause nutrients to travel quickly through Florida’s sandy soils, past plant roots, and into the aquifer. Eventually these nutrients can reach near by water bodies, disrupting natural systems.
Florida’s five water management districts (WMDs) are state agencies that manage and protect our water resources on a regional basis. The water restrictions issued by your WMD or local government—in many areas, they’re in effect year-round—should be followed exactly, as they exist to ensure that there’s enough water for everyone.
Restrictions usually limit watering with a sprinkler or irrigation system to certain times on certain days of the week. These times and days may be different depending on your house number, neighborhood, or side of the street.
Water restrictions in your area may also be called “irrigation schedules.” Water restrictions apply to everyone and every water source in a WMD. (Water use requirements may be different with reclaimed/ recycled water.)
Even if it is your assigned day to irrigate, that doesn’t mean you should irrigate. Scheduled watering can waste money and water. Don’t let the calendar tell you when to water— look to your plants for telltale signs of water stress and turn on your irrigation system manually instead of allowing the automatic controller to run on a set schedule. For information about setting your irrigation controller, visit https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu.
Newly planted trees need regular irrigation to rapidly grow the roots necessary for proper establishment. For trees planted in spring or summer, water two to three times per week. After the first few months, provide weekly irrigation until plants are fully established. Irrigations should be 2 to 3 gallons of water per inch trunk diameter.
For example, a 2-inch tree should be watered with 4 to 6 gallons each irrigation. Again, hand watering may be the only way you can follow this schedule and still comply with water restrictions.
The soil in Tallahassee is not like the soul in the southern parts of the state. So make sure that you are establishing trees that can grown and prosper in our region of North Florida.
Drought tolerant lawns
All turfgrasses need water to remain green, whether it comes from rainfall or supplemental irrigation. Drought tolerant grasses will go into dormancy during dry periods, growing more slowly or turning brown until conditions are favorable for growth. When enough soil moisture returns, these grasses can usually recover from drought induced dormancy, rather than dying.
Bahiagrass and centipedegrass are more drought tolerant than zoysiagrass and St. Augustinegrass, but for all grass types, proper watering and mowing practices will encourage the grass to develop deep roots that aid recovery from drought stress. In other words, you can make your lawn more drought tolerant no matter what kind of grass you have.
When rainfall is inadequate, grasses will require supplemental irrigation to remain green. But you can train your lawn to use less water by following these easy steps:
Mow your lawn at the highest recommended setting for your grass type, and don’t remove more than one-third of the grass blade at each mowing.
Mowing high results in deeper roots, which is important in developing drought tolerance and minimizing irrigation requirements.
Keep your mower blades sharp. Leaves cut by a dull blade will need more water.
Adjust irrigation frequencies by season, weather conditions, and your region of the state.
Don’t irrigate until you see signs of wilt, making sure to comply with water restrictions.
Water infrequently and deeply. This will train the grass roots to grow deep.
Make sure you don’t over-water— just fill the root zone with 1/2 – 3/4 inch per application.
Spot-treat pest problems only as needed.
Chemicals can cause damage and stress to the grass, which can increase its need for water.
All plants need nutrients for growth. They must obtain these nutrients from the soil or other medium in which they’re growing. Gardeners can also provide supplemental nutrients to plants by applying fertilizers in the form of composted organic material, packaged fertilizer, or a specific mineral such as iron.
Plants have varying nutrient needs, depending on the species, the age of the plant, and its location. It’s not always necessary to fertilize your plants or lawn, but if you choose to fertilize, it’s important that you do so properly.
Too much fertilizer can weaken a plant, promote disease, and invite pests, in addition to wasting money and harming the environment. It also means more pruning and mowing. So consider your plants’ needs carefully before applying any fertilizer, and always follow label directions when using fertilizer. This section will help you correctly choose and apply the right type of fertilizer.
Most fertilizers available for use in the home landscape or garden are blends of several elements mixed together to achieve a specific formulation of plant nutrients.
Macronutrients are nutrients required by plants in relatively large amounts for optimum plant growth. The three main nutrients contained in fertilizers are:
Each are represented by three numbers that appear on the bag. A complete fertilizer will contain all three of the major plant nutrients. Other macronutrients include:
Micronutrients are nutrients most plants need in small quantities and are sometimes referred to as trace elements or minor elements. These nutrients are:
These are often available in sufficient quantities in the soil, but are also present in many fertilizers. Micronutrients are also sold as individual nutrients.
Before you use fertilizer, you should always determine if it’s really needed. Keep in mind that certain plants are more prone to specific kinds of nutrient deficiencies (for example, ixora and palms tend to run low on potassium and manganese).
Your plants will indicate when they lack certain nutrients— you just have to know what to look for. Plant nutrient deficiency symptoms often display a yellowing that appears to follow a distinct distributional pattern on a leaf or among leaves on a shoot, whereas pathogenic (e.g., fungal or bacterial) problems tend to appear more randomly on the plant.
Turf nutrient deficiencies also display distinct characteristics, for instance iron deficiency appears first in the tips of the leaf blade and nitrogen displays a yellowing of the entire leaf blade. Remember that many nutrient deficiencies look similar. Any time you’re not certain of what ails a plant, take a sample into your county Extension office for help.
A soil test can help you understand what nutrients are present in your soil. This is important for deciding what nutrients, if any, you should add. Your county Extension office can help you with this.
Selecting a fertilizer
A wide range of fertilizers is available for gardeners. You can select from different combinations of nutrients that come in a variety of forms. The key to selecting a fertilizer is understanding what nutrients your plants need.
Inorganic fertilizers are materials that are mined or synthesized from non-living materials. Many inorganic fertilizers contain nutrients that are immediately available to plants.
Others are formulated to allow nutrients to be released over a period of time. If you use an inorganic fertilizer in your landscape, choose one with some or all of the nutrients in slow- or controlled-release form so that the plants will be able to take up the fertilizer as it is gradually released.
Organic fertilizers are materials that are derived from plants and animals; one of the most common forms is manure. Animal manure can come from chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, horses, or rabbits and should always be composted before use in vegetable gardens to reduce risk to food safety. (Keep in mind that these products often contain high levels of phosphorus, which has been shown to cause water pollution, and should be applied carefully.)
Never use cat or dog manure or human waste—there is a greater risk of these sources transmitting disease. Homemade compost (typically made of kitchen scraps and/or yard waste) is another excellent source of organic matter for garden soils. It usually contains small amounts of nitrogen and potassium but very little phosphorus. Both composted manure and compost also contain micronutrients.
Most of the nutrients in composted manure and compost are released more slowly than those in most inorganic fertilizers. The quick availability of nutrients, especially nitrogen, in inorganic fertilizers is very important in vegetable growing. If you’re growing vegetables, you may want to supplement any organic fertilizer you apply with some inorganic fertilizer for quick feeding.
Reducing storm-water runoff
Rain can wash exposed soil, plant materials (grass, leaves), fertilizers, pesticides, and pet waste from previous areas (lawns, landscape beds) and road dust, oil, and other materials from impervious areas (roads)—all of which then become a part of storm-water runoff. Ultimately, every yard and neighborhood is connected to water bodies.
That connection may be immediate and obvious, like in a waterfront community, or gradual and unnoticed, through the flow to storm drains, ditches, streams, rivers, and estuaries. Either way, the decisions you make in your lawn and garden directly influence the health of Florida’s waters.
How water works
No matter where you live in Florida, chances are there’s a body of water nearby—a pond, lake, creek, river, or canal. These surface waters are connected to Florida’s groundwater through sinkholes, springs, drainage basins, and other pathways.
Groundwater comes from the aquifer, an underground cave system made of porous limestone called karst. Groundwater is the source of most of the water we use in our daily lives, both inside our homes and outside in our yards.
Being that Florida’s groundwater is so close to the surface, the health of groundwater is directly connected to the health of our visible water bodies. The ways we maintain our landscapes can have a big impact on both groundwater and surface waters.
Pollutants can enter surface water bodies through stormwater runoff and upwelling ground water. Runoff is rain that drains off roads, roofs, gutters, and yards and then flows into storm drains, retention ponds, and surface water bodies.
As it flows to the nearest body of water, stormwater runoff can pick up pollutants from landscapes such as excess fertilizer, pesticides, and plant debris. Rainwater that soaks into the ground can also pick up and carry these pollutants. Once in the ground these pollutants will flow with the groundwater, eventually flowing into a surface water body like a lake or stream.
The nitrogen and phosphorus present in fertilizers and decomposing plant materials fuel the excessive growth of algae, which smothers natural vegetation, depletes oxygen, and kills fish. Nitrogen and phosphorus can also cause invasive weeds to flourish, changing Florida’s natural plant communities.
Pollutants carried in urban stormwater runoff will eventually enter into our recreational water bodies and drinking water supplies, potentially damaging aquatic life and harming human health.
A healthy, properly maintained lawn and landscape can absorb and/or filter storm-water runoff and protect Florida’s waters. Following Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ guidelines will reduce pollution coming from the landscape.
Keep it in the ground
One of the basic concepts of a Florida-Friendly yard is that the rain that falls in your yard should soak into your yard. After all, rainfall is an excellent water source for your landscape, and reducing storm-water runoff will reduce impacts on waterways. However, retaining all rainfall long enough for it to percolate through soil is challenging in neighborhoods built on compacted fill soils and during big storm events.
Consider these ways to reduce the amount of rainfall that runs off your yard. Keep in mind that you may need to get permission from your homeowners’ association before adding any of these features. If you would like a full copy of The Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Handbook, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your request for a free PDF copy!