Turf: How To Maintain

Proper maintenance is crucial to the long-term health and appearance of a turf grass lawn. Remember, no turf is maintenance- free; no matter the variety, turf grasses require a great investment of time, effort and money to thrive. Proper mowing, fertilization and weed control are key to maintaining a lush, attractive and, most importantly, healthy lawn.

Mowing Frequency

Mowing frequency is the single most important aspect of turf maintenance. During the active growing season, a typical lawn will require mowing about every five days to thrive. Mowing every seven to ten days should be frequent enough to maintain a reasonable level of quality. Of course, the above recommendations cannot be followed absolutely; the growth rate of your turf grass and the mowing height must be considered. A good rule of thumb would be to mow often enough so that no more than 30% of the leaf is removed at each mowing. (Removing more than 30% will impede the grass’s ability to photosynthesize and stunt its growth for several days.) Frequent mowing also maintains root development and the proper storage of carbohydrates.

Mowing Height

Use this chart to determine which mowing height is suitable for your specific turf grass.

Grass Mowing Height
Common Bermuda 1 ½”
Hybrid Bermuda 1″
Zoysia 2 to 3″
Centipede 1 ½”
Fescue 2 to 3″

Again, these are good guidelines, but they cannot be followed absolutely, without exception. For instance, you should raise your mowing height 30 to 50% in shaded sites to compensate for weak, spindly growth. You may raise the mowing height for the last few cuttings of the season of your warm season grass to reduce the risk of winterkill. Lower the mowing height early in the season to remove grass residue, control thatch and increase the density of your turf.

Fertilization – Bermuda

Bermuda grass requires one of the most intensive fertilization programs. With proper fertilization, your Bermuda grass lawn will be dark green and lush throughout the growing season. Increasing the recommended fertilization rates will not improve the color of your turf; it will simply increase the growth rate and, as a result, the frequency that you have to mow your Bermuda lawn.

Under normal circumstances, Bermuda grass requires four to five pounds of Nitrogen per 1000 square feet per year distributed throughout the growing season. Begin fertilizing at a rate of five to eight pounds of 16-4-8 per 1000 square feet in mid-April (after danger of a late frost). Reapply at this rate every four to six weeks until early fall. In mid-September, apply five to eight pounds of 5- 10-15 per 1000 square feet of turf to stimulate root growth during the dormant season.

These recommendations are not absolute and may not be suitable for all lawns. Make certain that any product applied to your Bermuda lawn is labeled for use on Bermuda grass.

For specific fertilization recommendations, contact your local county extension agent for a soil analysis.

Fertilization – Centipede

Centipede grass has the lowest fertilization requirements of the warm season grasses and should be fertilized twice per year if needed. In fact, centipede, known in some circles as “the lazy man’s grass,” actually requires low fertilization. Over-fertilization can cause yellowing and an increased susceptibility to insect and disease infestation.

Centipede grass requires only one to two pounds of Nitrogen per 1000 square feet per year. Apply fertilizer to your centipede lawn in early spring, once the danger of a late frost has passed, at a rate of five to eight pounds of 15-0-15 per 1000 square feet. Reapply if needed in mid to late summer (July) at the same rate. Centipede grass is very susceptible to frost damage and should not be fertilized past this point.

These recommendations are not absolute and may not be suitable for all lawns. Make certain that any product applied to your Centipede lawn is labeled for use on Centipede grass.

For specific fertilization recommendations, contact your local county extension agent for a soil analysis.

Fertilization – Zoysia

Zoysia grass requires a moderate amount of fertilization. Increasing the recommended fertilization rates will not improve the color of your turf; it will simply increase the growth rate and, as a result, the frequency that you have to mow your Bermuda lawn.

Zoysia requires three to four pounds of nitrogen per year per 1000 square feet. In the spring, once danger of frost has passed and your zoysia lawn has greened up at least 50%, apply 12-4-8 at a rate of five to eight pounds per 1000 square feet. Evaluate your lawn in mid to late summer; if it is green and appears healthy, you may be able to skip a second application. Otherwise, reapply at the same rate at this point (mid-July). In the early fall, you may apply five to eight pounds of 12-0-12 per 100 square feet of turf to stimulate root growth during the dormant season.

These recommendations are not absolute and may not be suitable for all lawns. Make certain that any product applied to your Zoysia lawn is labeled for use on Zoysia grass.

For specific fertilization recommendations, contact your local county extension agent for a soil analysis.

Fertilization – Fescue

Fescue lawns require the highest amount of maintenance of any Southern turf grass and will respond quickly to fertilization. Remember, though, that increasing the recommended fertilization rates will not improve the color of your lawn and may be detrimental to its health. At best, over-fertilization will increase the growth rate and, as a result, the frequency that you have to mow your fescue lawn.

Fescue typically requires three to five pounds of Nitrogen per 1000 square feet per year. Apply five to eight pounds of 18-0-4 per 1000 square feet in late winter (late February). Fertilize again at this rate four to six weeks later (around the beginning of April). Finally, apply 12-4-14 or 12-0-12 at a rate of five to eight pounds per 1000 square feet in late September.

These recommendations are not absolute and may not be suitable for all lawns. Make certain that any product applied to your Fescue lawn is labeled for use on Fescue grass.
For specific fertilization recommendations, contact your local county extension agent for a soil analysis.

Weed Control

The best method of weed prevention is proper maintenance. Both perennial and annual weed seeds germinate quickly in bare soil; a thick, healthy turf will decrease the chances of weed seeds establishing themselves in your lawn. Unfortunately, your lawn is weaker and, therefore, more susceptible at certain times of the year and chemical intervention may become necessary. Immature weeds can be treated in the late winter (January or February) and in the fall (September or October) after they germinate but before they break ground with a pre-emergent herbicide. Do not apply pre- emergent herbicides in the fall if you are seeding with annual rye or fescue. Weeds that are already actively growing in your lawn may be treated with a post-emergent herbicide. These chemicals usually target specific types of weeds, so choose with that in mind. Multiple types of herbicides may be necessary to treat all of the weeds in your lawn. Do not apply post-emergent herbicides on freshly planted lawns as they may stunt new growth.

The most important advice that we can offer is this – read (and heed) the directions! Be certain that the product you choose is specifically approved for your type of turf grass. Increasing the recommended rate will not produce better results and can damage your lawn. Do not apply herbicides on windy days; the over-spray can damage or kill your ornamental landscape plants.

These recommendations are not absolute and may not be suitable for all lawns. Contact your local county extension agent for specific recommendations.

Clippings

If your turf is mowed with the proper frequency at a height greater than 1/2 inch, you do not have to remove the clippings. In fact, removing clippings from a mowed turf can remove 100 to 150 pounds of Nitrogen per acre per year from your soil! Leave them when possible to recycle some of those valuable nutrients. However, if your grass clippings are unsightly, excessive or smother your grass, they should be removed.

Watering

Once established, most turf grasses can survive on 1 to 2 inches of water per week. However, for a lush, healthy lawn, more water will be required.