North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, Hoke County office
December begins a bleak time for warm-season turf grasses. Most lawns should be dormant or at least close to this stage by Christmas.
Because lawns are not actively growing, fertilizer applications are not needed during the winter. In fact, nitrogen fertilization should have ceased on home lawns by late summer (mid-to-late August for St. Augustine grass and Centipede grass). Nitrogen fertilizer on dormant to semi-dormant St.Augustine, Centipede and Zoysia lawns can lead to increased brown patch and winterkill.
Also, nitrogen applications during this time have a greater potential for leaching or movement into non-target areas. Winter is an excellent time to collect soil samples and submit them for analysis. Samples should be a composite of soil taken from about 3 to 4 inches deep at various places around the lawn.
To get your sample tested, bring about 1 pint of soil to the Hoke County Cooperative Extension Center, 116 West Prospect Avenue in Raeford.
Make sure to specify the type of grass you are growing on the soil test form. Soil samples submitted to the Extension Center are free of charge, and they provide a wealth of information concerning the overall fertility of your soil. If results of the soil test indicate the soil pH is too acidic, lime will be prescribed in the soil test recommendations.
Winter is the best time to apply lime so it can be fully activated by the following spring. The correct soil pH is extremely important and has everything to do with nutrient availability to your lawn’s roots and to fertilizer performance. Postpone any permanent warm-season turf grass establishment from seed until next spring. Sod, such as St. Augustine and Centipede grasses, can be laid during winter, if necessary, but remember to keep it moist to prevent it from drying out and dying. Establishment is easiest when delayed until the middle of spring, well after spring green-up.
Brown patch disease can come and go throughout the winter if the weather is mild. Treatment with fungicides will reduce the spread of brown patch. Damage from brown patch will slow spring green-up, and affected areas will remain unsightly until warmer spring weather conditions allow for turf grass recovery.
Lawns may show signs of green-up in southern Louisiana in late February. Do not push turf grass growth with fertilizer at that time. Fertilizer applied too early will feed winter weeds and will result in lush turf grass growth that is more susceptible to injury from late frosts or brown patch.
Lawns may be fertilized beginning in May and continuing through August. Broadleaf weeds and annual bluegrass infesting St. Augustine, Centipede, Zoysia and dormant Bermuda grasses can be managed with applications of atrazine herbicide.
February and March are good months to spray winter weeds while they are still actively growing. Also, herbicides can be used for winter broadleaf control in all southern turf grasses at this time of the year. Since weed-and-feed products usually contain high levels of nitrogen fertilizer, however, application should be delayed until the appropriate times for applying nitrogen-containing fertilizers for your area.
The weed-and-feed product can be substituted as your first application of fertilizer during the early spring, if you’d like.