Although spring has been unusually cold, warm season turfgrasses such as bermuda, centipede, St. Augustine and zoysia are slowly coming out of winter dormancy and turning green. They begin to generate new leaves and stems as the soil temperatures rise. The period when the grass comes out of dormancy influences the health and quality of the lawn for the rest of the growing season. The process of the turf going from dormancy to turning green and actively growing takes several weeks. The amount of time varies for each type of grass and their varieties.
Sometimes lawn grasses are adversely affected by extremely cold temperatures. They may have been weakened or killed in some areas. Diseases, poor cultural methods or adverse weather in the previous growing season increases the likelihood of winter kill. Examine the lawn and the cultural practices that you are using to figure out what may be causing the problem. Rake out the dead areas and leave any living grass. The grass should grow into these areas; however, in some cases you may have to reseed or sod. Excessive shade or poor drainage also will delay the greening up of the lawn.
Homeowners can take several steps during the green up period to improve the ability of the lawn to thrive during the growing season. As it begins to start turning green, reduce the mowing height. Performing this task will allow the soil to warm up faster, improve the penetration of air, water and light, which will increase the rate at which the lawn greens up. Be careful when lowering the mowing height of zoysiagrass because it is not as tolerant of cutting at a reduced height as other turfgrasses. Do not remove over one-third of the leaf blade, even when dormant, since this may be harmful to the zoysiagrass. Make sure the mower blade has been sharpened before mowing.
Lawns growing on compacted soil will take longer to turn green because the conditions restrict root growth and limit the infiltration of air and water. Aerating the soil with a hollow tine aerator will help relieve soil compaction. Wait until after the lawn has totally turned green and is actively growing to aerate.
Consider having your soil tested. Use a small shovel or soil probe and take a four-inch-deep sample from 10 to 12 areas across your lawn. Mix the samples together in a bucket. Then put two cups of the soil in a sealable bag and bring it to the Extension office. The sample will be sent to the soil testing lab at the University of Georgia to be tested for pH and several key nutrients. You will receive the results in 7 to 14 days.
To prevent damage that may occur from any late spring freezes, do not apply any fertilizer until the lawn has fully come out of dormancy. Then apply a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10, 16-4-8 or another turfgrass fertilizer according to the soil test's recommendations. Thoroughly water the lawn after the application.
Remember, actions taken during the period when the grass comes out of winter dormancy will influence how well the lawn performs during the spring and summer months. With a little planning along with proper cultural practices, your warm season lawn can be healthy, attractive, and the envy of your neighborhood.
Timothy Daly is an Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent with Gwinnett County Cooperative Extension. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.