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​Question: My family and I have recently purchased a new home. All things considered, the home came with a beautiful garden and what appears to be a zoysiagrass lawn. I haven’t lived in a home that has a “manicured” lawn before, what can I do to ensure that my yard looks as good as my neighbors? Where should I start?  

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We get this kind of question VERY often at the office, and especially this time of year and particularly the part about your neighbor… In a world where the appearance of your lawn can put you in certain circles, keeping your grass up to par might be a priority. Though many folks prefer to hire a lawn care company to manage their lawn, the average homeowner is fully capable of keeping that nice green, almost weed-free lawn that some of us strive for.

There are a few things that must be taken into account before we begin. You have a good start by knowing that your lawn is indeed a variety of zoysiagrass. Knowing the difference between the types of turf grasses in the beginning saves you a lot of trouble AND heartbreak down the road. While there are many varieties of turfgrass available, there are four very common species in our area: Zoysiagrass, Bermudagrass, St. Augustinegrass, and Centipedegrass. These grasses are referred to as warm season grasses versus cool season grasses, which include fescue varieties and ryegrass. Oftentimes, especially if you have moved into a home with an established lawn, differentiating between the grasses can be difficult.  If you're not sure contact your local Extension office for help in the identification process. Each grass type has unique preferences and can be adversely affected by certain fertilizers and herbicides. READ THE LABEL BEFORE APPLYING ANY PRODUCT!

Fertilizing will help your lawn get off to a good spring start, but refrain from fertilizing on the first pretty day of spring. Wait until your lawn is completely green and you are well past the last expected frost date of the season. Any fertilizer applied before then will only be feeding the weeds because the grass will still be dormant and can not utilize nitrogen or any other nutrients being applied.  Before applying lime, nitrogen, or any other fertilizers, a soil test is recommended to assess the condition of your lawn and to provide recommendations for optimum rates. Soil testing can save you time AND money throughout the year by preventing application of excess product.

The next thing to discuss is to pre-emergent herbicides. Pre-emergent herbicides are formulated to do just what the name indicates, to kill weeds before they appear. The key to using pre-emergent herbicides is applying the product at the right time to achieve maximum efficiency. If applying in the spring we generally recommend that the product be applied anywhere from the mid to late February for best results. If in the fall, mid to late September would be best. Be sure to follow the rates and directions on the label to prevent any damage to the lawn. In the spring, look for products that that will control crabgrass and in the fall look for a product to control weeds such as annual bluegrass and hairy bitter-cress. (These often kill other weeds too; just check the label) Any weeds that get past the pre-emergent applications can be eliminated with spot treatments of post-emergent herbicides.

To scalp or not to scalp is a really common question that we receive in the spring. Remember that one type of grass is different from another grass, so the recommendations can differ greatly. For your zoysiagrass, scalping is not recommended. Zoysiagrass performs best when it is mowed at a height of ¾” to 2”. If your lawn is taller than that, you can reduce the height slowly once you begin mowing after green-up. I emphasize slowly so that the grass is not cut back below the growing points (buds), which can set the lawn back several weeks. On the other hand, bermudagrass can be cut back hard and kept at a length of ¾” to 1 ½”. Maintaining turf at its recommended height can prevent self-shading, increase airflow and help prevent disease. A healthy lawn competes fiercely with weeds. Also, it is not necessary to remove the clippings from your lawn, in fact it is recommended that you DO leave them. Clippings can replenish nitrogen back to the soil and leaving them in place acts as a fertilizer for your lawn. If you are able to mow frequently (every 7-10 days during active growth), excess clippings shouldn’t be a problem.

Between mowing, fertilizing and controlling weeds, keeping a lawn can be tough work. But, as with most things, hard work and persistence pay off in the end. Establishing and following a schedule of care for your turf is important to maintain a healthy lawn all season long. For more information on the care of your lawn, contact your local Alabama Cooperative Extension Office.

by Hunter McBrayer of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.


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