This weather is why we live in Floida! Follow these easy steps to keep your lawn and landscape healthy all winter and to encourage a quick spring recovery.
Here are 13 important suggestions to reduce winter stress.
1. Set your mower to a high setting so the lawn has nice long blades. This will help protect the soil from freezing temperatures. This will encourage a deeper root system. Roots and shoots are always kept in equilibrium and grass mowed too short will have an insufficient root system for finding precious moisture. St. Augustine varieties should be allowed to reach 3.5-4 inches tall during the draught.
2. Only mow with sharp blades. To reduce leaf stress the blades must be cut, not ripped. If the blades are not sharp enough you will notice a white appearance across the top of the lawn. Close inspection will reveal irregular ragged edges instead of nice clean cut. Ragged edges will allow the leaf blades to dry out faster.
3. Irrigate deeply but infrequently. You need to apply at lease 3/4 of an inch of water per square foot. The best way to tell if you are getting enough water is to purchase about 10 collection cups from your irrigation service or supply company. Space these around to cover the entire area of each irrigation zone, one zone at a time, run the system normally, and check how much water was applied on average across that zone. You can use this information to increase or decrease the time that zone is on. You must apply this amount of water during each irrigation cycle, not accumulated over the days you are allowed to water. When day time temperatures are in the 70's weekly watering is normally sufficient. In colder temperatures you may be able to go 10 to 14 days before running your sprinklers again. Don't over water- it can cause root rot even in the winter.
4. Make irrigation system repairs. Using the information you learned above adjust heads or add new heads to provide uniform coverage over each irrigation zone. Dry spots will show up quickly now. Each sprinkler should overlap all the way to the adjoining sprinkler. A little overlap, or even 50% overlap will not provide enough water this time of year. Good coverage will mean you can run the system for shorter periods of time since you are not over watering some areas to cover the dry spots.
5. Do not run your sprinklers at night. Leaves that are wet for more than 4 hours provide an excellent environment for fungal spore germination which allows for an increase in disease establishment and spread. If at all possible irrigate between the hours of and in the winter.
6. Keep your lawn and landscape well fertilized without using too much Nitrogen. Rock powders or fertilizers containing the mineral elements Calcium, Potassium, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Boron, and Molybdenum will help roots grow deeper and find elusive water. Do not use more than 8% nitrogen in the winter. This is a great time to spray your lawn with Ocean Solutions PURE to maximize the mineral content of all your shrubs and turf. Proper mineral levels are critical for enhancing resistance to temperature extremes and it will reduce insect and disease damage as well. If your soil is low in Potassium (most Florida soils are horrible low in this essential nutrient!) you can apply Ocean Solutions 0-0-3 to winterize your landscape.
7. Keep lawn traffic to a minimum. Playing soccer on a dormant lawn will cause die back.
8. Make sure all landscape beds are mulched. Mulch will regulate the soil temperature and help prevent root damage in a freeze. It encourages beneficial soil microbes which will quickly die in bare soil. Mulch in beds and around trees should be 3" deep for the best water and weed control. Use a coarse mulch that will allow water to quickly penetrate instead of running off. Fine mulches or those with a high percentage of thin wood strips or sawdust will form an impenetrable barrier to water and even exclude air allowing CO2 to build up in the soil. Pine bark mulch is the best mulch for air and water penetration. Shredded hard wood is the most damaging. Coarse Cypress mulch of any color works pretty well but tends to solidify into a nonporous mat over time.
9. Consider cold hardy plants and ground covers. If you need to replace plants lost this summer or you just want to spruce up, consider plants you will not have to cover for cold protection all winter. Give yourself a break now and you will enjoy your landsape more all year long.
10. Don't prune anything hard now and don't prune off winter damage until spring. As winter approaches you need to hold off on heavy pruning. This will encourage a flush of tender new growth that will be killed and could weaken the entire plant making it more susceptible to winter and insect or disease damage. I know winter damage looks bad but that freeze damaged foliage and stems will help protect the living wood in the next freeze. Clean p what is detached from the plant, make sure the roots are mulched, but wait until March to do your winter clean up! 11. Consider planting shade trees in areas where you want natural protection for tropicals or fruit trees. Too much shade will prevent flower and fruit production but moderate to light shade will allow flowering and provide a good deal of fruit set. Even if your citrus trees planted under Oak shade lose a little quantity of fruit it sure beats replacing a mature tree after a hard freeze. Prune low tree branches off to provide high shade.
12. Plant cold hardy fruit and nut trees. Check out our page on cold hardy fruit trees for year around production! There are now cold hardy Citrus and Avocado varieties that will survive all but the most unusually low temperatures in Central Florida. There are also fruit trees that, in the past, did not get enough cold to produce fruit in Florida. Now, THE University of Florida has developed low chill varieties of Apple, Peach, Pear, Nectarines and Plums so you can enjoy your favorite fruits right from your own yard. Check them out and order today- we deliver!
13. This is a great time to have your soil tested so you have plenty of time to prepare planting areas for spring AND to correct problems that could hurt your landscape this winter. Call us and we will be glad to collect soil samples and send them to our laboratory for testing. We provide you with a complete review of the test results and an easy to understand Strategy For Success to make your landscape beautiful and healthy.