Keeping your lawn healthy depends on following some basic tips for care. Follow our tips below for either warm season grasses such as Bermuda or Zoysia or cool season grasses such as Fescue, and you'll have a lawn that looks great. For additional lawn care tips, we recommend visiting Georgia gardening expert Walter Reeves' website.
Growing Season and Conditions
Bermuda and Zoysia grasses are the most common warm season grasses for lawns in the Metro Atlanta area. The prime growing season is in warm weather. These grasses are dormant and brown in the winter and begin growing and greening up in the spring when soil temperatures reach about 60 to 65 degrees. Bermuda grass is relatively tolerant of heat and drought conditions.
Bermuda grass loves sunlight and needs lots of it. Though there are some varieties that are somewhat shade tolerant, typically, Bermuda is happiest with at least 6 to 8 hours of sun each day. Zoysia grass also enjoys sun, but some Zoysia varieties can grow well with a bit less sun than Bermuda grass needs. Zoysia grass does best with direct sun for 3 to 4 hours each day or 8 hours of filtered sun (through tree foliage for instance).
The ideal height for Bermuda grass during the growing season is between 1 and 2 inches. Golf courses with Bermuda grass may keep their grass cut a bit shorter, and Bermuda grass does well when cut short, but unless you have a reel mower, keeping the grass between 1 and 2 inches is acceptable.
To prevent damage, you should never remove more than one-third of the height of the grass when mowing. Because the green leaf blade of Bermuda grass is at the top of the plant where it’s getting sunlight, and the bottom section of the plant is a tan or brown color, if you mow too much of the grass height at any one time, you will see “mower damage,” or brown areas where the Bermuda grass has been cut too short with the green leaf blades removed. Because you’re mowing the top and greenest part of the Bermuda grass blades, Bermuda lawns often look best a few days after they’re mowed rather than immediately after mowing.
For most homeowners, we recommend bagging all clippings from Bermuda and Zoysia grass when you mow to prevent the buildup of thatch and debris in the lawn. If you mow frequently, though, you don’t need to bag the clippings as they’ll be short enough not to create a layer of thatch. Mowing frequency to avoid having to bag clippings would be 2 to 3 times per week during the peak growing season.
At the end of the growing season as the grass begins to go dormant, you can leave the grass a little longer to provide a layer of insulation for the roots during the cooler weather. In the spring, once there is no chance of frost, you can “scalp” the lawn by cutting it shorter than usual. Scalping removes the dead layer and allows more sunlight and oxygen to reach the plant as it starts to revive for the growing season. Be careful not to scalp too soon, though, as exposure to frost or ice can hamper growth as the plant has to recover.
In addition to mowing, maintaining healthy Bermuda and Zoysia grass lawns includes making sure the lawn is getting enough nutrients and water and keeping unwanted weeds away.
The best way to prevent weed growth is applying a pre-emergent product at the right time of the year. Pre-emergent products keep most types of weeds from germinating. Winter pre-emergent products are best applied before the soil temperatures are at or below 55 degrees. In the spring, pre-emergent products are best applied before the soil temperatures reach that same 55-degree mark. Pre-emergent products are designed to break down over time and must be applied at the right time of the year to stop weeds from growing in a particular season. Pre-emergent products may also break down and be less effective over time if an area receives heavier than normal rainfall over a period of time or in lawn areas that get a lot of foot traffic.
Fertilizer provides needed nutrients that promote grass growth, and warm season grasses do best with nitrogen fertilizer products applied during the growing season. As the grass grows dormant, a different type of fertilizer is recommended to feed the root system only.
An aeration of warm season grasses is recommended if the soil is hard and compacted. Aeration for warm season grasses is recommended between May and the end of July. An aeration will break up compacted soils to allow better absorption of water and nutrients and to allow roots to expand.
New Zoysia varieties are now on the market that may have slightly different care recommendations, so always check on your specific type of grass.
Growing Season and Conditions
Fescue grass is the most common cool-season grass in the Metro-Atlanta area. Fescue grass germinates in cooler weather, and the primary growing season is between September and May, but can fluctuate some depending on when cooler weather patterns arrive.
Though Fescue grass is shade tolerant and can grow in areas that receive only partial sun, Fescue will die if it's not getting any sun at all. During the hot Georgia summers, shade can provide protection for Fescue grass. Ensuring adequate sunlight and air flow also reduce the development of fungus growth in Fescue lawns.
The ideal height for Fescue grass during peak growing season is between 2.5 and 3.5 inches. There is no need to routinely bag grass clippings when mowing Fescue grass; however, during periods of extremely wet weather, you may want to bag your Fescue clippings to allow better air flow and reduce the likelihood of brown patch fungus activity.
To prevent damage when mowing, never remove more than one-third of the grass blade at once. Dull lawn mower blades can also cause damage to grass, especially Fescue grass, ripping the edges and exposing more of the leaf blade to potential damage from fungi. To keep a healthy Fescue lawn, make sure the mower blades are sharp.
Though Fescue grass likes cold weather, the blades contain a lot of moisture and can freeze in the right conditions. Avoid walking on Fescue grass when it's covered in frost or if it's frozen to reduce the likelihood of breaking and damaging the blades. You will also often notice that the tips of Fescue grass blades may appear yellow after a frost or freezing weather. This is normal, and the grass will recover after mowing.
To maintain healthy Fescue lawns with lush, new growth, you'll need to re-seed annually in the fall. Aerating the lawn at the same time will help break up compacted soil and assist with water and oxygen absorption for the soil, leading to better Fescue seed germination.
Keeping Fescue lawns free of weeds requires timely application of pre-emergent products. Pre-emergent product applications on Fescue grass are most effective when applied once soil temperatures are at or below 55 degrees in the fall or winter and before soil temperatures go above that same 55-degree mark in the spring. Timing of the pre-emergent application in the fall or winter must be coordinated with any re-seeding efforts. New Fescue grass must be established before pre-emergent application; otherwise, the pre-emergent product could prevent the Fescue seed from germinating as well as keeping the weeds at bay.
Pre-emergent products will break down over time and may break down quicker during periods of heavy rainfall. Application of pre-emergent products must be done at the right time of the year to prevent weeds that grow in a particular season.
Fertilization of Fescue grass is most effective during the growing season, so fertilizer is applied between the fall and spring. Applying fertilizer to Fescue grass during warmer weather can actually encourage fungus growth and lead to lawn damage.
Some lawns in the Metro Atlanta area may have Centipede or St. Augustine grasses, and these are also warm season grasses. They are actually coastal grasses that grow best in warmer climates. Recommended mowing height for these grasses is 2.5 to 3 inches during the peak growing season. These grasses can be especially sensitive to certain herbicides and are more susceptible to insect damage than Bermuda or Zoysia. Centipede and St. Augustine grasses spread through runners that are above ground, so they can suffer winter damage if these runners are exposed to cold temperatures. These two grass types also prefer lower levels of nitrogen fertilizer. An aeration is recommended during the early summer to loosen compacted soil.
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