Extension Agent: Maintaining your lawn in fall, winter

By Peter J. McGuill
Dec. 11, 2012 at 6:11 a.m.

Fall is generally a welcome time for home gardeners and lawn enthusiasts. The temperature falls to a more comfortable level, encouraging you to get off the couch and into the yard. Fall is often gentler on the water bill as well. Rainfall is more frequent, and the moisture tends to stay around a bit longer than in the hot summer months. There are also a few things that you can do in the fall that will get you through the winter with less maintenance and limit the work you have to do next spring.

Generally, there are two problems that we face in the fall and winter that affect the look of the green areas of our landscaping. The first of those are lawns diseases. The most common lawn disease that we battle in our area is brown patch. The fall season usually brings rainy, humid and cool conditions which are favorable to many lawn diseases - especially brown patch. This disease decreases overall turf quality and can be quite stressful to your grass. Most turf species are susceptible, especially St. Augustinegrass, zoysiagrass and centipedegrass.

According to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension turfgrass research publications, brown patch develops rapidly when daytime air temperatures are between 75 and 85 degrees and affects leaves, stems and crowns. Turfgrasses affected by brown patch normally exhibit circular to irregular shaped patches of light brown, blighted and thinned turf. Yellowing of the leaves is not uncommon, especially at the edges of the patch.

Inside the infected area, the turfgrass may remain green, which leaves a "frog-eye" appearance. Leaf sheaths in the infected site also become rotted and water-soaked to the point that a gentle tug of the leaf blade easily separates it from the runner. To prevent this disease from attacking your lawn, pay close attention to your watering habits, thatch accumulation and your nutrient management program. Several fungicides can also be used for the prevention and control of brown patch.

The other issue that we face is the encroachment of winter weeds into the dormant turfgrass. Winter annual weeds stand out like a sore thumb, especially when your warm season lawn grass is dormant. They can invade many areas within your landscape, especially those sites where the turf density has been reduced and bare soil exists. Therefore, making sure you go into the winter months with a healthy, dense turfgrass is your best defense against these winter pests. Another approach is to use a pre-emergent herbicide to control them.

Winter annual weeds germinate in the late summer/early fall season. They will live during the winter and mature in the spring, then die. These are plants that come back each year from seed. Examples of winter annual weeds include: annual ryegrass, annual bluegrass, rescue grass, burclover, chickweed, henbit and mustard weeds. Control of these weeds can be accomplished, but applications of the correct pre-emergent herbicide have to be made at the proper time.

In South Texas, pre-emergent herbicide applications should be made in late September through early October. Remember, you are controlling germinating seeds - so this pre-emergent herbicide needs to be applied prior to germination. If you are working with a lawn care company, visit with them about their approach to these pests - sometimes they use products that will control the weeds prior to or just after germination. It is always good to have communication between you and the company you are working with. Finally, please make sure you read the labels on all pesticides and calibrate your spreader/sprayer.

For more information on this or other agriculturally related subjects, call the Victoria County office of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at 361-575-4581 or email pjmcguill@ag.tamu.edu.

Portions of this article contributed by: Dr. Young Ki Jo, Extension Plant Pathologist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Peter J. McGuill is the Victoria County extension agent - ag and natural resources. Contact him at 361-575-4581 or pjmcguill@ag.tamu.edu.



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