Looking out your back door this week, you might be disappointed, even horrified, by the color of your lawn.
Step One: Don't panic!
It's perfectly normal for your North Florida lawn to go dormant during the coldest part of the winter months, and even to turn tan or brown. This is your lawn's way of dealing with the extreme temperatures. You'll also notice it's not growing like it did in the warmer weather, and it's not soaking up as much water either.
One of the worst things to do at this point is panic, thinking the beautiful lawn you've worked so hard to maintain is suddenly dying on you. Because when you’re concerned about your dormant lawn, your first instinct may be to pile on fertilizer and increase watering in hopes of reviving it. You might also be tempted to break out the mower and lop off that ugly “dead” grass by trimming the lawn really low.
Both options can be harmful. Mowing your lawn too short can do damage, especially for lawn varieties such as St. Augustine that grow and spread via stolons that grow above the ground.
Fertilizing is one of the worst things you can do for your lawn during the winter months as the high nitrogen can cause more harm than good. There are very rare circumstances in which a small amount of fertilizer may needed during dormancy, but we recommend discussing the situation with a lawn care company familiar with how to care for grass in Florida.
Step Two: Provide proper winter lawn care
Although your lawn care responsibilities are much lighter in the winter while your grass is dormant, there are still things you can do to protect your lawn now and help prepare it for a productive start to the growing season as temperatures rise.
Throughout the winter, you should continue to mow only if it's needed. During a normal Pensacola winter, you may see weeks go by when it's not necessary at all. Or, we could have a particularly warm winter and it could stay necessary throughout. Generally, you should leave the grass a bit longer than you normally do so that the roots have some added protection from the cold. For example, as your St. Augustine lawn will be cut at 2.5” - 3” during the growing season, you can leave it around 4” while dormant.
When it comes to watering, your grass will need far less now than it does during the hot summer months. If your lawn is newly planted or if you recently put down sod, it might require more water than usual to ensure it survives the winter and is well-established for spring. It's important not to over water, however, because that can leave your vulnerable dormant lawn more susceptible to disease.
Be ready to apply appropriate pre-emergent herbicides on schedule to prevent various weed varieties that will try to spring up as your lawn wakes up.
Most importantly, stay aware of any strange or unexpected changes to the lawn during the winter months. While dormancy is completely normal, other unexpected signs of stress or damage can indicate a problem you'll want to investigate further.
If you need any help diagnosing a lawn issue, contact our Pensacola lawn care experts at Lawn Master.