TONY MELTON: Don’t fall for these gardening mistakes

October 8, 2018

First, do not take the advice of the commercials telling you to fertilize your lawn in the fall. Fall fertilization containing nitrogen may kill your lawn.

Some experts tell folks to fertilize with a fertilizer containing potassium in the fall, but I do not because many homeowners may get confused and fertilize with a fertilizer containing nitrogen, which will cause their lawn, especially centipede, to start to grow and to green up. This will make it very susceptible to winter kill. In fact, centipede rarely goes completely dormant in the winter and if you look real closely down deep in the turf there is usually some small green leaves all winter long.

Fall fertilization is a practice used in the Upstate of South Carolina and other parts of the country where cool season grasses are used in lawns. Also, fall fertilization is not a good practice for shrubs and trees. Again, it will cause them to start growing and the young tender tips of branches will be killed by cold winter temperatures.

Second, it may not feel like it, but it is fall and time for grass, shrubs, and trees to start going into dormancy. Because of this and with cooler temperatures (if they ever get here) water use and evaporation is less. A devastating grass disease called large patch (formerly known as brown patch) is encouraged by cool temperatures and by keeping the surface of the lawn wet. Therefore, irrigating frequently in the fall may cause you to have dead spots in your lawn next spring.

Water a lot or deeply if you water, but water less frequently. I believe that light frequent irrigations are the No. 1 cause of lawns to die in our area. In fact, light frequent irrigations should only be used when you are trying to get a recently planted lawn or plant established. After a lawn or plant is established, less frequent deep irrigations should always be used in yards. This will encourage deep root growth and more drought resistance.

Next, for the healthiest centipede lawn, do not over-seed your lawn. The over-seeded grass competes with your permanent lawn for water, nutrients, and sunlight. The theft starts in the fall as the seedlings tend to send your permanent lawn into early dormancy. The theft continues in the winter, especially if we have a drought. In the spring, the over-seeded grass restricts growth, shades out, and encourages diseases in your permanent lawn. In other words, when over-seeding your lawn you will have to replace your permanent lawn quicker.

However, at present over-seeding is our only widely available way to have a perpetual year-round green lawn. Believe it or not, many golf courses are now painting/staining their grass to keep it green. This gives them green grass without the problems and hassles of over-seeding. In the future, I see this new technique coming to a lawn near you.

Finally, do not miss the last day of the Fall Plant & Flower Festival at the Pee Dee State Farmers Market. It is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. today, and you still have plenty of time to buy that prefect plant for your lawn or garden. With free admission and parking, it is the perfect Sunday family-outing. The Florence County Master Gardeners have a booth in the center of the shed. They will be there to answer all your plant questions and allow you to sign-up for this winter’s Master Gardener Class.

To learn more about gardening and country living watch our Emmy Award winning TV program, “Making-It-Grow (MIG).” MIG can be seen at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays on SCETV or on the web at mig.org.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political belief, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer. Email Melton at amelton@clemson.edu.

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