22 June 2020

The Care and Feeding of Your Lawn

Turfgrass expert explains how to keep your lawn green and happy

The Care and Feeding of Your Lawn

“I fought the lawn, and the lawn won…” If that’s your theme song, it doesn’t have to be. By sticking to a few simple principles, you can create, maintain, and manage a beautiful green lawn on your property.

Turfgrass Selection. Make sure to select turfgrass species or cultivars suitable for your growing conditions and expected use. Here are the most common species in Hawai’i, and their best selling points:

  • Bermudagrass does very well in the heat
  • Zoysiagrass is relatively low maintenance
  • St. Augustine grass has the best shade tolerance
  • Seashore paspalum can handle very high water or soil salinity.

If you don’t mind some variation in color or texture, you can try using a turf blend or turf mix, combinations of two or more cultivars of the same species or even two or more species, to get the best of both worlds.

Establishment. The best time to make major preparations and modifications to the soil is before you establish your lawn. Now’s when you can incorporate amendments like fertilizer and other nutrients, based on soil test recommendations, to provide the best possible growing conditions.

There are four main ways to establish a home lawn in Hawai‘i:

  • Growing from seed is the least costly, and it offers a variety of seed options. However, it takes the longest time, and you may run into the most weed issues during establishment.
  • Sod is fully grown turfgrass you can buy from sod farms—it unrolls over the ground like a carpet. This method is the most expensive, and selection is limited to the varieties that are locally available. On the plus side, sod offers instant lawn coverage and almost no weed issues during establishment.

The other two methods are compromises:

  • Plugs and sprigs are small pieces of turfgrass sod installed in the soil that grow together for eventual coverage. Plugs require consistent spacing between them; sprigs don’t need to be installed in any particular pattern. These methods work because all warm-season turfgrasses used in Hawai‘i spread horizontally by rhizomes (below-ground runners) and/or stolons (above-ground runners). Both cost less than sod and take less time than establishing a lawn from seed.

Weed control is essential during lawn establishment, especially when seeds, plugs, or sprigs are used.

Caring for Your Lawn. You can maintain high-quality turfgrass and minimize pest problems with appropriate mowing, irrigation, fertilization, and other cultural practices.

  • Mowing: If possible, follow recommendations for mowing height and frequency for your turfgrass. Usually the higher the mowing height, the more robust the root system and the better the overall health of the grass.
  • Irrigation: Too much or too little water can leave turfgrass vulnerable to pest problems. Deep and infrequent irrigation is usually better, while shallow and frequent watering promotes shallow rooting. If possible, water in the early morning rather than the late afternoon or early evening.
  • Fertilize your turfgrass as necessary, but avoid excessive nitrogen, which could stimulate some fungal diseases or result in weak grass blades that are susceptible to insect attack. When feasible, consider organic fertilizers, as they are typically slow release and could support soil microorganisms and improve soil food web health.
  • Thatch should be managed when feasible, and clippings can usually be left onsite.

Pest management. Insects, weeds, fungal diseases, and plant-parasitic nematodes are some of the most common turfgrass pests. Some common insect pests in Hawai‘i include the webworm, armyworm, cutworm, and fiery skipper caterpillars; frit fly; rover ant; mealybug; and bill bug. Common turf weeds are broadleaf weeds, grassy weeds, and sedges. Some common fungal diseases include dollar spot, rust, take-all patch, and fairy ring.

Try an integrated pest management approach, which includes deciding on an acceptable pest threshold, monitoring and early detection, and effective treatments to control target pests. If possible, try to manage lawn pests through a system approach: try cultural, mechanical, and biological control approaches before resorting to chemical pesticides. When using biological control products or chemical pesticides, always read and follow labels strictly. If you’re not sure about your lawn problems, ask a turfgrass expert or your local UH Extension service before taking any major actions.

Now, sit back and enjoy your lawn with a picnic or a game of bocce ball!

Zhiqiang Cheng, Department of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources

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