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I should know better. After writing and telling people not to get carried away with scalping their lawns, planting summer annual flowers, and other springtime activities until after the freeze date, I myself allowed myself to get caught up in spring. Last week I bought 11 new tomato plants to plant in some of my smartpots, which I had left over from my blueberry patch. So I filled them with my special potting mix, and planted a nice tomato plant in each pot, so I could get a jump on growing and picking those red, ripe tomatoes later this summer.

Dead Tomato

My green tomato plant gone bad.

Well, it was wishful thinking that we would not have another freeze at night. I forgot to listen to the weather on the local station, which may not have even been helpful anyway since they are often off several degrees. So as I was down by the garden doing my farm chores Saturday afternoon, I saw my nice green tomato plants turned wilted and purple. “Oh crap”, I hollered at the plants, like it was their fault that I hadn’t covered them up with a tarp or something the previous night. My $40 in young tomato plants wasted, to the pitfalls of our unpredictable and inconsistent Oklahoma weather.

April 15th, I’ve told many about, is the day after which one can safely plant stuff that would be hurt by a freeze. But since I just “hoped” that it would not freeze again, I’ll be planting more next week it looks like. My bad. I should have practiced what I preach. But I’m as ready as anyone to really get into spring weather, and leave the winter of 2013/14 behind us.

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Old man winter decided to give us one final blast of cold air this morning, just to remind us that he will be back I guess. For people trying to grow grass or get an early start on their summer gardens, it’s just another reminder of who is in charge, and it’s really not us! I already lost my nine tomato plants I planted in my drive to bring on spring. But I was not about to lose my tender peas in the garden, so I remembered to cover them up last night.

The bermudagrass is a different story. I’ve been writing about the likelihood of some winterkill of bermudagrass in the Tulsa area for the past several months, due to the long periods of cold weather this year. I’ve written about the dangers of scalping bermudagrass too soon in the spring, before the chance of a late spring freeze passes, which is about April 15th. I thought we may have dodged a bullet, because I’ve seen some decent green-up on Tulsa lawns in April so far. However, the hard freeze from this morning may have set back those bermudagrass lawns that had begun to green-up. We shall see over the next week or so.

Now that the danger of a freeze is past us, it’s a good thing to scalp bermudagrass, or at least mow it down short and remove the dead grass blades. The turf will look nicer, expose the spring heat to the soil surface, and cause your bermudagrass lawn to green-up faster. New growth in spring initiates from the crown of the plant, which is right on or below the soil surface, and from the nodes on the underground rhizome of bermudagrass. Every winter some of those are damaged or lost, no matter what the conditions. When you throw in extended periods of cold winter weather, and then a late hard freeze, more will be lost.

Bermudagrass is a tough grass though, and it will recover. Some keys to recovery are:

  • Patience
  • Hot weather (we are not in charge here.)
  • Good rain or irrigation
  • Proper fertilization (we have that one.)
  • Proper mowing

Hopefully by early May our bermudagrass lawns in Tulsa and NE Oklahoma will all be looking green and healthy, and well on their way to providing the important environmental, health, aesthetic, and economic benefits they provide us all.

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Nitrogen (N) is what we call a primary nutrient in the turf world. This means that along with the other two primary nutrients, phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), it is the soil nutrient most needed for good turf health and growth. Every bag of fertilizer will have three numbers on it, such as 10-20-10, which tells the percentage of each nutrient in the bag. For example, a 50 lb. bag of 10-20-10 granular fertilizer will be 10% N (5 lbs), 20% P (10 lbs), and 10% K (5 lbs). For most purposes, while this is a common fertilizer, it’s not good for turf, as it has way too much phosphorus and not enough nitrogen. The only time this would be a good fertilizer to use is during the seeding process, where more phosphorus is needed, or if the soil is deficient in phosphorus, which in the Tulsa are is rare. There is usually plenty of phosphorus in the soil, and it does not leach much, therefore we don’t use much at LawnAmerica. Excessive levels of P can also lead to algae growth in nearby lakes and streams, so another reason we limit the use of it.

At LawnAmerica, we are using a fertilizer blend of 36-0-5 right now as spring is coming on. The nitrogen is the key right now, so that’s the main ingredient in our blend. The last number, potassium, is also often found in adequate amounts in the soil, but turf health will improve with good and even high amounts. It is not utilized by the grass nearly as much as nitrogen is, and it stays in the topsoil longer than nitrogen, so the amounts we apply are less. The fall fertilizer will have a higher level of potassium, as the bermudagrass is starting to go into winter dormancy.

Nitrogen is the key ingredient. It’s what makes the grass grow and turn the deep green color turfgrass managers and customers desire. And there are many different types of nitrogen, with different release rates and quality. This is where LawnAmerica fertilizer is unique, and superior to others. As bermudagrass and zoysiagrass are starting to come out of winter dormancy, some N will help, but one does not want to just dump a lot of quick-release nitrogen on at once, as that is bad for the root system and cause excessive topgrowth. Nitrogen is either utilized by the turf, will leach through the topsoil, or be lost into the air basically over a period of 4-7 weeks, depending upon a myriad of factors. Adding slow-release nitrogen components to a fertilizer blend helps even out the nitrogen release and extends the release and therefore the green color up to 7-12 weeks in most cases.

Of the 36% nitrogen in our spring blend, or 18 pounds of actual N, 70-80% of it is slow-release nitrogen, a blend of Uflexx, Umaxx, and XCU coated urea. This allows us to safely apply a higher amount of fertilizer now, and lead to a longer and more consistent turf response and green color. This bag also costs me about 40% more than the bag of fertilizer that many competitors are putting out now, as slow-release nitrogen is more expensive than just applying straight Urea (46-0-0) for example. But one gets what they pay for generally, so the higher fertilizer cost for me is justified with a better performing turf, and happier customers.

All fertilizers are not created equally, nor will they perform equally. A great-looking lawn will not happen without good fertilization. And the best defense against spring weeds is a thick, healthy turf, which good fertilization helps provide. So if you’ve not fertilized yet this spring, this weekend would be a great time to do so, or just call the pros at LawnAmerica, where we do it right!

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After a long, cold winter, I know it is tempting to go out on a warm sunny weekend and scalp your bermudagrass lawn now. Or, your mower may want to scalp your lawn. After all, they want to get going and get busy also. While it is just fine to cut off the rough edges from the winter and mow the dormant turf some, just don’t go overboard. And if you have some weeds that were sprayed, it’s important to top off those dying weeds by mowing down to remove dying vegetation and to speed up the weed control.

It is early April now, but the chance for a damaging freeze is not past until about April 15th, my favorite day of the year, when I settle up with Uncle Sam at my accountants office. The good news is that I have seen some green bermudagrass shooting up in the turf, and it appears we may have dodged a bullet with bad winterkill. However, I’ve experienced years in which the bermudagrass was turning green, too green, only to have a temperature drop into the high 20’s in early April. In those cases, the bermudagrass was whacked, and not necessarily killed, but was really damaged and set back many weeks by even a light freeze.

By scalping the turf down too short, you’ll be removing the valuable insulation of the dead leaf blades, and exposing the crown of the plant to cold air temperatures. Plus, by warming the soil with scalping and stimulating new green grass growth too soon, that new growth will be damaged if we were to have a significant freeze over the next week to ten days. We are not out of the woods yet, so I’d just concentrate on getting your mower clean, sharpen the blades, and get it ready to go in a few weeks.

After April 15th or so, then it is a good thing to scalp, or just mow your turf down short. Picking up the dead grass blades and stems would be good, if not it could lead to thatch development. This will warm the soil quicker leading to an earlier green-up for the bermudagrass, or even zoysiagrass. Never scalp a cool-season turf like tall fescue. Mowing it too short will damage, if not kill it.

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You can thank me for the recent rains we've had in Tulsa. Sure enough, every time we send aout a mass letter to all of our lawncare customers in Tulsa about a drought and the need to irrigate their lawns, it rains a bunch by the time they actually recieve the letter. After a long, dry, and very cold winter, the March rains have been nice, with more in the forecast for next week. So with that, and some warmer weather, fescue lawns are perking up, trees are beginning to bud, and it's finally starting to feel like spring.

I've also seen some signs of green bermudagrass in warmer sections of the turf. That's a good sign, because part of the letter we sent to our customers was about the good possibility of some winterkill of bermudagrass this season. The verdict is still out, and we really will not know for sure until about May 1st. If all things work out well with mother nature (does that ever happen?) then Tulsa area bermudagrass lawns should be nice and green by then. So we shall see.

In the meatime, we've been encouraging our customers to keep soil moisture levels good, and the recent rains have sure helped with that. But it was very dry, cold, and often windy this past winter. So we will have some dead plants, particularly evegreen plants, newly established plants, and some that are on the northern fringe of their growing zone.

One good thing about the cool spring is that soil temperatures in Tulsa are below normal for this time of year. Therefore, there is still time to apply and have success with pre-emergent herbicide treatments

. We use Barricade, the best on the market, and will switch to Dimension in mid-April, as it will control newly germinatated crabgrass also. With all pre-emergents, rainfall is good, as they need to be watered into the soil to activate the product.

And while the warmer spring weather and rains after a long, cold winter may make a homeowner want to get out and work in the lawn, resist the urge to scalp your lawn for a few weeks. We can still have a late freeze, and that will harm grass that has been scalped too short. Leave it tall, or jsut take off the top of the turf to clean it up, but don't take it to the ground. Same thing goes with planting summer annual flowers. Don't let the pretty colors fool you as they sit in the garden centers. Be patient, and wait until it warms up some more before you put those into the ground.