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Spring has finally arrived in full force in Tulsa, with trees, shrubs, and lawns coming back to life after a long, cold winter. At least most are coming back. With the droughts we’ve experienced, and then a very cold winter, some trees and shrubs have been damaged, or even killed. My Redbud tree I planted two years ago had no blooms on it and is totally dead. I had several burning bushes that were killed back, with little sprigs of green showing from the base. Even some of my ornamental grasses are not showing signs of new green growth. And I took care of these plants, with good watering and fertilization, or so I thought. But it just goes to show you that even if we think we are doing all the right things, mother nature is still in charge. It appears that the extreme weather has just caught up with some of my plants, and sent them over the edge.

2 Year Old Redbud

My 2-year old Redbud didn't make it!

Older, more mature trees and shrubs are fine, as they have an extensive root system. Certain plants are just hardier than others against the challenges of weather and soil conditions. For example, my Photenias are doing great, as are some of my other plantings from two years ago.

So now is a good time to re-plant new trees and shrubs, replacing ones that are either dead or just not doing well. I planted a new Japanese Maple where my Redbud was, and it looks great. I’ll prune back dead growth on certain shrubs, so that new growth can come in and grow. We are still very dry in Tulsa, over 6” below normal so far this year. So we really need some good spring rains and storms, or it could be a long summer for lawns and landscapes in Tulsa.

It does appear that most bermudagrass lawns in the Tulsa area are recovering from that April 15th hard freeze, and showing good signs of new green growth. There are some areas of winterkill though, which does not surprise me with the winter we’ve had. The damage is rather spotty, and should fill in when the weather turns nice and hot, along with some good rains or irrigation.

It’s a great time for fertilizer, as that, along with warmer temperatures and good rains or irrigation will bring them totally out from winter dormancy and into the green and growing mode. We’re anxious for the bermudagrass lawns to get going, as a thick, healthy, growing turf helps choke out late spring weeds also. So get your mower blade sharp, as lawns will need to be mowed weekly from now into summer.

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Bermudagrass is a warm-season grass. It goes dormant and turns brown during mid-fall to protect it against freezing winter temperatures. As spring weather warms the soil, new green growth initiates from the crown and root system of the grass plant. So we typically see some bermudagrass greening up in Tulsa as early as mid to late March, and into early April, especially on south facing slopes, next to streets and buildings, and other hot spots.

However, when the air temperature then gets down to below freezing, such as 28 degrees early Monday morning, then the green grass blade dies, turning yellowish and then brown. It’s similar to turf going dormant in fall with cold temperatures. And it’s similar to a summer drought causing the bermudagrass to first fold their leaves and turn blue-green, then yellow, and finally going dormant brown.

A hard freeze will kill some tender plants. The good news is that I don’t think the freeze hurt most of the “heart and soul” of the bermudagrass plant, which is the crown and root system. We shall see. The green leaves may be toast now, but the plant will initiate new green growth as the weather warms, and the soil moisture is adequate. It’s like starting a baseball game, you get into the top of the 3rd, and the rains come, causing the game to be cancelled. You may have hit a homerun, but doesn’t matter….it does not count, as the game will be re-played from the start at a later date. So our bermudagrass, surprisingly, was off to a fairly green start after a brutal winter, but then came the Tax Day Freeze of 2014 on April 15th. Your lawn will have to start over now before turning lush and green, and it will. It will just take longer now, and you’ll need to be patient.

We need some good warm and even hot weather….can’t control that. The watering can be controlled, so keep your lawn LawnAmerica has the fertilizer need under control. Applying excess fertilizer will not help, and will actually harm the root system. So with time, and our professional fertilizer, your lawn will be fine. Just be patient! The good news is that since your green grass blades are dead, you won't have to mow for another two weeks or so probably! My lawn last week was greening up and growing to the point of needing to mow, but not now thanks to the "Tax Day Freeze" of 2014. It's brown and looking dormant again! Oh well. Now I'll have time to re-plant those tomato plants that the freeze 10 days ago took out. Never a dull moment when your life depends upon growing things in Oklahoma.

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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!