Growing grass in Florida? Water restrictions claim formerly lush lawns
Dead grass before sod replacement
Turf care is a delicate balance of water, soil pH, composition, fertility, exposure to light, and many other factors that encompass the science behind healthy plant development.
Lawns in Florida are essentially “money pits,” but if you have to have one, you will need to know a few things about it before surrendering a small fortune to the landscapers that will give you the best price on sod.
Everyone wants to save money. Installing a new lawn over a dead one will not save you money, it will actually cost you more in the long term than if proper steps are taken to protect the investment you’re about to make.
Water is the essence of life. Without it, all life comes to an end.
Florida is, and has been, under strict watering restrictions for quite some time now, and it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better. It was so bad in 2009 that the city of Tampa decided to ban the use of lawn sprinklers for a period.
Before that, Southwest Florida Water Management District placed a ban on new sod replacement as a way to reduce water consumption. This upset businesses in the area because the new law could cripple them, and the rule was revised, but the problem continues.
A water shortage is only the beginning. Around 2000 to 2001, a few pesticides were banned by the EPA because of concerns for the health of humans and wildlife. These products worked very well at controlling insect damage to turf grass; however, their misuse and overuse led to some serious problems that eventually led to the EPA ban.
Since then, other products have come onto the market to replace those that were banned, but there’s still controversy about their effectiveness. Some claim the new chemicals work better, while others disagree.
The best way to gauge their effectiveness is to simply look around. When I was cutting lawns in the 90s, many of my lawns were thick, green and healthy. I just don’t see that many healthy lawns these days, and in fact, I see many lawns that are dead beyond repair, as if the homeowners have given up.
To compound the problem, in 2011 fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus came into question for a possible ban. Some say that a healthy lawn can actually improve water quality, and the key to a healthy lawn is nitrogen. There’s so much more to keeping a lawn beautiful and healthy.
Soil pH is also a contributing factor to a healthy lawn. If you have oak trees or pine trees on your property, these trees drop leaves and needles that acidify the soil at their base and within their drip edge. When this occurs the soil pH shifts away from neutral and then the grass in this area begins to starve. No amount of fertilizer will help the dying lawn until the pH is corrected. This is something that many landscapers leave out of the equation.
Unfortunately, all roads lead back to water.
Without watering, a few hot summer days in a row can stress your lawn, and if you have poor soil composition, the water never has a chance to go near the roots anyway. Also, chinch bugs have become a common problem in Florida lawns, and dry soil becomes a breeding ground for them.
All of these factors and more are reasons why a grassless yard may be the best option for a Florida friendly landscape. If you still feel you must have a lawn, minimize the square footage at least. A smaller lawn is much easier, and less costly, to care for than a football field.