Contrary to popular opinion, late autumn and winter are important times for lawn maintenance. Did you know in warmer climates like Australia, the cooler months are the most important time to fertilise? And if you need to install a lawn over the next few months, do you know which turf types will work best if laid in winter and what techniques you can use to help your lawn establish? There’s also a new, safer lawn grub control product that’s best applied in late winter.
Research at Richmond NSW recently demonstrated that autumn and winter are the most important times to fertilise. This research, conducted by Ozbreed, has shown that it is possible to keep Buffalo, Kikuyu and Zoysia turf green all year round when following optimum fertiliser applications and certain mowing practices, even in frost prone areas. This research has designed recipes to keep these turf types green all year round in many parts of Australia, using specialised fertiliser formulations.
In brief, the research involved fertilising replicated plots of numerous turf types with many different timing combinations, using a specialised autumn and winter blend of slow and quick release fertiliser and iron. Earlier research highlighted that a product called 2 Spec Elevate from Globe, provided the best performance for winter colour compared to other fertilisers tested. Slow release types were best.
The outcomes were unanticipated. Common practice is to not fertilise in winter, as it is seen as a waste of time, or is often considered to hurt a lawn. This research, for regions that do not usually get colder than minus 3º Celsius, clearly shows that winter fertiliser greatly improves the green colour of many turf types. Over 30 frosts were recorded with a lowest temperature of around minus 3ºC.
In general Kikuyu, most Buffalo types, and Zoysia types benefited from autumn and winter fertilising. Couch however showed no real benefit from winter fertilising in this trial. As couch is probably the most researched sports turf, it is little wonder that conventional research and practice say to not fertilise lawns in winter. If well-fertilised in winter with slow release, the lawns needed no fertiliser in spring to quickly green. Those that did not have winter fertiliser and no spring fertiliser struggled to green up. So in warm temperate through to subtropical climates, fertilise you lawn in late autumn and winter for a green lawn all year. In very cold regions like Canberra, winter fertilising can harm your warm season lawn.
Recipe for fertilising lawns (based on this research)
Fertilise at the beginning of April and again in mid-June with slow release fertiliser applications at a heavy rate, or better still use a blend of quick and slow release as per the ‘Autumn Winter Blend’ as used in the trials. Fertilise again in mid to late October or early November with a moderate rate of slow release fertiliser, or a heavy rate of organic type fertiliser. Fertilise in January, February or March if the lawn is having problems such as lawn grub or disease, has brown patches, or is looking a little tired, with a moderate application of slow release fertiliser. However it may be worth considering further optional applications, if your lawn receives very heavy wear from dogs or kids, or you want a dark green lawn all year.
THE MOST IMPORTANT FERTILISER TIME IS AUTUMN AND WINTER.
Mowing practice can also help keep lawns greener in winter. Leave your lawn at a moderate length for most of the year. If after all the recommended fertilising the lawn browns off in winter, lightly mow it. Under even many moderate frosts, only the tips of leaf burns. A light mow removes most of the burn, making the lawn instantly greener. In spring every year for thatchy Buffalo types, and every 2 to 3 years for Palmetto, Sapphire and Sir Walter, de-thatch with a specialised machine, or simply remove the thatch by mowing very short (scalping) and collecting the clippings, or alternatively top dress with and organic mix. This will greatly improve its next year’s winter colour.
The cooler months, particularly May are a great time to take Kikuyu out of other lawns. It will grow more quickly than the others in the cold. It is easy to see, and easy to paint glyphosate on the Kikuyu, without harming the desired lawn. Do a follow up application two weeks later. Late winter is the time to watch for bindii. If you see them, spray them with an appropriate bindii killer.
If you need to install a lawn in winter, it can be done. In Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, Kikuyu and Buffalo are the best choices for winter installation. If you live in cooler parts like Melbourne, Kikuyu is best for winter installation. However you can still lay Buffalo turf in Melbourne and Adelaide if you lightly top dress the lawn with an organic mix after installation. This will also help in the colder parts of Western Sydney.
Another technique is to use grow-cloth (garden fabric) or shade cloth over the top for the first 3 to 6 weeks after installation. Zoysia is the rising star of lawns, being so tough, yet requiring much less maintenance. However, unless you live near the coast in NSW, or in Queensland, laying Zoysia in winter is best avoided, unless in climates like western Sydney you lightly top dress with an organic mix or use a grow cloth. In the warmer months Zoysia strikes really quickly, and it is such a great turf, it is probably worth waiting for. Nara native turf has the best winter colour of all Zoysia types, and is a good choice for those who want low maintenance, a tough beautiful lawn, and a green lawn in winter. Tall fescue will strike really well in winter but, come summer, unless you water it almost daily, you will lose it in most Australian climate zones. So unless you live in Tasmania, or alpine regions, it is not a good choice.
A new safer lawn grub control is best applied in warmer areas in late winter, around August. In cooler areas in mid-September. ACELEPRYN will provide up to 6 months protection at the higher application rate and is a non-scheduled treatment with high turf safety and no re-entry periods and has an extremely low environmental impact. ACELEPRYN controls a wide range of turf pests such as African Black Beetle, Argentine Stem Weevil, Argentinian Scarab, Billbugs, Cutworm, Armyworm and Webworm with a single application. Presently it is mainly available in bulk for lawn professionals, but for those on acreage it is worth looking at. There are plans to make it available soon in smaller packs for the general public. This is a real breakthrough for lawn grub control.
So while mowing your lawn is greatly reduced in late autumn and winter, there are tasks that greatly improve its quality. So try fertilising your lawn as soon as possible and see how much greener it is this winter. Winter fertilising will also greatly improve its spring green up.