Lawn Care

Soil pH and its Effect on Nutrient Availability


There are 18 elements necessary for plant growth. They are Hydrogen, Oxygen, Carbon, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Manganese, Sulfur, Boron, Copper, Zinc, Molybdenum, Chlorine, Nickel, and Silicon. Soil pH directly affects the growth and quality of many landscape plants by influencing the chemical form of many elements in the soil and soil microbial processes. For example, landscape plants may exhibit nutrient deficiency or toxicity symptoms as a result of highly acidic or alkaline soils pH. In acidic soils, the availability of plant nutrients such as Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium is reduced, while the availability of potentially toxic elements such as Aluminum, Iron, and Zinc are increased. In alkaline soils, Iron, Manganese, Zinc and Boron are commonly deficient.

So what is soil pH? Soil pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. On the pH scale, a value of 7 is neutral, a value less than 7 is acidic, and a value greater than 7 is alkaline. Florida soils can vary widely in pH, depending on the “parent material” from which the soil formed or on the management of the soil. For example, soils formed under pine flatwoods can be quite acidic. In contrast, soils formed from calcium carbonate-bearing materials like limestone, marl, or seashells are alkaline. Alkaline conditions are common in coastal soils and the mineral soils of south Florida. It is also common to encounter alkaline soils in the home landscape as a result of calcium carbonate-rich building materials (i.e., concrete, stucco, etc.) that may be left in the soil following construction.

Most common landscape plants are well suited to a wide soil pH range. For example, popular woody shrubs and trees (e.g., pittosporum, viburnum, oak, and pine) grow well in acidic to moderately alkaline soils. However, there are a few acid-loving plants like azalea and gardenia that do not grow well in soils with pH greater than 5.5. St. Augustine, Zoysia, and Bermuda grass prefer a pH range between 6-7 while Centipede prefers a range between 4.5-6.

The best advice about dealing with soil pH is to choose landscape plants suited for the natural pH of your landscape soil. While some soil additives can raise or lower the pH of soils, the effects of these materials are often short-lived. In addition, if your soil pH is within 0.5 of a pH unit of the ideal range, adjusting the pH will probably not improve plant performance. However, if you want to try to change your soil’s natural pH to grow a specific plant, you have the following options.

To raise the pH of acidic soils, add a liming material like calcium carbonate or dolomite. Dolomite has the added benefit of supplying Magnesium, which is often deficient in Florida soils. Have your soil tested before applying any liming materials because many of Florida’s natural and urban soils have an alkaline pH. If a soil pH test indicates that your soil is acidic, it is important to test for the lime requirement before applying any liming materials to the soil. The lime requirement test measures your soil’s natural ability to resist (buffer) changes in pH. This test is part of the standard landscape and garden soil test offered by the UF/IFAS Extension Soil Testing Laboratory. Results of this test will indicate the amount of agricultural limestone you should apply to a specific area to reach a target pH.

In established landscapes, lime can be surface-applied and watered in, but take care not to overwater (e.g., no more than 0.5 inches of water over the treated area).

Unlike liming, lowering the pH of strongly alkaline soils is much more difficult if not impossible. In fact, there is no way to permanently lower the pH of soils formed from high Calcium materials, such as marl or limestone, or soils severely impacted by alkaline construction materials. In these circumstances, it is best to select plants that are tolerant of high pH conditions to avoid chronic plant nutrition problems.

Soil pH can be temporarily lowered by adding elemental sulfur. Bacteria in the soil change elemental sulfur into sulfuric acid, effectively neutralizing soil alkalinity. However, the effect of elemental sulfur is localized to the area that was amended, and the effect is temporary. Soil pH will begin to rise shortly after soil bacteria exhaust the added sulfur supply. This effect prompts repeated applications of sulfur to ensure that the soil remains at the desired pH. Using sulfur to amend a soil is complicated. Adding sulfur at high rates or applying it too frequently can damage your plants. If you decide to apply sulfur, be sure to look for signs of plant response after the application.

Always consider the pH of your soil when selecting new plant material for your home landscape or garden. Take action to correct soil pH only when it is substantially higher or lower than the desired pH for the plants you are growing. To avoid damage to your landscape plants, always have your soil tested for pH and lime requirement (if soil pH is acidic) before adding lime or sulfur to the soil.


Call Grass Roots Lawn & Landscape, Inc. for all your Lawn Care needs. (850)897-3073 Niceville  (850)832-4212 Panama City Beach


Large Patch

Large Patch also known as Brown Patch (Rhizoctonia solani) is a disease that occurs on all warm-season grasses, especially St. Augustine and Zoysia. This disease is most likely to be observed from November through May when temperatures are below 80 degrees. Infection is triggered by rainfall, excessive irrigation, or extended periods of high humidity resulting in the leaves being continuously wet for 48 hours or more. 

This disease usually begins as small patches (about 1 foot in diameter) that turn yellow and then reddish brown, brown, or straw colored as the leaves start to die. Patches can expand to several feet in diameter. It is not uncommon to see rings of yellow or brown turf with apparently healthy turf in the center. Turf at the outer margins of a patch may appear dark and wilted.

Large Patch

The best way to help avoid getting Large Patch is to irrigate on an As Needed basis during the early morning hours when dew is already present. Fungicides can be used once the disease is present, however, they only stop the disease from spreading they do not promote turfgrass growth.

The turf must be actively growing in order for the diseased turfgrass to recover. Symptoms do not disappear until new leaves develop and the old leaves are removed by mowing or decomposition. Since the disease normally occurs when the turfgrass is not growing very rapidly, recovery may be very slow.


Call Grass Roots Lawn & Landscape, Inc. for all your Lawn Care needs. (850)897-3073 Niceville  (850)832-4212 Panama City Beach


Battling the Southern Chinch Bug

thb2HairyChinchBugAllStages02bThe Southern Chinch Bug is currently the most difficult to control and most damaging insect pest of St. Augustine grass in Florida. Nymphs and adults feed on plant fluids withing the leaf sheaths, down in the thatch, and this feeding kills the grass plants and contributes to weed invasion. Homeowners and lawn care companies seek to prevent this damage by repeatedly applying insecticides to keep Chinch Bug numbers low. However, numerous Chinch Bug populations have developed resistance to every major chemical class that has been used against them.

Southern Chinch Bug activity occurs from March through November in North Florida. It is estimated that 3 to 4 generations with overlapping life stages develop each year in our area. New damage may appear by May or June, depending on Spring temperatures, and any damage that existed in late Fall will become apparent in the Spring. Part of the difficulty in dealing with this pest is that one generation may develop in 4-6 weeks during the summer and any insecticides used to treat them will likely kill the adults and nymphs, but the eggs will survive. Then new nymphs will hatch, and the infestation will continue. Thus, damage may become visible again within 2-3 months of treatment.

Adult females may live up to 2 months, laying 4 or 5 eggs a day, or 250-300 eggs in a lifetime. Eggs hatch within 6-13 days, and nymphs mature in 4-5 weeks. Southern Chinch Bug populations tend to be clumped, rather than randomly dispersed throughout a lawn. Infestations generally occur in open, sunny areas near sidewalks and driveways, but also in the middle of a lawn. Infested plants have slower growth, turn yellow, and die. As their host plants die, individuals will spread to healthy turf and continue feeding.

The Southern Chinch Bug causes millions of dollars worth of damage each year in Florida. There is no way to fully prevent this pest from infesting a lawn, but with early detection and proper chemical applications, the damage can be mitigated. Proper cultural practices, like mowing, fertilizing and watering can also reduce the susceptibility of an infestation.

For more information visit EDIS IFAS Extension.

Call Grass Roots Lawn & Landscape, Inc. for all your Lawn Care needs. (850)897-3073 Niceville  (850)832-4212 Panama City Beach




Nematode Management

Nematodes are microscopic roundworms that live in the soil and can be found in most lawns. Some nematodes are beneficial, feeding on bacteria, fungi or other microscopic organisms. However, other nematodes are harmful to plants because they feed on the plant tissues and cause plant damage. These plant-parasitic nematodes feed on the roots by puncturing the plant tissue and ingesting plant fluid. Some nematodes remain in the soil (ectoparasitic) while they feed and others (endoparasitic) crawl inside the root tissue to feed.

As nematodes feed, they cause damage to the roots reducing the ability of the plant to obtain water and nutrients from the soil. When nematode populations get high enough, or when environmental stresses such as high temperatures or drought occur, symptoms may become evident. These symptoms include yellowing, wilting, browning, thinning or plant death. The damage usually occurs in irregularly shaped patches that may enlarge slowly over time. Similar conditions may be caused by other factors such as soil condition, fungi or insects as well.

Here are the most common nematodes that damage southern turfgrasses.

Lance- St. Augustine, Zoysia and Burmuda

Sting- Zoysia, Burmuda and Centipede

Stubby-Root- St. Augustine

Root-Knot- Zoysia

Ring- Centipede

What can I do if my lawn has nematodes?

Many of the highly effective nematicides used in the past are no longer available because of their risk to humans and the environment. There are a few “organic” products that claim to suppress nematodes in home lawns. However, there is no field effectiveness data conducted by credible scientists that indicate they work.

There is one product that is labeled for home lawns and it uses a bacterium to help suppress nematodes. This bacteria (Bacillus firmus) colonizes the root system and produces compounds that protect the root system from nematodes. However, timing is critical to achieve good results with this product and repeat applications, 4-8 weeks apart, are necessary. This bacteria does not kill nematodes, it only protects the roots, and should not be used to “fix” an existing nematode problem.

The best way to manage a nematode problem is by improving overall plant health and avoiding other stresses on the grass. Grass that is given proper water and fertilizer can often withstand higher levels of nematode infestation. Depending on what nematodes are present, replacing with a different turf type might also be an option or replacing turf with an alternative groundcover could be beneficial.


Call Grass Roots Lawn & Landscape, Inc. for all your Lawn Care needs. (850)897-3073 Niceville  (850)832-4212 Panama City Beach


Consider redoing your old weedy lawn.

downloadSome people use herbicides to control weeds in an old, declining lawn. Then, with all the weeds gone, the lawn’s owner suddenly realizes that he or she has no lawn left.

Sometimes the best solution is to start over. Many older, thinning, declining, weedy lawns need to be reestablished. As lawns decline and thin, the weeds move in. When you reach the point where there is less than sixty percent desirable turf coverage, reestablishment should be considered.

In the process of redoing a lawn, attempt to determine why the lawn declined and correct mismanagement practices that were contributing factors in the lawn’s demise.



Common causes for lawn decline:

Soil compaction – Mowing equipment, vehicles and foot traffic (from adults, children and pets) all result in the soil becoming compacted within a lawn. Compacted soil results in less water and oxygen getting to the lawn roots and less than favorable growing conditions for the roots.

Nutrient imbalances – Routine fertilization can result in some fertilizer elements building up to excessive levels while other elements may be lacking. It’s common to find high levels of phosphorus in older lawns. Phosphorus does not leach readily even in our sandy soils. Other elements such as potassium leach readily. Over time, we’ll end up with too much of some nutrients and too little of others, which contribute to growth difficulties and possible decline in our lawns.

Tree competition – Trees and larger shrubs can compete with a lawn. As a tree gets larger with time, it becomes more competitive with lawn grass. The tree’s demand for water and nutrients increases as it becomes larger. Its root area becomes more extensive and it progressively produces more shade. Lawns usually thin significantly in association with older, large trees and shrubs.

Soil pH- pH levels that are too acidic (below 7) or too alkaline (above 7) can have negative affects on your lawn. Nutrients can bind up in the soil making them unusable to the turf.

Root pests numbers may slowly build to damaging levels as a lawn ages. Some common examples include nematodes (microscopic roundworms), soil inhabiting fungi such as Gaeumannomyces and ground pearls (a scale insect found in soil).

Improper lawn maintenance practices may be a contributing factor in the decline of an older lawn too. Common contributing factors to a lawn’s demise include routinely mowing too low, excessive fertilization and improper irrigation.

Sometimes herbicides are only a “band aid” approach when dealing with an old, mismanaged lawn.

Call Grass Roots Lawn & Landscape, Inc. for a Lawn Consultation today. (850)897-3073 Niceville  (850)832-4212 Panama City Beach

When to fertilize?

181184_399661083404378_783776269_nWith our warm season grasses (Centipede, St. Augustine, Bermuda and Zoysia), it is best to wait until the grass has completely greened up in the spring before applying any fertilizer. This is usually mid April in our region. Fertilizing too early (before green up) can result in turf injury and leaching of fertilizer nutrients.

Centipede is a low fertility grass. It grows at it’s best, with fewer problems, when fertilized only once or twice per year. Once after green up and possibly a second application during the summer.

St. Augustine might also get by on one spring application; however, it is more common to apply a second application during the summer. Bermuda and Zoysia will require fertilizer applications 2-3 times over the growing season. Over fertilization promotes thatch, turf decline, pest problems and degradation of the environment from leaching of nutrients that can end up in our ground water.

In order for our lawn grasses to efficiently use fertilizer, consistently warmer nights are required. Fertilizing a lawn before soil temperature is adequately warm results in waste of fertilizer and possible lawn injury.

Despite the fact you can force a lawn to turn green early with high nitrogen fertilizers, it’s a false sense of accomplishment. That new green growth is dependent on availability of other elements, some of which are poorly available under the cool soil temperatures of late winter and early spring. Iron, for example, is not readily available when the soil is cool. This is exactly what happens when your lawn begins to turn bright yellow after being fertilized too early. You induce or cause a nutrient deficiency by fertilizing too early. It’s a matter of the soil being too cool to allow the roots to take in needed iron to support the new growth caused by fertilizing too soon.

There are other needed nutrients, such as potassium, which are not readily available under cool soil temperatures. Waiting to fertilize during more favorable soil temperatures allows for more efficient use of the fertilizer and less waste. It’s best to wait until mid April to fertilize your lawn.

Reference: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science/Okaloosa County Extension

Did you know, anyone who applies fertilizer commercially, must have a Limited Commercial Fertilizer Applicators License? They must be trained under the Green Industries Best Management Practices (GI-BMP) through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Grass Roots Lawn & Landscape, Inc. took the initiative, and was one of the first companies in our area to get our people trained and Licensed. As professionals in the Landscape Industry, it’s our responsibility to minimize the negative impacts to the environment whenever possible.

Get a Quote Today

(850) 897-3073 (Niceville)

(850) 832-4212 (Panama City Beach)


Why is my northwest Florida lawn not thriving?

There is no magic cure for lawn problems. Most people will experience frustration with their lawn at some point in time in northwest Florida. Some people are continually frustrated with the condition of their lawn. There are many reasons why our turf grasses are, at times, difficult to maintain. In the Southeast it is possible for a lawn to look picture perfect one year and decline the very next year. The causes of problems in our lawns can be complicated by environmental conditions such as, pests and poor maintenance. To appreciate the difficulties of maintaining a lawn in Florida, it may help to understand our Southern turf grasses.

There are four main types of grasses used in home lawns in Florida. All four are not native to the United States.


This turf produces a vigorous, medium green, dense turf that is well adapted to most soils and climates found in Florida. It has excellent wear, drought and salt tolerance. Bermuda establishes rapidly and is available in seeded varieties. However, it requires high levels of maintenance, and has poor tolerance to many insect, disease and nematode pests.


This turf variety is well adapted to the climate and soils of central and northern Florida and is the most common turf type in the Florida Panhandle. It has fair shade tolerance and survives drought conditions. Centipede can be established from seed, sod or plugs. However, it is prone to chlorosis (yellowing of leaf blades) and has poor cold tolerance. It is also very susceptible to nematodes, ground pearls and centipede decline caused by Gaeumannomyces.

St. Augustine

This turf produces a green to blue green dense turf that is well adapted to most soils and climatic regions in Florida. It has relatively good salt tolerance and certain cultivars posses fair shade tolerance. St. Augustine establishment from sod is usually quick and easy. However, it is highly susceptible to chinch bugs and many diseases. It also has poor wear, drought and cold tolerance. Excessive thatch buildup is also common.


This variety of turf is extremely dense which resists weed invasion. It has good shade, salt, wear and insect tolerance. Zoysia also repairs itself quicker than other turf varieties, because of it’s aggressive growth habit. However, it can be slow to establish and builds up heavy thatch. Other disadvantages are poor growth on compacted soils and poor drought tolerance.

All of these grasses have been studied extensively and in most cases plant breeders have developed improved cultivars which we commonly use today. It’s surprising to some to learn that our lawn grasses are not native. It’s important to understand this in order to appreciate and better understand the difficulties of growing these grasses in our landscapes.

To better understand our lawn problems, it also helps to know that northwest Florida was not designed to be a “grass growing area.” If you study the natural vegetation of north Florida, you will find primarily a densely wooded area comprised of a combination of various pines, oaks and other trees, a tremendous variety of shrubs, vines, wild flowers and other vegetation.

A common practice in our modern landscapes is to remove many of the natural or native plants and replace them with these foreign grasses. We then expect these grasses to provide a picture perfect lawn in a foreign environment created for trees and shrubs.

While it’s not impossible to have a thick lush lawn in northwest Florida, it’s definitely not easy.

Give Grass Roots Lawn & Landscape, Inc. a call for all your Lawn Care needs. (850)897-3073 Niceville  (850)832-4212 Panama City Beach


Core Aeration and Topdressing.

11392846_857415014312507_1639169734171628740_nWhat is Core Aeration?

Aeration involves removing small cores of soil from your lawn to allow air, moisture 
and fertilizer to get down to the root zone. It helps to control thatch, creates 
growth pockets for new roots, increases drying of wet areas, improves soil 
composition, relieves compaction from traffic and improves response to 

The main reason for aerating is to alleviate soil compaction. Compacted soils have too many solid particles in a certain volume or space, which prevents proper circulation of air, water and nutrients within the soil. Excess lawn thatch or heavy organic debris buried under the grass surface can also starve the roots from these essential elements.



Should You Be Aerating Your Lawn?

One of the most common questions is, how do I determine if I need to aerate my lawn. Your lawn is a good candidate for aeration if it:

  • Gets heavy use, such as serving as the neighborhood playground or racetrack. Children and pets running around the yard contribute to soil compaction.
  • Was established as part of a newly constructed home. Often, the topsoil of newly constructed lawns is stripped or buried, and the grass established on subsoil has been compacted by construction traffic.
  • Dries out easily and has a spongy feel. This might mean your lawn has an excessive thatch problem. If the thatch layer is greater than one-half inch, aeration is recommended.

When to Aerate My Lawn?

The best time for aeration is during the growing season, when the grass can heal and fill in any open areas after soil plugs are removed. In our area, late spring is the time to aerate your lawn.

What is Topdressing?

Topdressing is the process of adding a thin layer of material over the lawn, typically 1/4 inch – 1/2 inch of sand, compost or topsoil. It stimulates the grass to produce new shoots, which results in a 
more dense grass cover.  This helps to combat the onset of weed and moss 

The main reason for topdressing your lawn is to encourage your turf to fill in bare spots naturally. It can also reduce thatch buildup, improve soil biology, and add organic matter and beneficial microorganisms.

When to Topdress My Lawn?

The best time to topdress is in the spring in conjunction with an aeration. However, topdressing alone can greatly improve thin turf areas. Waiting until summer is not recommended, because it can cause your turf to overheat.

Grass Roots Lawn & Landscape, Inc. offers Core Aerating and Topdressing. Call today (850)897-3073 Niceville  (850)832-4212 Panama City Beach


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