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Irrigation and Fertilizing
Lawns and landscapes differ during their establishment phase from the needs of mature plants. During establishment, plants are less able to support themselves and generally require more water to become self sufficient. The water and fertilizer needed during establishment also vary due to season of the year and location, but some general guidelines are as follows.
New Sod Irrigation
Florida lawns are most commonly established by sodding. In this method, the entire lawn area is covered with a thin layer of above-ground grass leaves and stems and a short below-ground root system. Because sod lacks a developed root system, sodded lawns require frequent, but short time intervals of watering's to help them survive and become established following planting.
The objective in watering during establishment is to keep the root system alive until it starts to root down and then to encourage the roots to grower deeper into the soil. To ensure that roots in sod do not die from lack of water following planting, irrigate two to three times daily for brief periods (about 5 to 10 minutes each time). During this establishment phase, only irrigate the sod enough to wet the top few inches of soil. It will generally take about 7 to 10 days for the roots to "peg" down so that they are firm in the soil, depending on season of the year, temperature, soil type, and other factors.
Once roots are pegged down approximately ½ inch to 1 inch into the soil, reduce irrigation to once a day to supply approximately ¼ inch of water daily. After seven to 10 days on this regime, reduce irrigation frequency to every other day to apply approximately ½ inch in each irrigation event. Irrigate every other day for about 7 to 10 days, by which time roots should be growing down through the soil, and the sod should not pull up if tugged on.
By this time, three to four weeks after sodding, the grass should be able to thrive on an irrigation schedule for an established lawn. However, in the summer months, under drought conditions, an extended period of more frequent watering may be required to ensure that the lawn establishes, particularly if watering restrictions limit irrigation of established lawns to once a week.
Do not fertilize a newly planted lawn for about 60 days after sodding. The short root system of the grass during this period of establishment means the grass has little ability to absorb nutrients. As a result, fertilizing during this period may lead to increased nutrient leaching past the roots through the soil. Additionally, because sod is generally fertilized prior to harvest at the sod farm, the sod will not typically require additional fertilizer during the establishment period. If the sod appears to lack sufficient nutrients (yellow coloration and spindly growth), apply fertilizer no sooner than 30 days after sodding. If possible, ask the sod grower or installer when the sod was last fertilized.
Before it is time to fertilize the newly established lawn, have a soil test done to determine what nutrients are readily available in the soil for plant uptake. In most areas of Florida, with the exception of the Panhandle, phosphorus is available in the soil in quantities that are sufficient for lawn grasses, so applications of phosphorus may not be needed in many lawns in Florida or may be needed only in small quantities.
Look for a fertilizer with at least some of the first number (which represents the nitrogen content of the fertilizer) in a slow-release form. Slow-release is usually denoted as controlled release, coated, polymer coated, or sulfur coated. Slow-release nitrogen will help the grass to take up the nitrogen over a longer period of time.
Apply the fertilizer at a rate of no more than 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn.
After the first fertilization, follow the UF/IFAS guidelines for annual lawn fertilization for your grass species and your location. These rates can also be found in the above publication. There is often a tendency to over fertilize lawns, but for both the health of the grass and the health of Florida's water environment, it is important that these guidelines be followed.