May is one of our busier months in the yard. I’ll start with the lawn and move up and out from there.
If you were able to restrain yourself from early fertilizer applications, this is the month to start. For centipede lawns, an application of half a pound on nitrogen per 1,000 square feet in May and again in July is enough. Do not trick yourself into putting on more than that just because it looks like a small amount of fertilizer. It is enough.
The benefit of centipede is that it looks good without costing an arm and a leg. Also, the low amount of nitrogen helps reduce nitrogen runoff into stormwater and ultimately the estuaries. But we would need rain for that to happen.
For even better performance on the lawn and better protection of streams, estuaries and wildlife, use a slow-release nitrogen source. For St. Augustine, apply a full pound in May, June, July and September. It is even more important for St. Augustine lawns to use slow-release nitrogen.
In addition to the lawn quality and environmental benefits, slow-release nitrogen reduces the risk of “take all patch” assaulting your lawn. Because of the early spring, the mole cricket treatment we usually prescribe in June can be moved up to the last half of May. One can still wait until June to apply the granular insecticide you water in, but try to get it applied in the first two weeks of June.
Weeds that are blooming and going to seed are too old to apply post-emergent herbicide. Keep your powder dry and plan now on applying pre-emerge this fall. Sunlight, proper fertilizer and proper water will allow your turf to choke out most of the weeds. Focus on nutrition rather than poisons when addressing weeds. Any chemical treatment we apply, even when applied by label directions, initially has a suppressive effect on turf. Focus on making your lawn too healthy to get sick.
Mowing heights are very important. Mowing St. Augustine at 2.5 inches is counter-productive. We call that scalping. Mowing centipede at 2.5 inches will lose you the lawn in August. Use mowing heights of 3 inches or above for St. Augustine and under 2 inches for centipede. For all our turfs, 1 inch of water per week is enough.
Ideally we would get a half inch of rain Monday nights and another half an inch of rain Thursday nights throughout the growing season to keep our lawns happy and the weekend events under fair skies. Ideally, I would have the body I had when I was 18, but that is not happening either. So if it has been four days without rain and a less than 80 percent chance for rain overnight, irrigate at night and apply half an inch of water.
That means you have to measure it. Thirty minutes twice a week is a frequency, not an amount. Empty vegetable cans, a watch and a ruler are all you will need to figure out the amount of irrigation water applied.
On to the woody shrubs and trees. The azaleas are done blooming. The earlier you can get them pruned the more time they will have to put on new growth, which translates into more flower buds for next year. The right way to prune azaleas is to count the number of stems, divide by four, and cut out that number of stems close to the ground, starting with the largest, thickest stems and working down in size. This keeps the plants rejuvenated and ensures the highest bloom to wood ratio.
If you are growing azaleas for lumber, don’t prune them. Whatever you do, please, please do not hedge clip azaleas. OK, if you must hedge clip azaleas, then go all the way and plant Bradford pear, paint used tires to use as planters and put two cars up on blocks in the front yard.
Fertilize shrubs in May, preferably after pruning rather than before. Scatter the fertilizer around on the ground at the dripline of the shrubs. It will work its way in with rainfall and irrigation, so there is no need to wash it in. However, if you got fertilizer onto the plant leaves and twigs instead of on the ground, use the blower or broom to knock the fertilizer off the plant and onto the ground. Do not pile fertilizer at the base of the plant unless you want to kill it with salt burn.
If you fertilize your lawn and shrubs, your trees will not need fertilizer. Trees in nature survive quite nicely, thank you, on 1 pound of nitrogen per acre. The standard fertilizer rate is 1 pound per 1,000 square feet, which is 43.5 times more than trees need, so the leftovers from the lawn and shrubs are enough to keep the trees going.
If you want to prune small trees I highly recommend you download publications B949 Basic Principles of Pruning Woody Plants, and B1031 Shade and Street Tree Care at www.caes.uga.edu.These publications will describe natural target pruning. Every branch and limb on a tree has naturally occurring targets that will tell you exactly where to make the finish cut on that limb. If the finish cut is made properly, the tree will never become decayed from that cut. If the cut is made improperly, the tree will always become decayed from that improper cut.
The person with the saw is the most important person to touch a tree as the quality of pruning cuts largely determines whether the tree can have a long and healthy life or one that is “ugly, brutish and short.”
If you have to get on a ladder to prune a tree, the tree is too big for you and a professional arborist should be called. Every year across the state we lose a couple dads who fail to recognize the dangers inherent in tree work. As Clint Eastwood said, “A man has to know his limitations.” Mine is I can’t make it rain.