CULTURAL PRACTICES FOR HEALTHY LANDSCAPES
Plant selection and location are the most important factors in planning a lawn and landscape. After weather,
cultural practices are the biggest factors in determining how well an agronomic or horticultural program performs. The amount of pesticides, fertilizers, and water required often directly correlates with cultural practices and how well they are carried out.
Landscape professionals have a responsibility to supply their customers with educational material on their role in keeping turf and other landscape plants healthy. This includes (as appropriate) information on irrigation, mowing, plant selection, aeration, and traffic control. Educating clients about wise cultural practices is of the utmost importance.
Cultural practices are a management tool to reduce pesticide use. Use plant varieties that are less susceptible to insects, nematodes, and diseases in order to reduce pesticide use. Care should be taken to select turfgrass species and cultivars best adapted to the environmental conditions of the site and geographic part of the state.
Proper cultural practices include mowing, fertilization, irrigation, pruning, and supplemental cultural practices such as aerification and dethatching. These should be included in the management plan to take advantage of every aspect of the cultural control of pest problems. Cultural practices are a part of IPM and help to produce a healthy, vigorous stand of turf that is more resistant to pest problems.
Mowing height has a tremendous impact on the severity of weed, insect, and disease pests. Lowering the height increases weed, insect, and disease pressure on turfgrasses by causing turf stress.
There are exceptions: centipedegrass and improved bermudagrasses have lower mowing heights than the standard used for lawn and commercial turfgrasses.
Pruning is an important task in maintaining a landscape. Through the selective removal of shoots and branches, pruning a plant can improve its health, control its growth, and enhance its fruiting, flowering, or appearance.
Inadequate nutrition results in thin, weak plants that may be more susceptible to insects, weeds, and diseases.
Certain diseases, such as rust and dollar spot, can occur in turf maintained under low-nutrient conditions.Overfertilization can also enhance plant susceptibility to pests and diseases. Several pesticide applications may be required to alleviate problems that would not have been as prevalent under a proper nutrition program. Proper fertilization can alleviate these conditions.
Fertilization of plants can result in additional growth and production of leaves, stems, branches and roots. In turn, additional growth can result in more maintenance and yard trimming, so it is important to determine if growth is the desired result. Fertilization is usually desirable when trying to establish newly installed landscape plants. Also, adding fertilizer can help plants get off to a quick start to fill in the planted areas.
Time fertilizer applications to maximize plant use and minimize adverse environmental impacts. Frequent light applications or "spoon feedings" of turf and landscapes are ideal. Underfertilized landscape plants may require a higher than normal rate of nitrogen or other nutrients in order to return to a healthy condition. Both quick- and slow-release fertilizers have a place in a sound management program.
Remember that plants don't waste water, people do. Supplemental irrigation is necessary for the survival of some turf and ornamental plants during periods of severe moisture deficiency. Overwatering may increase insect, weed, and disease pressures. For example, overwatering during cooler months encourages dollarweed growth. Conversely, other pests thrive under extremely dry conditions and compete with desirable plants. Chinch bugs and spurge are examples of pests that attack turf when the soil is too dry. A proper balance is necessary to keep the landscape strong and healthy.
The average amount of rainfall in Florida ranges from nearly 52 inches annually in the central and northern peninsula to almost 65 inches in the Panhandle west of Tallahassee and along the southeast coast below Lake Okeechobee. More than half of Florida’s total annual rainfall is concentrated in the central and southern peninsula between June and September. During the winter and spring, the lack of rainfall may seriously compromise plant health. Landscape plants growing in soils with a limited capacity to retain moisture can benefit from supplemental irrigation during periods of low rainfall. Even during the rainy season, evapotranspiration (water loss from plants and soil) occurs between showers and may mandate supplemental watering while plants are becoming established.
Determining and controlling the rate, amount, and timing of irrigation can minimize soil erosion, runoff, and fertilizer and pesticide movement. The irrigation system should be designed to have an application rate that is less than the infiltration capacity of the soil so that no surface pooling occurs and water percolates with maximum efficiency. Rain sensors or soil moisture sensors eliminate irrigation when nature has supplied sufficient water.
The use of pesticides for controlling pests remains an important part of landscape plant management in Florida. The key to reducing pesticide use is to combine genetic, cultural, and biological management practices into an IPM program that focuses on the prevention of pest problems. When suppression is necessary, it is easier to suppress a pest when conditions exist that discourage its development. One defense against the movement of pesticides and fertilizer nutrients off-site or through the soil is a thick, vigorously growing stand of turf or other landscape plants.
BMPs to protect water quality can be affordable and easily implemented, and are effective in reducing the off-site transport of sediment, nutrients, and pesticides. Select pesticides that are the least toxic, least water soluble, least volatile, and most effective.
Pesticides must be correctly applied. Spray when conditions for drift are minimal, avoid application when heavy rain is imminent, and irrigate with appropriate volumes of water. Granular applications should be kept away from impervious surfaces and bodies of water. The landscape manager should check the proper calibration of equipment before every pesticide application.
Always follow the label directions for disposing of pesticide containers.