Warm season grasses commonly planted in South Carolina include St. Augustine, Centipede, Zoysia and Bermuda. Each has distinct characteristics, but none are suitable for all conditions encountered by homeowners across the state. Use bulletin 1214, Selecting a Turfgrass at.http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic for good information when selecting a turf grass for new installations or managing current turf grasses. 

Warm season grasses are green for about six months, spend another two months in transition during early spring and fall, and brown out for four-plus months during the year. Growing seasons are longer in the southern parts of the state and shorter in the northern part of the state.

Managing turf grasses correctly during the growing season and fall transition is critical in preparation for proper winter dormancy for each turf type. Sudden early or winter freezes and potential disease problems associated with cooler temperatures during the fall and spring can cause significant damage when grasses are not physiologically prepared.

Critical period

Over-irrigation or excessive rainfall during late summer and early autumn can provide conditions that favor disease infection and increase cool season weed problems.

Large Patch, Rhizoctonia solani, is the primary disease that affects warm season turf grass under favorable conditions during early autumn and early spring. Homeowners should avoid practices that encourage late season growth. Distinct circular pattern in spring of slow to green up warm season turf grass infected with Large Patch disease can result if grass is not properly managed.

One cannot control our highly variable southern cool season climate, but proper management of fertility and irrigation can improve the likelihood that turf will transition properly into dormancy with less problems come springtime.

Fertility management

Late summer, fall or very early spring fertilization with fertilizers that contain significant amounts of nitrogen can increase severity of diseases such as large patch when they are present or developing.

Allow turf to gradually transition into dormancy in the fall and green up in spring. Avoid fertilization after mid-August in the Piedmont and Sept. 1 along the coast.

Don't feed the weeds with fertilization before full green up in spring. This is generally in May.

Irrigation management, seasonal variations

It is important to recognize seasonal variations that affect warm season turf. Day lengths, air temperature and soil temperature are drastically different on April 1 and Sept. 1 than on July 1. Irrigation systems are often left on the same cycle and volume setting for the entire season.

During the fall, turf should be irrigated during dry weather, but it is wise to water only as needed and set controls to only operate manually. Water deeply, but infrequently to maintain vigor but not to stimulate quick succulent growth.

Avoid the late winter sunny day garden center trap.

Depending on where you are in South Carolina there are the usual explosion of available flowering and landscape plants at local garden centers in March or early April. Along with plants, tons of lawn fertilizers and Weed 'N Feed products stack the aisles, enticing homeowners and professionals to start the growing season early on turf too. Lawns in the southern part of the state do begin to grow earlier, but for most of the state turf does not fully green up until May. Clemson University's Home and Garden site has a more extensive bulletin on this topic at: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/hot_topics/2016/09%20preparing_managing_warm_season_grasses_during_the_offseason.html If you have questions you can stop by our office on East Cambridge Avenue or call 864-223-3264.

The Abbeville Extension Office 2016 Berry, Fruit, Nut, Shrub and Tree Sale order forms are now online at http://www.clemson.edu/extension/abbeville/files/2016treesale.pdf or at the Abbeville, Greenwood and McCormick Extension offices.

James Hodges is a Clemson Extension agent in Greenwood County. He can be reached at 864-223-3264.