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Warm-season turf goes dormant in winter months

December 3, 2011

Reducing Wear of Winter Dormant Turf
Winter weather has arrived in much of Mississippi and the most noticeable changes in our warm-season turf species lawns are that the turf is now going dormant. Foliar leaf expansion has ceased and we no longer need to mow each week. Depending on the turf species there has also been a drastic change in leaf color from green to some shade of brown. What we may not notice is the subtle wearing and thinning of the turf canopy over the next couple of months. Following a couple hard “killing” frost most leaf tissue and even many above ground stolons (stems) die and slowly break down through the winter months particularly if there is much traffic over the lawn even after the frost has melted. When the turf is still covered with frost or frozen it is even more important to restrict lawn traffic as the fracturing of the ice crystals as we walk can literally sever the leaf blades of the turf and cause a much more rapid breakdown of the dead leaf tissue. This is why early tee-times are often delayed for golfers until the frost is melted from the fairways and greens even on healthy cool season turf. Therefore, to help reduce wear and maintain a thick turf canopy on your lawn throughout the winter months avoid treading as much as possible on it when frozen.
Plant hardiness zones
Knowing your garden’s hardiness zone will help you when choosing the right plants that are appropriate for your garden. Reputable nurseries in your area make the task easier by stocking plants suitable for your zone. Many plant tags list a range, such as Zone 5 to 7. In general, the lower number tells you a plant’s tolerance to low temperatures without protection. In hot climates, the upper number indicates a plant’s ability to endure the stress of drought or extreme heat.
Planting and gardening is not an exact science because there are so many variables. Keep in mind that your garden is likely to have pockets where the temperatures are warmer or cooler than the general zone for your area.
A south-facing stucco wall might elevate temperatures—and the planting zone by 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. An exposed spot at the base of a slope might capture cool air and lower the temperature by the same degree. A plant that survives midway up a south-facing slope may otherwise expire at the bottom where cold air sinks and settles.
To check which plant zone in Mississippi you are in, go to http://msucares.com/lawn/lawn/zone.html.
To view the entire U.S. plant zone map go to http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/ushzmap.html.
 Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is coming. Vegetable gardeners should be inventorying their equipment and seeds for the coming crop year. One addition many need to add to our arsenal is a second sprayer. Every year we get calls about misshapen plants for no apparent reason. Often the problem is due to herbicide residue in sprayers. Many garden centers have sprayers on sale during the winter months. check out an appropriate sprayer for you garden size. Using paint, permanent marker or other long wearing material mark one sprayer(the old one unless you have modified it) as "herbicide only". This investment will pay off by preventing accidental misapplications.
Lots of people used the Thanksgiving holidays to muck out their horse stalls and now have piles of "barnyard manure". Before accepting this to put on the garden, find out if the horse owners know where they hay comes from.
There is a class of pasture herbicides called pyridine carboxylic acids that exist through the digestive tract of animals and in the manure and urine. The herbicides will not influence the composting process, but will be in the finished compost. Commonly used ones in Mississippi include trichlopyr, picloram and clopyralid. These herbicides can affect potatoes, tomatoes, peas and carrots. Try to avoid adding problems to the garden by making sure these herbicides were not fed to the animals.
Vegetable gardeners who have just finished and are looking for a cover crop should check into oilseed radish. This is not the typical garden radish that grows in three weeks and makes small round red balls to eat(there may still be time to grow these for Christmas), but is closer to a daikon that makes a foot long root. The long root helps make the garden soil more permeable to water and the rapidly decaying organic matter next Spring will help in other ways. Oilseed radish takes about eight weeks to grow, so check your garden plan for next year and see if you are planning to plant before March. Oilseed radish is easy to kill since the root sticks up out of the soil and is easily broken by stepping on or mowing. Other winter cover crops are difficult to kill.

Kelly, Nagel and Wells are affiliated with the Mississippi State Extension Service. Provided by the Oktibbeha County Extension Service. For more information, call 662-323-5916.

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