How to Have a Great Lawn and Protect Your Lakes and Aquifer at the Same Time

by Donna Legare, Co-owner Native Nurseries

After more than 35 years in the gardening business, I can sum up my philosophy on how to have a great, yet ecologically sound, lawn and garden in four points:

  1. Protect and nurture your soil.
  2. Conserve water (slow the flow and protect its purity).
  3. Relax your attitude (about what constitutes the perfect yard).
  4. Enjoy the fruits of your labor (picking blueberries with the grandkids, watching a hummingbird at the pentas you planted).

Here are some useful techniques to help you have a healthy lawn. Try not to focus on killing weeds. Instead focus on growing a healthy lawn that will choke out weeds. Plant Centipede sod in the sun and St. Augustine sod in the shade (though St. Augustine is also tolerant of sun). Even St.Augustine sod will struggle in heavy shade.


•    Do not remove grass clippings. They are a natural source of fertilizer for your grass.

•    Mow regularly and do not cut off more than 1/3 of the grass blades at any one cutting. Make sure the lawn mower blades are sharp.

•    Mow centipede at 2 inches. Mow St. Augustine at 3 – 4 inches. The higher mowing height leads to deeper roots and a greater tolerance for drought, insects, disease, poor soil, traffic, nutrient deficiencies.


•    New sod or plugs usually need fertilizer to help get them established. The Leon County Extension Office recommends 15-0-15 fertilizer with at least half of the nitrogen being in a slow-release form. I personally recommend organic fertilizer because it is made from recycled sources and helps build the soil while feeding plants. Espoma Plant-tone is one example and another is corn gluten. Like the 15-0-15, corn gluten contains no phosphorus and helps with weed control in addition to feeding your lawn.

•    Fertilize no sooner than April. Wait at least 3 weeks after your lawn has fully greened up. At this point, the lawn will be able to utilize the fertilizer.

•    An established Centipede lawn needs no fertilizer; the grass clippings alone will feed it. If it is over-fertilized, it will develop disease and insect problems.

•    Fertilize St. Augustine lawns as needed. I fertilize lightly with Plant-tone in areas of the lawn that are patchy, some years not at all. St. Augustine can be grown with low to high fertility; lower fertility will mean less maintenance. Shady areas should get less fertilizer.


•    “Automatic sprinkler systems and improper watering practices are undoubtedly the biggest factors leading to decline of home lawns.” ­­­—The Florida Lawn Handbook, P. 91

•    Turn off automatic sprinkler systems and operate them manually. Once the lawn is established, water only on an “as-needed” basis. Water when leaf blades show signs of stress: color turns blue-gray; leaf blades fold in half to conserve water; footprints remain visible long after being made. Water thoroughly when you do water.