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Soil temps ripe for lawns, cotton

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POSTED: April 27, 2014 3:00 p.m.

On April 2 the soil temperature at 4-inch depth at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah made its launch above 65 degrees Fahrenheit and has now stayed above that temperature for two weeks.  We have been waiting for this event.  
The soil has now been warm enough long enough to start applying fertilizer to lawns, to plant centipede seed or to sod the warm-season turfgrass of your choice.  Yes, those of you with St. Augustine lawns who have been revving the engines of your 350-horsepower, turbocharged, fuel injected, hemi-powered rotary spreaders can now start putting on the weed and feed.  
According to how thick the weeds are in the lawn, apply one weed-and -feed application on St. Augustine in May, June, July and September or until the weeds are controlled.  If you want to get the fertilizer down this weekend, then this counts as your May application.
Those of you with common Bermuda infesting your centipede and St. Augustine lawns should wait at least two months before tackling that issue. Bermudagrass cannot tolerate atrazine herbicide.  The more vigorously the Bermudagrass is growing, the more vulnerable it becomes to atrazine.  
Centipede cannot tolerate atrazine during greenup, but can tolerate it when it is growing vigorously.  St. Augustine tolerates atrazine very well.  A late June to early July application of atrazine as a spot spray to common Bermuda (and not-so common Bermudagrass for that matter) in a St. Augustine or centipede lawn seems to produce the best results.    
While those in the south end of Bryan may be more concerned with lawns, the north end of Bryan is more focused on row crops and cattle. Lawns are simple. Sure, you can make it as complicated as you want, but if you make a mistake, it’s just your lawn. You can mess it up this year and get it back next year. Or, if you have the money to burn, you can resod it and get the lawn back in 30 days. Taking care of your own lawn has all the stress of making a putt on the mini-golf course.  
Now think about what it is like if you are a farmer trying to bring in a crop of cotton.  As I write this it is Tax Day. Tonight the weather forecast is for a low temperature of 43 degrees.  The same 65-degree temperature at a 4-inch soil depth needed for turf to start growing is also the temperature needed for cotton planting.  
The earliest cotton should be planted is after the soil temp has been above 65 degrees for two or three days with air temperatures warm enough to provide at least 50 heat units in five days after planting.  A chill down to 41 degrees will kill young cotton seedlings, while cooling down to 50 degrees can just cause chilling injury.  It just slows down the plants, provides an environment for seedling disease to develop and takes a chunk out of the total harvest possible.  Nothing to worry about, right?
 If a farmer was in a hurry and planted his cotton the first week of April he would be sweating the accuracy of the weather forecast for the night of April 15, 2014. Just 2 degrees lower than forecast can kill his cotton seedlings.  If everything works out perfectly, his profit per acre is only about $380 per acre.  The seed alone can cost more than $14 an acre and then you have to add in the equipment, fuel and labor to replant.  A stumble out of the gate can cost you the race.  
Farmers have learned to be patient with the weather.  Rather than jumping at the bit to get in the fields, farmers in southeast Georgia have learned to expect a little surprise from nature and postpone planting cotton until late-April up to mid-May.
Hmmm, that’s the same schedule I have been trying to push with lawn cultivation. Can’t be that there is a greater plan here...It must just be coincidence.  After all, cotton is a simple crop. The UGA Cotton Production Guide is only 133 pages long and has only nine authors. I think growing cotton is as easy and low stress as standing over a 12-foot putt on the 18th green on Sunday at Augusta National for the Championship.  Every.  Day.  And that was when prices were a buck a pound.  
This year the UGA Cotton Team is forecasting only 75 cents per pound.  Cotton farmers need a public service commercial like the PGA has. You know the one with Davis Love III pitching the golf ball onto the high side of the green at a 45-degree angle away from the pin.  The ball almost comes to a stop and starts rolling toward the cup, picking up speed and then drops right in and the gallery explodes in cheers and the tag line is “These guys are good.”  
Him they notice.  American farmers are due the same.       

Gardner lives in Keller and is the UGA extension agent for Glynn County, serving South Bryan.

 

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