THE TURF REPORT


St. Augustine Grass for Florida Lawns

St. Augustine probably is the most popular lawn grass in Florida. It's popularity can be attributed to its adaptability to warm, humid regions. It produces a dark green, dense turf that will grow in a wide range of soils, especially in the sand of North Florida. It has a good salt tolerance and certain varieties will tolerate some shade. It requires irrigation and moderate fertilization. The major pest of St. Augustine is the chinch bug, however most of the current varieties are resistant to chinch bugs.

Home gardeners are faced with the problem of choosing which variety of grass will fit the growing conditions and needs of their yard. The following discussion of growth characteristics of available varieties at Erb & Roberts, Inc. can help the homeowner choose the best grass for their particular situation.

St. Augustine Floratam
Floratam produces a vigorous, coarse, dense green turf that is adapted to most soils and climates in Florida with the ability to resist chinch bugs. It is the preferred variety for open sunny areas where chinch bugs can be a problem.

St. Augustine New Seville
Seville is a semi-dwarf cultivar with a dark green color and low growth habit. It is resistant to SADV and has a finer texture than Floratam. Seville performs well in the shade and produces an excellent turf in full sun. Its cold tolerance is similar to Floratine’s. Being a semi-dwarf variety, Seville’s maintenance is different than for the taller growing cultivars.

 

Other Sod Varieties

Bermuda is used primarily on golf courses and athletic fields... in other words, in areas where fine-textured high quality turf is essential. Bermuda grass is vigorous dark green, dense turf that is well adapted to most soils and climatic regions in Florida. It has excellent wear, drought and salt tolerance. It establishes rapidly and is competitive against weeds. The disadvantage of Bermuda grass is a large number of cultural and pest problems which restrict its use in many Florida situations. It is not suitable for most home lawns because of the need for the use of pesticides to control nematodes (microscopic worms) and insects. It has very high maintenance care.

Bahia has the ability to grow on infertile, dry soil and has a high resistance to most pests, although mole crickets can cause severe damage. Once established, bahia developes an extensive root system which makes it one of the most drought tolerant lawn grasses. It has very good wear tolerance. The disadvantages of Bahia grass is rapid growth and the unsightly seed heads that are produced continously May through November. It is also a tough grass to mow. It is used as pasture grass along road sides and does not provide as fine a lawn as St. Augustine grasses. It is primarily used in retention areas, road sides, ball fields, and any other large area that requires little to no maintenance.

Centipede grass is well adapted to the climate and soils of Central and Northern Florida. It is the most common lawn turf grass in the Florida Panhandle. Centipede is a low-growing, medium textured (yellow-green in color) turf grass. Its low-fertility requirements result in slow growth and reduced maintenance. It has a fair to good drought tolerance and can be established from seed. Disadvantages include being highly susceptible to damage from nematodes and ground pearl insects. It has poor salt tolerance and will not withstand heavy foot traffic. If watered and fertilized too heavily, centipede will develop large brown dead patches in the early Spring.


Establishment

Turf grasses can be established by two methods, seeding and vegetative propagation. Vegetative propagation includes sodding, sprigging and plugging.

While planting sprigs or plugs in more laborious than seeding, a rapid ground cover can be expected since most of our Florida turf grasses grow quickly. Sodding provides an "Instant Florida Lawn".

Regardless of the method, it is essential that proper preparation can be done before planting. New home or building sites should be rough graded to remove rocks, roots and all other debris. With existing sites, unwanted vegetation should be removed by disking or by using a herbicide. However, use of herbicides needs to be done very carefully and according to label instructions. Ideally a soil test should be taken to determine the pH and the need for plant nutrients. These nutrients, if applied before planting, need to be tilled into the soil carefully or damage can be caused to grass roots. Erb & Robertrs, Inc. recommends watering after installation and fertilizing after the grass has rooted.

The best time to plant St. Augustine grass is when plants are actively growing... normally April throuigh September. In Florida, planting grass is acceptable year round with the proper care. Being mindful of cold weather, year round installation is very successful.

Sodding See Preparing for Sod. Sod should only be laid over bear, moist soil with the pieces laid in a staggered, brick-like pattern with the edges fitted tightly together to avoid any cracks. Rolling and watering will assure good contact with the soil for fast rooting. Sodded areas should be watered at least every other day with 1/2 inch of water until the sod is held fast to the soil by the roots. Watering should then be reduced to an as needed basis.

Sprigging Planting grass by sprigging is and effective way to patch small areas of turf, but is too labor intesive for large areas unless mechanically done.Fresh sprigs are "stolens" that have at least two nodes or joints. These are planted end to end in rows 6 - 12 inches apart. The runner should be covered with soil, leaving the leaves exposed. Tamping the soil, thorough watering will help establish the plants. The soil should be kept moist until new stolens are produced.

Plugging Some varieties are available as plugs and sod can be made into plugs by cutting the sod into small squares. The spacing of plugs varies from 12 to 24 inches, with the closer spacing providing full coverage in 3 - 6 months and the farther spacing covering in 6 - 12 months. Plugs are placed in holes the same size as the plugs or in open furrows and tamped into place. A thorough watering completes the installation and then should be cared for like a sprigged lawn.


Maintenance

Mowing Under high levels of management, St. Augustine grass can be maintained at a 2 inch height if the lawn is mowed at least weekly during the growing season. Mowing at this height and frequency requires more fertilizer and water to maintain an attractive lawn. This level of maintenance can also predispose the turf to many pest problems. With moderate to low level maintenance, grass should be cut at a height of 3 -4 inches. This helps the grass develop a deep root system and give a better apearance to the turf. Mowing frequency should then be adjusted to the amount of growth. Remove no more than one third the height of the leaf blades with any mowing.

Mowing too high or infrequently can cause a thatch buildup. The secret to mowing St. Augustine graszs is to water the lawn only when there are signs of moisture stress. This will keep growth to a minimum and reduce the rate of thatch accumulation.

Mowing too low can also cause problems in turf quality. Constantly mowing reduces the density and vigor and can be the cause of weed problems. Cutting with a duller mower blade will give the lawn a brownish cast from the ragged cut that shreds the leaf blades.

Grass clippings can be left on the lawn if it is mowed at the proper height and frequency. Clippings should be left on lawns maintained with low to moderate fertility levels to help recycle nutrients. Remove clippings if the amount is excessive or if the appearance is important.

Watering The best way to irrigate is on an as needed basis. Grass blades will begin to wilt as moisture is depleted in the soil. If 30% - 50% of the lawn shows wilting, irrigate with 3/4" to 1" of water. The turf will fully recover within 24 hours. Wait for signs of wilting again before watering. Proper watering will produce a lawn that requires less mowing and has little thatch buildup helping to develop a deep root system which will be less susceptible to damage by pest and environmental stresses.

Improper watering, too much, too little, too often or at the wrong time, results in low quality turf. Correct watering practices are essential for successful turfgrass management. Frequent light watering causes shallow root systems that are not good for your lawn. To develop a deep root system, the grass should only be watered when the first signs of wilt occur. Newly installed sod may need to be watered at least once a day for several weeks. Established sod should be watered "only when needed".

The professional method used to determine when to water is: Monitor the grass for signs af stress. Water stress appears in one of three ways:

1) Wilted leaf blades or leaves which are folded lengthwise.
2) Areas of turf that turn a blue-gray color.
3) Footprints or tracks that remain in the grass.

When these signs appear, it is time to water. Under normal circumstances, the best time to water is between 4:00 am and 6:00 am.

READ YOUR GRASS LIKE A BOOK. When the leaves are flat, just like the open pages, there is no need to water. When the leaves are closed, just like a shut book, and feel dry and brittle, water your lawn.


Pest Problems

Insects The major pest of St. Augustine grass is the chinch bug. There are chemicals available to help aleviate this problem, but the best solution is to plant Floratam, which is resistant to chinch bugs. Other insects that can cause damage include: Webworms, Armyworms, Grass Loopers and Mole Crickets. High levels of nitrogen fertilizer encourage insect problems.

Diseases See turfgrass fungus chart. Brown patch and grey leaf spot are the two major disease problems of the St. Augustine grass. Brownpatch occurs in warm, humid weather and encouraged by excessive nitrogen. Grey leaf spot occurs during the rainy season and is primarily a problem on new growth. Both diseases can be controlled with fungicides.

Nematodes Several types of nematodes (microscopic worms) infest St. Augustine grass. They can cause yellowing and general thinning of older lawns. Chemicals are available to control nematodes.

Weeds Weed problems indicate the turf has become weakened by improper care or damage from pests. Proper management practices can eliminate most weed problems. If weeds persist, herbicides labeled specifically for St. Augustine grass can be used for control.


Fertilization

A low maintenance St. Augustine grass lawn should be fertilized twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall when the grass is actively growing. Apply a complete fertilizer, such as 16-4-8, 10-10-10 or 6-6-6 with micronutrients at the rate of one pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet of turf. All fertilizers may burn if improperly applied. Never exceed the recommended rate or the sod may be damaged. Always apply fertilizer when the grass leaves are dry and water thoroughly after application. NEVER fertilize the soil before putting the sod down. With these lawns, it is best to leave the grass clippings to recycle nutrients.

At the optimum maintenance level, a St. Augustine grass lawn should recieve four pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet of turf yearly. With complete fertilizer, 1000 square feet of turf should receive one pound of nitrogen in March, May, July and September. With proper watering practices, a good quality lawn with minimal thatch buildup will result.

A high maintenance St. Augustine grass lawn should have no more that 6 - 8 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet of turf yearly. Monthly fertilizer treatments are ideal during the growing season. Heavy fertilization will produce a faster buildup of thatch, increase insect damage and the need for mowing and watering.


An effective way to survey for
Chinch bugs, Lawn Caterpillars and Mole Crickets

Mix 1-1/2 fluid ounces of dishwashing detergent in a two gallon watering can of water. Drench a four square foot area with this solution. Observe the area for about two minutes... if pests are present, they will emerge to the grass surface. If none are found in the first area, examine in three or four other suspected areas.


DID YOU KNOW?

Front lawns of just eight average houses have the cooling effect of about 70 tons of air conditioning.

A turf area 50 x 50 feet releases enough oxygen to meet the daily needs of a family of four.

Healthy dense lawns absorb rainfall six times more effectively than a wheat field and four times better than a hay field of the same size, preventing runoff and erosion.

Turf grasses trap much of the estimated 12 million tons of dust and dirt released yearly into the atmosphere.

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