Managing a St Augustine Lawn

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This spring the questions have started pouring in, “What can I do to take care of my St. Augustine lawn?”

St. Augustine grass is a perennial, warm-season turfgrass found in the southern continental United States, the Hawaiian Islands, Southern Mexico, South America, South Africa, western Africa, the Caribbean, Australia, and in parts of the South Pacific.

It is undoubtedly our most popular turfgrass for homeowners in this area. It’s broad leaves with dark green color are the ideal turfgrass for lawns in our area. St. Augustine is known and appreciated for it shade tolerance, the most shade tolerant turfgrass option we have.

St. Augustine will tolerate nearly all types of soil, heat, salt, some drought, and, again, it tolerates shade. It won’t put up with water-logged soils and extended periods of cold weather. And extended cold weather isn’t referring to our unusually cold week this past winter, but to a really cold month or two as our neighbors a few hundred miles to the north have.

You may have noticed that I have tried to emphasize “tolerates shade” twice already. For some reason, it is a commonly assumed that St. Augustine grass likes shade. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

St. Augustine tolerates some shade but will do wonders in full sun. If you try to plant St. Augustine in a truly, shady location, it simply won’t perform.

Just like one tolerates some foods but really enjoys others, so it is with shade and St. Augustine.

Yes, there are some older lawns covered by oaks and other trees where the St. Augustine is surviving and thriving. Indeed, we can find those sites, and I don’t really know why but to guess those old lawns were started some time ago then the trees canopy and subsequent shadiness was less than it is in the current mature state.

Nevertheless, if started a new landscape or working to reclaim bare ground in a particular shady site, try a shade loving ground cover.

St. Augustine is not one of the tougher turfgrasses for heavy traffic. I’ve never seen an athletic field sodded with St. Augustine grass. If your yard has a path worn in thru it, no amount of patching with new sod squares will cure the problem unless you alleviate the traffic there. If that’s not an option, I heartily recommend installing a permanent walkway in the affected area..

There are a number of varieties. The old stand-by was simply called Texas Common. Newer varieties include Raleigh, Seville, Palmetto and Floratam. Each of these have their own nuances and traits that vary from one to another.

All varieties are started from sod. It is true that you may see St. Augustine seed for sale from time to time. If you’ve let your St. Augustine lawn go too long, you’ll see it make a seed head. The kicker is that those seeds are not viable seeds. If you insist on buying them to try them, I’ve got some porcupine seeds I gather each fall from under my sweet gum tree.

If we treat our lawns poorly, it is from over watering and over fertilizing. While our lawns do need supplemental water and nutrients to be their best, more pest problems are caused by pampering our lawns way too much!

Visiting with a fellow, high school tennis dad, Tom told me that at the back of his property where he doesn’t pamper his lawn, it does better than the pampered area closer to the back porch. That bears true for many that call me later in the year with fungal diseases running rampant.

Water it only when the grass needs it. When you do water, wet the soil to a depth of 6 inches. Then don’t water again until the grass shows symptoms of drought stress—a dull, bluish color, and rolled or folded leaves. This usually occurs in 5 to 10 days, depending on the weather.

IF you are curious about when to put out fertilizer, the general recommendation from university research is to wait three weeks after your St. Augustine lawn greens up. Then add only put out one pound of soluble nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn every 8 weeks, or one and a half pounds of slow-release nitrogen every 10 weeks.

Best of luck in your landscaping efforts.

Author

Cary Sims
Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu

Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.
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