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How to Care for St. Augustine Grass

St. Augustine grass, a southern favorite, is well-known for its thick carpeted appearance as well as its tolerance to shade. What can you do if mole crickets, root rot or chinch bugs are ruining your curb appeal? Here are some tips for maintaining St. Augustine grass.

St. Augustine Grass at A Glance

St. Augustine grass ( Stenotaphrum Secundatum is a warm-season, high-maintenance turf grass that grows in lawns throughout the southern U.S. This perennial is well-known for its dense carpet-like soil, broadleaf blades and rich green color. St. Augustine grass, also known as buffalo grass in Australia is not to be confused with the North American prairie grass Bouteloua Dactyloides.

The three major parts of St. Augustine grass are the roots, the stolons (aka runners), as well as the broad, flat blades. St. Augustine does not have rhizomes as other grasses.

St. Augustine thrives both in sun and shade. Its tolerance to salt makes St. Augustine adaptable to coastal areas (or backyards with saltwater swimming pools). It can also tolerate moderate foot traffic.

How to maintain St. Augustine grass

Watering requirements

St. Augustine grass can withstand extreme drought conditions. This grass type, like most established lawns needs approximately 1 inch of water per day to survive.

How frequently should I water my lawn?

Your St. Augustine lawn may not be getting enough water from the rain. If this happens, water it twice per week. It is better for turfgrass to be soaked for longer periods of time and to get water less frequently.

Pay attention to the type of soil you have. Clay-heavy soils and sandy soils retain water differently. Clay soils absorb water slowly so it is important to water in small amounts and take breaks between watering. The water will not drain and will elude the yard as runoff.

Sandy soils are more efficient at filtering water than clay soils. This means that they require less water, but may require more frequent irrigation.

How do I know if my lawn is dry?

Walking on your grass can tell you if it is getting enough water. Your grass is healthy and hydrated if it springs back when you walk on them. It’s time for water if the blades curl or turn a dull shade.

When is it best to water my lawn?

It is best to water in the morning. It is ideal to water between sunrise and 10 a.m., as it allows the water time to soak into the ground before it can be evaporated by the sun or wind.

Avoid watering your lawn at night. Avoid watering your lawn in the evening or at night. This could lead to too much water sitting on your grass, which can cause rot, fungal infections and other problems.

Mowing

Photo Credit: John Tann / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Maintaining a healthy lawn is essential for keeping it looking good and encouraging growth. You can also keep pests away by changing their habitat. Because it provides plenty of hiding places, most pests love long grass. Mowing is a good way to get rid of ants, ticks and grasshoppers.

St. Augustine should grow between 2.5 and 3.0 inches tall. This grass can be easily cut too short, which can lead to weeds and other diseases. This grass can be fried by the sun if it is cut too short.

Start your mowing program once your St. Augustine grass has turned a spring green color. Typically, between 3.75 to 4.5 inches. The fall is the best time to store your mower because St. Augustine’s growing seasons usually ends in September.

Keep the grass at a third height when you mow: You don’t want to stress your turf by cutting too much.

Do not use dull blades to cut your lawn. Dull blades can lead to:

  • An unattractive appearance
  • A strangely yellow hue
  • Increased susceptibility for lawn diseases
  • Turf that has been pulled or ripped and damaged

Fertilizer

You may want to fertilize your St. Augustine yard to improve its health.

Before you add fertilizer to your soil, it’s a good idea. You could end up with dead grass or damaged lawns if you play a guessing game when applying fertilizer. You can find soil test kits at your local hardware stores. For a more precise assessment, you can contact your local cooperative extension to receive instructions on how prepare a soil sample for laboratory testing.

Late spring or early summer is the best time to fertilize warm-season grasses like St. Augustine grass. A healthy lawn will usually be established by applying fertilizer only once per year.

Removal of thatch

St. Augustine grass has a lower rate of thatch buildup than other sod grasses. If your lawn needs to be mowed, it is best to do so in the spring or early summer, as the lawn starts to grow.

Thatch refers to the layer of organic material that is between your soil and your grass. Some thatch can be normal. A healthy layer of thatch should not exceed 1/2-inch in thickness. This organic material helps protect your lawn from extreme temperatures and retains moisture.

Your grass will not get the water it needs if the thickness of your thatch is more than 1/2-inch. A thick layer of thatch can also be a good incubator for diseases and pests.

A dethatching machine can be used to remove the thatch. Dethatchers can be rented from your local hardware store or hired by a professional for the job.

Aeration

Compacted soil can be caused by heavy rainfall, parked cars, and frequent foot traffic. Aeration is a method to remove soil plugs from the ground. This allows water, air and nutrients to reach the roots.

When the grass starts to grow, aerate your St. Augustine grass grass lawn early in the summer. Clay lawns require aeration every year, while sandy soils only require aeration every two to three.

You can test your lawn for aeration by inserting a screwdriver in the ground. If the screwdriver does not move, the soil may be compacted. If the screwdriver can get into the soil easily, there is no need to aerate.

Disease Control

You may have a disease or infection if your St. Augustine grass remains brown and unhealthy despite all your efforts to water, mow, dethatch and fertilize.

  • Gray Leaf Spot: gray leaf spot is a fungal pathogen which attacks the St. Augustine grasses’ leaf blades. Gray leaf spot can be treated with fungicides.
  • Pythium root Rot: Lawns that have poor drainage are more susceptible to root rot. Root rot symptoms include crown rot, stunted growth and wilting. To ensure proper drainage, you should check your irrigation system or remove soil compaction.
  • This fungal infection is more resistant to anti-fungal treatment. It can live in soil and is difficult to treat. You can improve the lawn’s care by changing your watering schedule. Instead of frequent shallow watering, opt for more frequent heavy watering.

Pest Control

Pests can make your St. Augustine lawn their home. Understanding and identifying these pests can help you get rid of them.

  • Chinch bug: Chinch insects eat the sap from St Augustine grass and then inject a toxin into the plant that stops water movement. You can find insecticides at your local hardware shop.
  • White Grubs: These grubs feed on the roots of your grasses, causing turf separation or unsightly brown patches. Common ingredients to eliminate grubs are trichlorfon and carbaryl.
  • Mole crickets: They eat grass roots, rhizomes, and similar to grubs. You can flush them with soapy water.

Weed Control

Weeds can leach valuable nutrients from plants nearby and greedily absorb water, affecting grass growth. Some weeds can harbor unwanted pests or invite disease.

St. Augustine, a thick turf grass, is effective at removing most weeds. However, crabgrass and other weeds can sometimes impede your ability to enjoy the St. Augustine. Herbicides can be used to quickly get rid of invasive weeds. Homeowners can choose from pre-emergent or after-emergent herbicides.

Pre-emergent herbicides can be used to prevent weeds from growing. These chemicals stop potential weeds from growing roots and prevent them from developing.

Post-emergent hericides are used to control weeds that are already infected. Post-emergent herbicides kill weeds by infecting stalks, which then kills the roots.

Skip overseeding

While your neighbor may be able to oversee their bermudagrass grass lawn, it is not recommended for St. Augustine grass. The thick, dense growth of grass means that the seeds will not reach the ground. You must trim the grass to ensure that the seeds reach the soil. However, St. Augustine grass can be damaged by scalping.

St. Augustine grass also produces fewer seeds that other grasses so it is not commercially available.

FAQ about St. Augustine Grass

Is it possible to over-fertilize St. Augustine’s grass?

Yes. High levels of nitrogen can cause a lawn to burn. Fertilizer burn can cause severe damage to the grass blades. Fertilizer burn can cause grass discoloration or root damage.

Is St. Augustine grass going to fill the voids?

St. Augustine spreads independently. However, you can accelerate the spread by using sod and plugs at your local garden center.

Contact a professional

St. Augustine is a hardy and high-maintenance turfgrass. A pro can help you if lawn care becomes too difficult. Hire a lawn-care pro to enjoy your lush St. Augustine lawn.

This post was written by a professional arborist at   Arbor Wise Professional Tree Care. Robert Miller is the owner of Arbor Wise Professional Tree Care, a locally owned and operated tree service company that offers superb lawn care by the most experienced Arborists. Arborwise Tree Services is a tree removal company that offers stump removal, tree pruning, stump grinding, fertilization, and tree restoration. We have an extraordinary lawn care industry notoriety covering the Pinellas county area. Click here for more information!

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