St. Augustine, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly…
You are going to detect a theme with me when it comes to sod and that is because I don’t like it. I find it to be a huge water waster, an enormous opportunity for people to misuse chemicals, a lot of wasted time to care for and lets not forget the pollution it produces from mowing and edging. That being said, many of us have it so we need to make the best of it.
St. Augustine is a fickle sod and it has very specific requirements to help it look good. To start with, Augustine likes a very specific mowing schedule, it likes too much water, it’s thatchy and doesn’t like to be walked on. hmmm, perhaps your kids could levitate and you have an unending supply of water? According to the sod specialist at A&M, Augustine should be mowed every three days for best results….HA HA HA. No really, he really said that. Lets be serious, who is going to do that? I would suggest mowing every 5-7 days and no more than 10 during the growing season. You should never cut more than 1/3 of the length of your sod at one time. In other words, if you have a lawn that is 6″ tall you only cut it to 4″ tall. 4″ is the optimal height you should keep your Augustine at all times. Never scalp it like my neighbors do thinking you will get out of mowing it sooner because it doesn’t work like that. All you will accomplish by doing that is to have a really stressed lawn that requires more water to recover in the Texas heat. It is also best to cut your lawn during cooler hours and not in the heat of the day to avoid burning freshly cut blades and exposed soil.
Be sure to clean your lawnmower blades with a hose or blower after you mow and spray with Lysol each time. This will help prevent fungus from spreading in your lawn. If you have a lawn service, do not let them mow shorter than 4″ and make sure they clean and spray the blades of all of their tools and mowers with lysol before mowing your property or they can spread fungus and weed seeds from all the other yards they have mowed.
St. Augustine and other sods can build up thatch. This is the debris left behind from an extra cold winter, or mowing debris. The clippings, or broken, dead sod leaves form a mat on the soil preventing the sod from growing in. The best way to avoid this is to use a mulching mower, rake occasionally after mowing ( add the leaves to your compost or brown bag it for the city.. NEVER put them in your trash can as this adds to carbon in our landfills which turns into greenhouse gas.) It’s also advisable to De-Thatch every few seasons and this can be done with a soft and a lot of elbow grease. It has recently been brought to my attention that dethatching tools can kill St Augustine, though I have also read that the technique is best used during a vigorous growth time. The reality is that you only have thatch build up if you are over using chemicals or waiting to long to cut the lawn, so don’t.
Spring is the time of year to compost your lawn. This is when you aerate as well, and aerating is done with a machine (you can rent from Lowes or most big box stores) that removes little plugs of sod and soil. Leave the plugs on the ground then just spread out your compost. Aerating adds air to the soil, improves drainage, makes room for root growth and allows the compost to penetrate the ground adding nutrients even deeper. This is a great alternative to chemical fertilizers that only make your grass reliant on more chemicals. You compost by raking between 1/4 – 1/2 inch into your sod with a soft rake. I suggest you use an organic compost, most landscape supply companies carry it. The compost settles into the aerated soil and fertilizes deeply throughout the growing season, adds soil depth, retains moisture and amends trees and plants around it. Aerating should be done every 3 years or so but you should compost all your trees, beds and lawn every year. I will get into more details in my next blog about Nitrogen and Carbon and why organics are so important in our yards, but for now, lets just say compost can save the world and move on.
Quick point, chemical fertilizers have salt that bind the nutrients in your soil, the weed & feed products like “Scotts Bonus S” and the like, think your tree, bushes, flowers, air, animals and kids are weeds too so don’t use it. A thick, healthy lawn doesn’t have weeds naturally by competition of the sod. Compost adds valuable food and improved soil. Do this from mid March to mid April for best results. Never use chemicals on composted beds or lawn, instead, for Summer time feed use liquid Seaweed or Medina “Hasta Grow” for lawns.
Now for the watering schedule and this is a big one. A pet peeve of mine for a couple of reasons…one, the city of Austin doesn’t think we are smart enough to remember to water when we need to so they have come up with a genius plan to give us a specific day of the week which is against every conservationists teachings. The other is that most home owners aren’t educated about their lawns and water in a self defeating way. Watering every once a week to the depth of one inch is the best way to keep our sod alive and thriving. I cannot stress this enough, this inch is vital to the success of your sod. Reason being is you are training your roots to go deep for water, not watering deeply enough encourages the roots to stay shallow and constantly requiring more water from you. You measure this by placing a tuna can or a flat sided vessel near your irrigation or sprinkler. You time how long it takes for the can to measure an inch and then you know how long to run your system. If you are on a slope, you may need to water in increments. For example, if it takes 30 minutes to get 1 inch you would run your system for 10 minutes each for 3 cycles. Depending on the amount of zones you have you may be wise to run part in the morning and the other in the evening. Now be mindful that achieving an inch can be costly, if you see your bill and want to cry, you may be better served to use that money for turning some of your water hogging lawn in to Xerophytic beds. Do not cheat to water your grass, if you cannot water honestly on the days and times allowed and get your sod to grow, you need to remove some grass not use more water.
Now for diseases, Augustine has a lot of disease/ pest and maintenance issues, but the most common are Grubs, Chinch bugs, Fungus and Thatch. We talked about thatch, avoid chemical fertilizer or mowing too infrequently. Fungus can be controlled by using liquid Garlic if used in the early stages and by making sure your mower is kept clean. Fungus (Brown patch) is best recognized by it’s circular shape. If it gets too out of control, you will have to resort to chemicals, but be sure to follow application directions carefully. Fungus are most prevalent in humid/wet warm weather. Avoid watering in the evening whenever possible (again, unless your zones need to run because of a sloped yard) to prevent the spread of fungus from excess moisture. Chinch bugs can be controlled with various organic remedies, but the problem is that most people do not recognize this problem until it is too late. A composted healthy lawn is your best defense against the critters, but if all else fails, I suggest you bring out the big guns to deal with these pests because they can wipe out a lawn very quickly while you are trying natural remedies to “see” if they work. Grubs eat the roots of your sod and can be controlled by applying beneficial Nematodes. These can be purchased at the natural gardener. Beneficial Nematodes are living creatures that also eat fire ants and flea’s. You test for Grubs by removing a 1′ sq of sod and count the number of Grubs (Google them, they’re hideous), If you see more than 1, you have a problem.
Augustine does poorly in shade as do most grasses, I suggest you make mulch beds or beds with dwarf Mondo grass in these area’s. Some shade ferns are also a really nice plant for those problem area’s, bonus…you don’t have to mow.
If I haven’t talked you out of sod yet, but you are thinking of removing or changing your sod choice after such an unforgiving year as last few years have been, consider using Zoysia, which is my favorite. You can check out the info with your local Agrilife extension office, sod & seed company or here in Austin, the “Lady Bird Widlflower Center”.
Lisa La Paso
Lisa’s Landscape & Design
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”