Lisa's Landscape & Design

Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time

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”.

Happy Gardening!!

Lisa La Paso

Lisa’s Landscape & Design

“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”

12 Comments

  1. Michelle

    Lisa,
    If we had our grass aerated and put down compost last year, should we do it again this year? What about de-thatching (we’ve never done it in 5 years) Which process would we do first?
    Thank you,
    Michelle

    • Michelle, this year I would definitely de-thatch. After the brutal Summer and harsh Winter we had your sod was burned pretty badly. The Augustine leaves break and leave a layer on the ground so deep and compacted that the new sod cannot grow in. I de-thatched mine by spending hours in the yard with a soft rake. We filled 4 paper bags with grass clippings from what might be a 500 sq ft patch of sod and I am still finding bald spots in the yard that I couldn’t see previously. After removing the thatch we composted to about 1/2 inch in the bald spots and 1/4 over the sod and it was greener the next day. There is a 100 % difference in color from my yard to my neighbors.
      As a rule, I would aerate every other year and de-thatch every 4-5 years. Remember, if you de-thatch with a machine, it will tear your runners and make it grow in even faster, it just looks tragic for a while until it comes in.

  2. Carlos

    Lisa,
    Could artificial grass be an allowed alternative?

    • Artificial grass should absolutely be allowed as an alternative as long as it is maintained properly. In fact we have a neighbor in Avery Ranch who has artificial sod and he by FAR has one of the prettiest yards in the neighborhood, and while I bet the HOA is probably not happy about the choice, I think it is brilliant that they are using a NO water choice (we are required to have sod here) that hopefully is environmentally friendlier. (I honestly do not know the chemicals used as maintenance) But you can be sure I will be looking it up 😉

  3. michael

    Hello,

    I have new St Augustine sod that was installed in late April 2011. It was doing great and fillig in well except for the added weeds. I was doing well by just pulling the weeds, but felt it was time for some feed. I used Bonus S as instructed by the bag and two days later it was trashed. There are hug burned spots and I think I may loose these spot. Any thought?

    Michael

    • Hi Michael, unfortunately you are suffering from the havoc I have spoken of many times and that is that chemicals are not our friend in the garden. Weed and feed is by far one of the most harmful and damaging products on the market. It is harmful on the Eco system as well. Your grass is burned because the timing of this product is all wrong. You feed in the Spring, late March/ early April, here in Central Texas. You use weed control in February, so already the timing is off to use these products at the same time. Also, the “weed” portion considers anything but your lawn a weed, that is your trees, your shrubs, dogs, kids. I have heard story after story of horrible allergic reactions to pets who walk on this product and later suffer the consequences. Also sounds like this product burned your lawn because it was applied in too intense of heat, or at too high a level of application.

      The damage has already been done, so the first thing you should do is throw the rest of that away preferably in a chemically controlled site. You should then buy some really good top soil/potting soil (not compost, this can burn this time of year if there is animal product in it) and spread it generously in the burned area’s. This will provide some healthy soil for the runners of your sod to re-grow over. Water consistently in the amount of 1″ per week at least and hope for the best. You can supplemental feed with Liquid Seaweed, or Medina “Hasta Grow Lawns” but only organic type fertilizers that will be less toxic on your lawn.

      Next season, do not add any chemicals and use Corn Gluten in the Spring and Fall as directed and apply Compost up to 1/2″ over the whole surface of the lawn and you will be amazed by how beautiful your lawn will be, not to mention weed free. A thick lawn is a weed free lawn and a chemical free lawn is the best one.

  4. Kevin

    Hey Lisa,
    I am in South TX and I layed st aug. 3 weeks ago. The sod is doing well but I am little concerned about the amount of weeds. Is this something I need to look into treating with some kind of fertilizer or will eventually the weeds just get eaten up by the St Aug? Thanks for the help!!!

    • Kevin, the weeds I am assuming came with the sod? They can also sneak in through the cracks of the freshly laid sod and can unfortunately come in on uncooked top soil. It is too late to use corn gluten or compost, but vinegar will burn the weeds and the sod. If you have a lot of weeds the best advice I can give is to pick, pick, pick and get yourself a good weed popper. I wish I had better news for you but there are no good organic methods at this late date. You can fertilize all summer long with liquid seaweed or Medina Hasta Grow for lawns, as the thicker and healthier your sod, the quicker it will eliminate room for weeds. Augustine is a dense grass and will fill in the empty spots and eventually choke out the weeds as long as you prevent them from going to seed. I would however, encourage you to use Corn Gluten in the Fall and late Winter, then compost your lawn with organic compost next spring to the depth if 1/4-1/2 inch.

  5. I’m a little late in the game in reading your post. The one thing you did not mention about St Augustine is iron Chlorosis which represents itself as yellow patches of grass with no clear delineation. Green just turns to yellow. The cause is the soil ph is too high. Needs to be in the 6.0 to 6.5 range. I have tried everything in the book and the only thing that works and works fast 2-5 days is liquid iron and soil acidifier. Forget Ironite, sulfur or anything else. There is granulated iron and soil acidifier but it did not work for me. Follow directions and apply 2-3 times to affected areas during the growing season. Stuff runs about $11 a pint so use sparingly unless your rich or think your worth is measured by the appearance of your lawn. Use 3 tbsp per 2 gallons of water.

    • Great info, notoriously when people notice the lawn is chlorotic they run out and buy a huge bag of “Ironite” (as you mentioned) and pour it all over their lawns and the minute we get our all too typical rain bursts here in Central Texas 80% runs off the lawn into the drain, gulf and aquifers. Thank you for your input and a more Earth freindly solution 😉

  6. ann

    wow. I bought this house that had been vacant for several years. There was some st augustine in the yard and a sprinkler system. I have never put commercial fertilizer on it. I did throw some compost out once I think. Otherwise its just been watered every 5 days or so for about an hour early in the morning. It has completely covered the front yard and even over last summer has held up quite well. Now even in the back yard where I have no sprinklers It is spreading well. Thru the last few summers, I’ve only watered just enough to keep it alive. I never mow it very short, but the good thing about st augustine is that it only gets to be about 6 inches tall and so even if I don’t mow for a while, it don’t look terrible. And it eventually chokes out the weeds and other grasses that do grow too tall. I’ve never aerated or dethatched in 14 years. I think the more you baby a lawn, the more it needs babying. I do have quite a few trees and where it is in full sun needs water a little sooner.

    • Well Ann you are quite fortunate to be sure. I always say if ain’t broke, don;t fix it. Compost makes a big difference for sure.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: