Let’s talk turf. Here in Chambers County, you have a whole range of household lawns. You have the folks who just get out and weed whack in between the cars parked in the yard all the way to the ones who fertilize, irrigate, and fret over the setting heights on their mowers. In between, you have most of us, who battle the heat and Mother Nature, feeling like Harry Potter going against the dark forces. While Mother Nature wins eventually in our world, you actually do have a chance to keep wild chaos at bay with persistence and knowledge.
The most common lawn types in our area are Bermuda and St. Augustine. St. Augustine is extremely popular and frequently the choice for new construction sod. Bermuda, on the other hand, is one of the most common grasses in the world, and is an acknowledged survivor against any foe. Give Bermuda any slack, and it takes over the St. Augustine, to the astonishment of the homeowner.
Mowing at the correct height is needed to maintain both lawn types. St. Augustine needs the mower set at 2 ½ to 3 inches, or even 3 ½ in shady lawns. Bermuda needs a much closer crop, about 2 inches high. Mow often enough to remove no more than 1/3 of the leaf area during one mowing (not always easy when rain and work schedules collide with a mowing schedule, but do your best). If you start early in the year, this will also help to eliminate weeds establishing and setting seed, without the need for chemicals.
If you commit to a lush St. Augustine lawn, you need to do everything, not just a few things, to keep it. Agri-Life Extension recommends a soil test every 2 to 3 years. You can get a kit from the county agent at White’s Park, or go online to the A&M site. Since you are thinking high maintenance, you are probably fertilizing. Measure your lawn and know the size when you buy products. READ the labels! The soil test results tell you what nutrients you need; don’t go overboard and buy one of everything. Spring fertilizer should be applied after the second mowing (don’t feed weeds!). Apply nitrogen in the fall to increase the density in your lawn. Around here, that time is about October 15. Don’t over-fertilize; the greatest contributor to water pollution is not industrial; it’s homeowners using so much product that it runs off into our watershed. With that in mind, don’t fertilize just before a rain. If it’s a big rain, it’s gone. But you really must water the fertilizer into the ground. It takes about a ½ inch of water.
Watering is another critical issue during our summers. When you water, water deeply, to a depth of 6 inches. Then don’t do anything till the grass shows signs of stress; if you step on it and it doesn’t spring back, it may be time to water. Sprinkler systems are great, but you need to avoid automatic timers unless you’re willing to turn it off when it rains. You waste water and may cause fertilizer runoff with an overdose of H2O.
Since the St. Augustine lawn requires higher maintenance, it is also the one most likely to have possible disease issues. Homeowners are tempted to use weed & feed products, but there is growing concern about them. Atrazine, one of the products, is an enzyme inhibitor, and has been banned in Europe. It may also contribute to a disease called Take All Patch, which tends to show up in those massively lush St. Augustine lawns. Other possible diseases are Large Patch (also known as Brown Patch); Chinch bugs; grub damage; rust, leaf spot, and slime molds. There are control methods for these, but they tend to make your yard look lousy while they work, so the best defense is a good offense.
Agri-Life Extension has some excellent lawn articles available: L5340, Maintaining St. Augustinegrass lawns; E-436, Fertilizing Texas Lawns; and E-306, Warm-season Turfgrass Disease Management in Urban Landscapes are just a few. These are available from the County Agent’s headquarters at White’s Park, and you might get them from the Texas A&M aggie-horticulture site. Happy mowing!
– Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.