A battle’s brewing and it has to do with lawn care. If you’re uncertain which grass to root for, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of both contenders will help you make an informed decision between St. Augustine grass and Bermuda for your lawn.
St. Augustine Grass vs. Bermuda: A Texas Dilemma
Many factors go into this decision-making process, such as how much maintenance the grass requires, the climate you live in, whether or not your yard provides any shade and how much traffic the area will have to tolerate. St. Augustine grass needs a warm climate and plenty of water to flourish, while Bermuda grass requires almost no water when dormant in early fall or during drought-like conditions. There are pros and cons to each type, but knowing about each grass’s characteristics will help you determine which will do better in your outdoor spaces.
Let’s start off with the most important element for plant life: water. Bermuda grass wins this round, if you are looking for a type of grass with lower water requirements. Patrick Dickinson, the Urban Water Program Coordinator at Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center, suggests St. Augustine will lose this category of the turf wars, because it greedily slurps up twice the amount of water as Bermuda grass. There are many factors to consider when choosing the type of grass that works best for your home, but water can be the most important if you’re wanting to conserve water or save money on your monthly water bill. Consider your city’s watering schedule and think about whether or not you’ll have the time to maintain a regular watering schedule for your yard.
While neither grass thrives when the temperature drops below 60 degrees Farenheit, St. Augustine grass does have a higher weather tolerance than Bermuda, but stressed St. Augustine becomes more vulnerable to pests and disease.
The good thing about Bermuda grass in this particular situation is that it requires almost no water during dormant months and does better than St. Augustine grass in fending off pests and lawn diseases.
When it comes to establishing your lawn, the St. Augustine versus Bermuda grass showdown depends on personal preference. You can easily establish a Bermuda lawn from seed; for a St. Augustine lawn, you’re better off laying sod.
While Bermuda seeds are less expensive, St. Augustine sod gives you more instant gratification. The maintenance for St. Augustine grass is high and requires regular mowing, fertilization and irrigation, while Bermuda grass requires less maintenance and can grow thicker with more frequent mowing and irrigation.
Once it’s established, Bermuda grass grows aggressively. It will require frequent trimming along driveways, sidewalks and gardens to prevent expanding beyond its own terrain. The maintenance for this grass type is considered to be moderate, but be aware that the more frequently this grass is mowed and watered, the thicker it gets.
St. Augustine has low phosphorus requirements and requires the same amount of potassium as other grasses. While excessive nitrogen causes thatch problems, fertilizing with nitrogen every month or two will help St. Augustine survive winter and bounce back in spring. St. Augustine grass does suffer without sufficient iron in the soil, so it might require amendments containing iron chelate or iron sulfate.
For a consistently beautiful lawn, Bermuda grass has higher fertilization requirements than St. Augustine. This type of grass needs more nitrogen, but Bermuda grass may need fewer of other elements, according to the strain of Bermuda grass, the turf use and the desired appearance.
Sun or Shade
The amount of sun falling on your lawn determines the winner of this round: St. Augustine handles shade very well and Bermuda grass thrives in constant sun but doesn’t grow well in shade.
In the traffic round of the showdown, the winner is determined by how resilient the grass is to human activity. Bermuda grass survives wonderfully when trampled and played on, while St. Augustine, on the other hand, has low tolerance for traffic.
Call an Expert in Lawn Care
Given the southern climate, water requirements may guide your decision on which grass to use in your yard, but that is not the only consideration. How will your lawn be used? How much sun or shade do you have? How do you feel about fertilizing? Is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence? Okay, you can scrap the last question, but if you’re looking for answers to the rest, contact our lawn care experts. In this battle, the only side we’re going to take is yours. We’ll schedule a consultation, evaluate your family’s needs and create a lawn care plan that works best for you. Get in touch today.
By: Valerie Dansereau
Choosing the right grass seed for a dark green lawn can be affected by a variety of factors. Climate influences whether grass seed produces the desired result. Another factor that affects the outcome is whether the location is mostly sunny or shady. Grass requires a certain amount of attention to appear dark green and attractive. For healthy green lawns, grass should be mowed approximately every five days and fertilized periodically.
Kentucky bluegrass is a common choice among homeowners looking for a luscious dark green lawn. It is a cool-weather perennial grass that does best in cool, moist weather. According to Pennsylvania State Cooperative Extension, this type of grass is found throughout the United States but is most common in areas where temperatures typically stay below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Kentucky bluegrass doesn’t do well in shady areas and requires watering during hot, dry periods.
- Choosing the right grass seed for a dark green lawn can be affected by a variety of factors.
- Kentucky bluegrass doesn’t do well in shady areas and requires watering during hot, dry periods.
Bermuda grass is often used as a turf grass but may be used for other purposes. Also known as couchgrass, wiregrass or devilgrass, Bermuda is easy to grow and spreads easily. This type of grass prefers full sun and is drought-resistant. It tolerates heavy traffic and is a favorite choice for many lawns, parks and golf courses. Bermuda grass may turn brown when the temperature drops, but improved hybrids have been developed for a longer season of dark green color.
Fescues are cool-season grasses that require little maintenance. They tolerate shady areas well. There are several types of fescue, and fescue seeds are often included in seed blends. Red fescue is a fine-bladed grass with a deep green color. Tall fescue is a perennial bunch-type grass suited to shady areas and high-traffic lawns. Tall fescues remain green for eight or nine months a year.
- Bermuda grass is often used as a turf grass but may be used for other purposes.
- Bermuda grass may turn brown when the temperature drops, but improved hybrids have been developed for a longer season of dark green color.
Zoysia is a warm-season grass that under proper conditions is a beautiful shade of dark green. It tolerates drought well but will turn brown under conditions of extreme drought, according to American Lawns. Zoysia should not be grown in cool-season areas, because it turns brown as soon as the weather cools and won’t turn green again until the following spring. This grass grows well in full sun or light shade in warm climates.
Planting St Augustine sod is usually the best way to get this turf grass going strong in your yard. It can be done very successfully if you pay close attention to proven guidelines for preparing the soil, laying the sod and caring for it in the important first weeks.
This lawn care guide offers a complete plan for planting St Augustine sod and helping it to thrive in your yard.
Preparing the Soil
Two to three weeks before your sod arrives, spray an existing yard with non-selective weed killer like Roundup. Next, use a heavy-duty tiller and till the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches. If the sod grower recommends adding lime or fertilizer to the soil, now is the time to do it.
If you have a new home and the ground is bare, you still need to prepare the soil. If you’ve got 6 inches of top soil to work with, you’re in good shape. If not, you’ll have to bring in soil needed to produce a 6-inch bed. Till the soil thoroughly and mix in lime and/or fertilizer.
If you don’t have directions for lime and fertilizer from the grower, use these figures. Use 5-10-5 fertilizer and add 15-20 pound for every 1,000 square feet of lawn. For lime, add 30-40 pounds for the same area. Till the fertilizer and lime into the soil. The importance of giving your St Augustine sod the right environment to get its root structure established cannot be overestimated.
Rake stones and debris out of the soil. Make sure there are no low spots. Then roll the soil with a heavy roller, like the type you fill with water.
Laying St Augustine Sod
The evening before you lay the sod, soak the ground so that the moisture penetrates to a depth of 3-4 inches. You want the dirt to be moist but not muddy. Yes, you’ll get extra dirty laying the sod, but your St Augustine turf will reward you by getting established more quickly.
Choose a long, straight boundary line to start with. Lay pieces of sod end to end. Stagger the next row, like a bricklayer does, so that end seams are not lined up. A flat shovel works well for trimming sod pieces where necessary.
If you don’t complete the job in a single day, leave the remaining sod on the pallets and soak the outer layers to keep them moist.
Once all the sod is down, roll the entire yard again, pressing the roots into the prepared soil.
Watering your New St Augustine Sod Immediately
Watering will be your most important task over the next month as you help your sod get established in your yard. Immediately after the sod is down, add 1 inch of water to the yard.
To determine how long it takes your sprinkler to add 1 inch, place a few containers around the area covered by the sprinkler. Inexpensive rain gauges may also be available at the local gardening store. Measure the water in each after an hour. Then you’ll know how long you need to water in order to add 1 inch.
In heavy clay, divide the watering up into 2 sessions, one in the morning and the second just after lunch. This is especially important on hills where water can run off the sod before fully penetrating it. On very sandy soil, you should add an extra quarter-inch of water since it drains so quickly through the soil. You want to make sure the roots of your St Augustine turf can absorb what they need.
A Watering Schedule for New St Augustine Sod
Keep a rain gauge out to measure rainfall. Your sod needs a quarter-inch of rain every 2-3 days for the first 2 weeks. Then it needs one inch of water per week from that point on. Use the sprinkler to make up whatever amount doesn’t fall in the form of rain.
If weather conditions are hot and windy, increase the amount of water you give your sod. If conditions are cool and humid, slightly less water is required. Use common sense. If the lawn is green and looks healthy, keep doing what you’re doing. If it looks stressed or wilted, it may not be getting enough water. If it starts to turn yellow, it’s had too much water. In most cases, you’ll get a healthy, happy St Augustine lawn if you follow the watering directions given above.
- How to Regrow Sod
- How to Lay Sod to Start a New Lawn
- Sodding a Yard on a Budget
- How to Estimate Sod Quantity
- How to Calculate Sod Pallets for Your Yard
St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum) is a coarse, tropical grass that grows well in coastal areas. It can be grown in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10, but will go dormant and turn brown is the soil temperature drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Because it spreads quickly, St. Augustine often creeps into flower beds and other unwanted areas. It is easy to remove, however, because of its shallow root system. This grass does not tolerate high amounts of traffic well, so is a good choice for lawns and gardens but not for athletic fields or other high traffic areas. This grass requires moderate to ample amounts of water both immediately after sodding and throughout its lifetime.
Spray a generous application of general weed killer on the area to be sodded two weeks before you lay the sod.
Calculate how much sod you will need and make arrangements to have it delivered 24 hours before you plan to start laying it.
Spread a layer of compost, 1 inch thick, over the area to be sodded. Spread 5-10-5 fertilizer at a rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Spread lime at a rate of 50 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Till these amendments into the soil to a depth of 6 inches. St. Augustine grass requires good fertilization to perform well, so it is important to give the sod a nutrient rich start.
Rake up any rocks or loose debris and flatten the area with a water-filled lawn roller. Fill low or uneven spots with topsoil as needed and roll the dirt flat again.
Water the area to be sodded with one-quarter to one-half inch of water the night before you lay the sod in preparation for this coastal grass’ ample water needs.
Lay the St. Augustine sod pieces out on the yard, starting with the longest straight area to be sodded. If working with a large open area you can also start on one side of the lawn and work your way across. No matter where you start, it is important to make sure that your first row is straight. Place the sections of sod very tightly up against each other and place the rows of so that the seams are staggered. Continue working your way around the yard until you have laid all of the large pieces of sod you can.
Cut large pieces of sod into smaller ones using a hatchet or sharp shovel and place them where needed to sod around landscaping, permanent lawn ornaments or other outdoor fixtures.
Roll the yard again to to make sure you have good contact between the soil and the roots of the fresh sod. This step is crucial to ensure that the shallow roots of the fresh St. Augustine grass make contact with the soil rather than floating above it.
Water the newly laid sod with 1 inch of water immediately after laying. Continue to water sod twice a day for 1 week; you may need to water slightly more or less depending on weather. Keep the soil moist to a depth of 1 inch. Once the sod is established, 1 inch of water a week should suffice.
21 September, 2017
The sandier your soil, the more frequent watering the St. Augustine will require.
Fertilize the grass again after it has been down from six weeks.
St. Augustine (Stenotaphrum secundatum) is a warm season grass grown throughout the southeastern sections of the United States. Lawns laid with St. Augustine sod are full, lush and green, if maintained properly. Its broad, flat leaves grow dense and turn into a thick carpet of grass. St. Augustine is the most tolerant to partial shade conditions than any other warm season grass.
Kill any weeds or grasses in the planting site several weeks before the St. Augustine is laid. This allows time for the herbicide to work and wash away. Laying the sod too soon after an herbicide application can result in its death.
- St. Augustine (Stenotaphrum secundatum) is a warm season grass grown throughout the southeastern sections of the United States.
- St. Augustine is the most tolerant to partial shade conditions than any other warm season grass.
Remove any debris such as rocks, sticks, branches or roots from the planting site. Till up the first 6 inches of top soil to loosen it. This will allow the sod’s root system to have an easier time establishing itself into the soil.
Work compost or manure into the soil. If your soil is clay, work lime into the soil at a rate of 50 lb. for every 1,000 square feet. Add a 5-10-15 fertilizer into the planting area at a rate of 20 lb. for every 1,000 square feet. Rake the planting area level.
- Remove any debris such as rocks, sticks, branches or roots from the planting site.
- Till up the first 6 inches of top soil to loosen it.
Water the fertilizer and compost into the soil. Make sure the planting area is moist when you begin to place the sod. Do not place bare-rooted sod upon dry soil.
Mark the areas you do not want sod to grow with spray paint. Spray around any flowerbeds, trees or other areas where grass is not preferred.
Lay your sod pieces down starting at the farthest and longest section of the planting site. Lay the pieces down one by one. Kick the sides of each piece of sod to push them tightly together as you lay them down next to each other. Continue laying the square sod pieces until you have covered the entire planting area.
- Water the fertilizer and compost into the soil.
- Make sure the planting area is moist when you begin to place the sod.
Trim any pieces of sod that need to fit around flowerbeds or other obstacles with a hatchet, machete or sharp knife.
Add 1 inch of water over the freshly laid sod. Place a cup or other container into the middle of the lawn and keep watering until the container has filled up to 1 inch. Continue watering the sod for the first 10 days, keeping the top portion of grass moist but not soggy. Depending on your weather conditions, you may need to water every day. Once the roots begin establishing themselves, cut back watering to two to three times per week.
Where to Get St Augustine Grass Plugs
You can find St. Augustine plugs in your local home and garden store. Stores like Lowes and The Home Depot sell 18 grass plugs to a tray. Depending on the spacing, 18 plugs covers around 32 square feet.
Local gardening shops may also have St Augustine Grass plugs. Local shops usually have much better experts on hand to answer any questions you may have.
Making Your Own Plugs
An alternative to purchasing prepared St. Augustine plugs are to make your own. Creating plugs from pieces of sod will help stretch the coverage area. Make your own plugs by cutting pieces of sod into desired size with a shovel or garden shears.
Plugs can also be made from existing grass in your yard. Harvest grass from an inconspicuous or area where grass is very thick. Using a sod plugger tool, insert it into the ground, twist and lift. You can also use a hoe or shovel by inserting the blade vertically to cut out the desired piece. It is important that you dig 2-4” deep and remove the soil with the grass.
Repairing Lawn After Removing Newly Created Plugs
Transplant these self-created plugs into other areas of your yard. Fill the holes created with soil or sand. DO NOT use potting soil mixes with heavy organic matter content as filler.
To reduce noticeable lawn damage, increase the space between harvested plugs. Spacing multiple feet between holes and in a checkerboard pattern will help your yard heal quicker.
Planting Your Grass Plugs
Planting St Augustine Grass Plugs is simple. Just follow these steps:
- Choose the best time to plant
- Calculate square footage and spacing
- Prep the site
- Plant the grass plugs
1. Choose the best time to plant
The best time to plant St. Augustine plugs is in the late spring or early summer. By this time in the southeast, temperatures are well above 80℉. Even if you get a late start into the summer, it is likely still safe to plant plugs. Planting in the late summer should be mindful of the estimated first winter frost. St. Augustine plugs needs at least 90 days before the first frost.
2. Calculate square footage and spacing
The first step is to examine and calculate the area of the space needing plugs. The amount of space covered by a tray of St. Augustine plugs can vary by plant spacing.
|6″ x 6″ Spacing||24 Square Feet|
|12″ x 12″ Spacing||32 Square Feet|
|15″ x 15″ Spacing||40 Square Feet|
|18″ x 18″ Spacing||56 Square Feet|
3. Prepare the Site
Always take time to properly prepare the soil prior to installing your grass plugs. The time taken ensures your grass plugs will not die off. It also allows your grass to spread as quickly as possible. To prepare the soil, do the following:
- Use an all-vegetation herbicide to kill all grass and weeds in the area – we recommend Hi-yield Killzall Grass and Weed Killer
- Wait two weeks for the herbicide to completely dissipate
- Break up the soil – break up compacted soil with a tiller; if soil is loose, use a garden rake
- Remove all dead thatch and plant residue from the area
After you have removed the vegetation, plan out the desired planting grid pattern. It is easier to flag where you will place St. Augustine plugs before digging. Space plugs in a diamond pattern to reach the square footage coverage in the table above.
Next, dig the holes for the plugs. Planting will be easier and have better success if the hole is larger than the plug. Use a garden trowell to dig holes. We recommend saving time and your back, by using the Corona LG3720 SodPLUGGER. Plug hole depth will vary based on the amount of root system on the St. Augustine plugs. Typically, holes will be between 2”-4” deep.
After the holes have been dug, thoroughly water the area. Water the soil until it is saturated. Be sure not to water the area to the point where water is standing or pooling in the holes.
Our specialists recommend adding a small amount starter fertilizer to the holes. By doing this you are putting fertilizer in direct contact with the developing roots. Ferti-lome New Lawn Starter Fertilizer will give your plugs a kickstart and make them grow faster!
4. Plant the Grass Plugs
Now you are ready to plant the St. Augustine sod plugs! Place the plugs into the predug holes at ground level. If the holes are too deep, add a small amount of soil to level the plug. Ensure that you cover the roots, but not the crown of the plug.
Planting the plugs too deep could cause the crowns to rot. Planting too deep also encourages diseases or insects. Fill in any space around the plugs with soil to secure.
Lastly, water the plugs again. Be sure to thoroughly wet without causing water to pool. It is important to continue to water the newly planted St. Augustine plugs for the next two weeks. After two weeks, continue watering the area with 1” of water per week.
Within two weeks, your St. Augustine plugs should be well rooted and on their way to spreading. Once the plugs have begun to spread, the area can be mowed as needed. Be sure not to cut the newly plugged area shorter than 2”.
St. Augustine grass plugs are a great way to fill in bare and dead spots. With a little care and patience, plugs will easily renovate your yard. Not only will it be the envy of the neighbors, you can do it 10x less than using sod.
Article photo courtesy of Sod Solutions.
How should soil be prepared before laying St. Augustine sod?
While Kathy Huber is on vacation, we’re publishing online a question from the archives:
Q: We need to sod St. Augustine. What should we do before we lay the grass? — J.S., Houston
A: Here are a few basics: The site should be prepared before sodding. Weeds, rocks and construction wastes (bits of concrete, mortar-mixing areas) should be eliminated. Avoid pre-emergence weedkillers, because these may harm new sod.
It is beneficial to use a rototiller to loosen compacted soils and evenly work organic matter into the top four or so inches if needed. The organic matter will improve drainage and oxygen flow and provide nutrients. A soil test will determine if additional soil amendments are needed.
It may be necessary to add topsoil to fill in low or uneven areas. This, along with any amendments, should be smoothed and firmed before sodding. Once the sod is in place, it may be lightly rolled to ensure better soil contact.
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Kathy Huber has worked for the Houston Chronicle since May 1981. She was Features Copy Desk chief before becoming the first full-time garden editor for the paper in 1988. She writes a weekly garden Q&A and feature stories.
A Texas Master Gardener, she’s the author of The Texas Flower Garden, published by Gibbs-Smith in 1996. She’s been a frequent speaker at various garden events.
A native of Moultrie, Ga., she graduated from Queens University of Charlotte, formerly Queens College. She did graduate work through the University of Georgia system.
She is married to photographer John Everett and they have one son.
St. Augustine grass is a popular turf in Florida and other warmer states. Its tolerance to heat, salt and humidity makes it suitable for coastal yards and subtropical humid areas. Plugs are the ideal method of planting St Augustine grass. Let’s look at when and how to plant St Augustine plugs effectively.
When to Plant St. Augustine Grass
St Augustine is a warm season grass that thrives in sun and warmer temperatures found in the southern part of the United States. The best time to grow St Augustine grass is in May through July when the average daytime temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime soil temperature is at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Plant the grass plugs at least 90 days before your region’s first estimated fall frost. This will give your newly planted lawn enough time to establish before the harsh weather sets in. With proper soil preparation, adequate timing and care, the rooted pieces of sod will gradually spread and fill every space within them, offering a dense beautiful carpet.
How to Plant St Augustine Grass Plugs – Steps
Once you have fully decided that you need St. Augustine grass in your backyard or field, here is what to do.
1. Measure the size of your planting area
Taking measurements for your planting area will help you to calculate the number of plugs you need to order from your supplier. Make a sketch map of the area on the paper and include every dimension. Take the details to your supplier for advice or use it to calculate your sod spacing intervals.
The landscaping supplier should look at the sketch map and measurements to advice you on the amount of plugs you need for that specific area. Plugs can be spaced at 12 or more inches apart but the closer together they are spaced, the faster the grass fills in for a complete coverage.
2. Adequately prepare the soil
Kill all the weeds or pre-existing lawn grass by spraying a non-selective herbicide. After two weeks, the weeds should be dead. Rake all the debris from the area and rototill the soil to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Check and fix any drainage problem including sloping your lawn away from house or garage and filling low area to avoid cases of standing water in your yard.
Take a sample of the soil, to a nearby extension agent to advise whether the soil need fertilizer or pH amendments. When you get a clean bill of health, rake the soil smooth to remove large soil clods, chunks and other debris. Thoroughly water the area to soften the soil for easier hole digging and planting of the plugs.
3. Dig holes for the sods
Take a shovel or a plugger tool and make holes the right size to accommodate your St. Augustine grass plugs. Dig the holes in a checkerboard pattern considering the recommended spacing distance between each sod.
Once the planting holes are ready, you may apply lawn starter fertilizer in each hole depending with the recommendations made by your soil extension agent. Soil pH amendment may also be done before digging of the holes is done.
4. Plant the grass plugs
Safely place the plugs in the holes one after the other as you securely tap the soil around them to ensure proper soil-plug contact. Ensure there are no pockets left around the plug as this will cause root drying out.
5. Water the grass plugs
Thoroughly water the planted area three to five times a day for up to 10 days. As your new grass grows and flourishes, water deeper and less frequently – this will encourage the roots to extend deeply into the soil.
6. Mow the established grass
After 14 to 15 days, your St Augustine grass has begun spreading and firm roots are now put down. At this time, you will have some difficulty pulling up individual plug. This will be the ideal time to mow your actively growing grass. Exercise caution first time you mow to avoid pulling up the sod
Mow at or above two inches for the first few times. When your new lawn reaches over three and a half inches tall, mow off a third of the height and collect the clippings. You may start lowering the cutting height slowly by slowly every time you mow.
7. Continue with normal watering
Your new lawn need thorough watering in week 1 and week 2. In the third, you should reduce watering to 1-3 times per day and sometimes skip a day between watering if the lawn is not drying out. In the fourth week, water 1-2 times every other day. In the fifth week onward, your lawn should go 2 to 3 days between watering unless there is extreme drought.
How to Make St Augustine Grass to Spread Quickly
You can make your St Augustine grass to spread faster, grow thick and dense through the following ways
- Choose your soil wisely – St Augustine grass loves a well-drained soil with pH level of 5.0 to 7.0. This is why it is important to take a soil sample to extension offer for analysis.
- Use starter fertilizer that is high in phosphorous – Lightly add your starter fertilizer into the top 2-3 inches of topsoil.
- Plant the grass during warm spring or summer – St Augustine is a warm season type of grass that thrives in hot weather.
- Remove weeds as soon as possible – Weeds compete for resources and their presence in the lawn will negatively affect the growth of your lawn. Get rid of the weeds as soon as you discover them
- Provide good watering – This is very essential especially during the first weeks of the growth. Avoid overwatering when the grass is fully establish.
- Mow your grass appropriately – Ensure your mower blades are sharp and that you don’t mow more than one third of the grass height. You may leave the grass clippings on the lawn.
- Control Bugs and diseases – St Augustine grass need protection from pests such as grubs and sod worms and fungal diseases which usually cause brown patches and greying of leaves. Contact your local extension agency for appropriate treatment.
St Augustine grass is an easy to maintain grass that establishes quickly. The only requirement is to plant the plugs correctly, water adequately and follow with simple lawn maintenance practices.