For years St. Augustine has been a highly suggested turf variety by professionals in our industry. It is known for its shade tolerance and if healthy, its ability to choke out invasive weeds. When St. Augustine is planted via plugs and in the right growing conditions, it can fill in to near completion in just one growing season. Its leaf blades range from deep to lighter green and its appearance is thick and lush. It seems like there is a lot to love about this turf variety so, is it really all it’s cracked up to be or are we living in the past?
The evolution of St. Augustine in Texas
While St. Augustine is not native to Texas, we have been propagating and planting it here since the 1920’s starting with the Texas Common variety. In the early 1970’s, Florida Texas A&M designed a St. Augustine variety called Floratam that was supposedly SAD (St. Augustine Decline) and chinch bug resistant. This was very appealing because SAD and chinch bugs can cause rapid devastation in lawns and as you may know, replacing your lawn is not cheap and is quite troublesome. In the 1980’s, Floratam was brought to Texas and was planted in mass amounts in the up and coming North Dallas area.
Landscapers and turf businesses soon realized that planting Floratam here was disastrous.This variety was somewhat suitable for the coastal parts of Texas due to its milder climate but was not well suited for North Texas because of it’s lack of cold tolerance. Also considering that Floratam required 2 + more hours of sunlight than the Texas Common variety, it soon became apparent that it was not working as well in shaded areas.
Fast forward 30 years. Since Floratam has been out of the picture, Raleigh and Palmetto St. Augustine grass are on the main stage in North Texas. Raleigh is not known to be chinch bug resistant nor is it as cold tolerant as Palmetto. Therefore, Palmetto is the most recommended here in North Texas. Another attribute of Palmetto is its deep setting root system. Once established, this is beneficial in times of drought and water restrictions.
So what is really SO bad about St. Augustine?
Since the mid 2000’s we have been seeing a steady decline in St. Augustine's performance. We believe that the adaption of insects and diseases to pesticides has played a key role in the decline in St. Augustine along with the 2nd worse fungal issue in our industry- Take All Root Rot (TARR).
TARR before and after Soils Alive treatments
TARR is absolutely devastating to St. Augustine lawns. While it can affect other turfgrasses, St. Augustine is hit the hardest, by and large. Since TARR cannot be eradicated from the soil, it has to be controlled. Industry wide it is recommended to apply pete moss in conjunction with a fungicide to combat this disease. We have found that approach to be ineffective and over the years we have perfected a completely organic “kitchen sink” protocol to control TARR.
While TARR is the most prevalent disease affecting St. Augustine now, there are many others: Chinch bugs, Rhizoctonia aka Brown Patch, SAD, and Grey Leaf spot to name a few.
Damaged turf caused by Chinch Bugs
What turf variety do we recommend?
Zoysia! Zoysia! Zoysia!
Zoysia has many great qualities. One being its unlikeliness to be affected by most pest and diseases. Please know that it can contract diseases although it is not nearly as susceptible as St. Augustine. There are quite a few different varieties of Zoysia and on average it requires about 5 hours of direct sunlight. If looking to plant Zoysia in shade, we recommend one of the thicker bladed varieties like Palisade.
While Zoysia is pretty slow growing, it has a vigorous root system that comes in handy in times of drought. A plus to it being slow growing is that you don’t have to mow as often. All my guys out there say “HEY!”
Lush Zoysia Turf!
Your opinion matters!
As a friendly reminder, this is just our opinion. Some of you may think that St. Augustine is the 8th wonder of the world and if so, stick with it! Everyone has an opinion and preference when it comes to their landscape. Do what makes you happy! And don’t forget … there is no turf that will thrive in dense shade. If you are looking to grow turf in an area that gets little to no sunlight, it is recommended to modify your landscape to accommodate that environment. Otherwise you are fighting a very expensive losing battle.
It’s chinch bug season and truthfully, there is nothing to be excited about here. With the abnormally warm winter we had, it is likely that these pests are larger in number than usual. If these little guys get free reign they can devastate a yard within days. While chinch bugs most commonly affect St. Augustine lawns, they have been known to cause destruction in Bermuda and Zoysia yards as well.
What are chinch bugs?
Appearance: Chinch bugs are very small insects with six legs that only grow to about one-fifth of an inch long. When matured, they have black bodies that are covered with frosty white wings folded over their backs.
Up close picture of the lifecycle of chinch bugs.
The name chinch bug is derived from the Spanish word chinche. This word has come to mean “pest” and is used in many phrases such as tener de chinches la sangre, meaning tiresome or troublesome.
Lifecycle: In early spring, once temperatures reach 70° F, chinch bugs mate. Females lay up to 500 eggs on grass leaves, stems, roots or in other protected crevices over a period of two to three weeks. Each year we can experience up to four generations of chinch bugs.
Damage: In a short amount of time, chinch bugs can destroy large swaths of your lawn. They damage lawns by inserting their beaklike mouth into leaf blades and sucking out the moisture and nutrients, while also adding toxins back into plants. Grass leaf blades will turn yellow on the edges and then brown out in large patches. Chinch bugs love the heat so they tend to start by damaging the parts of lawns closer to hardscape such as driveways, curbs, sidewalks or along the foundation … anywhere it’s very warm.
Identification: Due to their diminutive size, you may not even know you have an infestation until the damage is already done. The best place to look for these insects are on the stems of your grass, near the soil surface. After you sit and watch closely, you’ll be able to spot them crawling around.
Chinch bug damage. If your yard has circular patches such as these above, seek help!
Beware of irrigation problems! Since we haven't gotten much rain in the last two weeks and the temperatures have been on a consistant rise, it is definitely time to set the sprinkler system to twice a week. If you are watering consitantly and don't see any signs of chinch bugs, do an irrigation audit to make sure that every part of the lawn is getting proper coverage.
As with any pest prevention practice, a healthy, robust lawn grown in nutrient rich soil is your best defense against most pests and diseases. Insects are opportunistic and will cull weak plants first. Because chinch bugs thrive on excess moisture, be careful not to overwater your lawn. Regular fertilization and soil feedings will help to keep soil biology healthy and beneficial predatory insect populations active.
Watering: It’s a hot topic when it’s hot! Unfortunately, most homeowners have been misinformed when it comes to watering practices. That’s why we are here to simplify things with our watering guide - AKA the soak, cycle, repeat method!
What are the steps to our watering method?
First, let’s determine what type of system you are using. Our watering guide is tailored for sprinkler systems with pop up and rotary heads. If you do not have a sprinkler system you will need to get creative. We suggest investing in a digital controller box which can be found at any home improvement store. If you have a drip irrigation system, consult your drip irrigation installer for proper watering regimens.
Second, let’s analyze how you’re watering. Do you water your lawn all at once and if so, for how long? If you’re only watering using one cycle, then all of the water you deliver may not get absorbed.
Our tough clay soil presents unique challenges when it comes to lawn irrigation. Due to our seemingly nonporous clay soil, the trick is to split up your watering times into multiple cycles, all in the same day. Clay can only soak up so much water until its pores close up and water begins to sheen off. Therefore, after an allotted amount of time (which is anywhere between 3-10 minutes depending on the slope and compaction) runoff occurs and water becomes wasted.
Why is water runoff bad?
Irrigation water that can’t be absorbed into the soil will drain off into the street, down the storm drains or into our lakes, rivers, and drinking water supply. This is bad for many reasons. First, it is a huge waste! There’s no sense in wasting all of that irrigation water if half of it is just going to end up in the storm drains. Plus, water runoff takes a lot of desirable and undesirable things away with it: nutrients your plants need plus toxic pesticides and fertilizers. Even if you are 100% organic in your garden, there is still soil sediment (erosion), pet waste, and other toxins that make their way to your yard to be carried away by the runoff.
When you see it start to runoff, shut it off!
Make yourself a cup of coffee on Saturday morning, stand outside, and start your stopwatch when the sprinklers turn on. Once you notice water running off onto the street or sidewalk, stop your watch and now you have your optimum water time for each zone.
Third, now that you have figured out your optimum cycle time, it’s time to program your cycles on your controller box. Most controller boxes allow for 3 or more start times. The key is to water each zone for a total of 30 minutes. You’ll want to break the cycles up into factors of 30. See sample below for more clarification.
Timing Sample: If your system allows for 3 start times, then you will water each station for 10 minutes, 3 times - breaking for an hour or two in between cycles to allow for deeper penetration. Less watering time at more frequent intervals is recommended if your system allows. In other words, if you can water each station 5 times for 6 minutes, that is better than watering each station 3 times for 10 minutes. Optimum watering window is midnight-10 am.
Be sure to adhere to local watering restrictions and assigned watering days.
Healthy soil that is part of our Soil Building Program is naturally better at absorbing and using water efficiently. When your soil is healthy, well fed and full of organic matter, drainage and moisture retention is improved.