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.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane…IT’S TAKE-ALL. The cool temperatures and extra rainfall during the spring months might be great for our plants, but they can also create perfect conditions for certain fungal diseases. While a vigorous lawn and healthy soil can deter pests and diseases, even well-cared for lawns can succumb to aggressive diseases, more specifically Take-All Root Rot (TARR).
What is Take-All Root Rot?
TARR is an aggressive fungal disease that is infecting lawns all across North Texas. The disease is in the soil, not the turf. Therefore, TARR can not be eradicated, only controlled. If TARR is left unchecked, it is liable to cause devastating loss to your turf. While St. Augustine is the most susceptible; Bermudagrass, Zoysiagrass and Centipedegrass can all fall victim to the disease as well.
TARR appears irregularly throughout the lawn.
Symptoms of TARR:
- Your grass is slow to emerge in the spring or not greening up at all. There has been significant loss this year in turf that was previously infected with TARR. Check out our recent blog post about the freeze damage.
- Young leaf blades often turn chlorotic (yellow or very pale green). These symptoms are often mistaken for general chlorosis (a nutrient deficiency) or chinch bug damage.
- Biggest difference between TARR and general chlorosis: TARR will cause yellowing in your lawn in much less uniform patches.
- Chlorotic blades quickly fade to brown.
- Large patches up to several feet across will die off in an irregular pattern (as opposed to defined or circular patches).
- The roots will also be dark brown as they begin to rot away.
Our Success Story
Over the past 10 years, trial and error has resulted in a successful, fully organic “kitchen sink” approach at controlling Take-All. Since TARR is a soil-borne fungus, it cannot be eradicated, only controlled. Regular amendments coupled with our Liquid Compost applications really do wonders for managing this disease. It is an ongoing battle that most homeowners are not able to tackle on their own. Don’t be afraid to seek help!
If you notice any of the symptoms listed above, please contact a professional lawn care maintenance team to properly diagnose and offer a treatment plan. TARR can be difficult to treat. The best prevention is good lawn care practices year-round including proper watering, fertilizing and mowing. For more detailed information about Take-All Root Rot, visit our Organic Advice section here.
Be sure to visit our Resource section for details on various pests and diseases that could be ailing your lawn and landscape.