Every lawn is different. What grows well in one yard may not do so good next door. Sometimes a few miles or even a few hundred feet can make a significant difference in the type of grass that does well. Growing a lawn using a particular type of grass, especially those commonly found in Florida, have different requirements from one variety to another. Soils can vary greatly, as can drainage, and light levels. It is therefore important for the casual reader to understand that just because a certain type of grass is recommended for Florida, it should be taken with a bit a speculation. Understanding your geology, topography, and degree of involvement in maintaining a healthy lawn is critical to your success.
EARTHSCAPES OFFERS FOUR TYPES OF GRASS FOR YOUR FLORIDA LAWN:
Zoysia grasses are warm season grasses native to China, Japan and other parts of Southeast Asia. The species was named to commemorate an 18th century Austrian botanist, Karl von Zois. In 1911, Zoysia matrella was introduced into the United States from Manila by a USDA botanist, C. V. Piper. Because of its origin the grass was commonly called Manila grass.Piper described the grass as abundant on or near the seashore in the Philippine Islands. When closely clipped, it made a beautiful lawn according to Piper’s notes. He suggested that the grass had unusual promise as a lawn grass along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic coast of Florida. Zoysia japonica, sometimes called “Japanese lawn grass” or “Korean lawn grass”, is a coarser textured, but more cold hardy species thanZoysia matrella. Zoysia japonicawas introduced into the United States in 1895 from the Manchurian Province of China. In the United States, Zoysia japonicacould be expected to do very well as far north as Maryland. It is a seeded variety of Zoysia. The third species of Zoysia used for turf is called Korean velvet grass or Mascarene grass, Zoysia tenuifolia. It is a very fine textured species, but is the least cold tolerant of the three species.Zoysia tenuifolia is native to the Far East and was introduced in the U.S. from the Mascarene Islands. In the U.S. it is used in southern California as a low growing ground cover.
Zoysia grass is extremely drought tolerant. Although it does turn straw colored under severe drought conditions, it has the capacity to respond to subsequent irrigation or rainfall. Its water requirements are similar to those of Bermuda Grass. The leaf blades of Zoysia grass are among the first to roll under drought conditions, thus it tends to conserve moisture more effectively than other species.
Zoysia grass also has a deep root system allowing it to more effectively extract water from greater soil depths. Zoysia grass is nearly as salt tolerant as Bermuda grass. It is widely grown along sandy seashores where drainage is adequate. Zoysia grass does not tolerate poorly drained soils whether they are saline or otherwise. Zoysia grasses are among the most wear tolerant turf grasses. However, their slow rate of growth gives them poor recuperative potential.
- Shade tolerance:fair/good
- Cold tolerance: good
- Traffic: fair/good Rate of establishment: slow
- Fertilization: regular feeding
- Watering: weekly regular, but will tolerate some drought conditions
- Mowing height: 3/4″ – 2″
- Overseeding: is not recommended for Zoysia lawns. The lawn’s dense structure prohibits the growth of any cool-season grasses to maintain a green appearance throughout the winter months
First mowing should be done while the Zoysia is still dormant. Mow at about the 1″ height to remove as much dead top growth as possible. This should only be done after danger of a hard freeze has passed. The dormant grass blades acts as insulation.
Pests: Zoysia patch, mole crickets,grubs, sod webworms, armyworms
Floratam requires more than 6 hours of sunlight. It grows vigorously in warm weather, but in north Flordia, it remains dormant for a relatively long period compared with other cultivars. Like other Florida turf types, Floratam is a vigorous, coarse textured St. Augustine grass variety. Stolons of Floratam are large, purplish-red in color (demand this characteristic when purchasing sod) with internodes averaging 3″ in length. Leaf blades are wider and longer than common St. Augustine grass. According to James Beard, TAEX Turf Researcher, tests at A&M concluded it is the most drought-tolerant of all St. Augustine grasses. Floratam’s aggressive growth can extend stolons laterally at up to 3/4″ per day! Floratam is not as cold tolerant as common St. Augustine, so preconditioning by use of Winterizer fertilizer (3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio) in the fall (October) is CRITICAL. Floratam may suffer freeze damage when temperatures fall below freezing for extended periods.
Excellent dehydration avoidance was seen in Floratam and Floralawn St. Augustinegrass. There were large variations in drought resistance among the five St. Augustinegrass cultivars. Floralawn and Floratam showed a high green of shoot recovery. They showed less than 50% leaf firing after 34 days of drought stress with recoveries at over 90%.
However, Texas Common and Raleigh St. Augustine grass, as well as Prairie Buffalo grass showed over 98% leaf firing with less than 20% recovery. The performance of Floratam and Floralawn was excellent throughout the study in terms of shoot color, turgidity, and uniformity. They were comparable to #609 Buffalo grass.
Floratam’s is a coarser textured grass when viewed upclose. However, when viewed as a lawn, the coarseness of the blades are reduced. Mowing height should not be over 1 1/2″. However, if you do not water in dry weather, increase the mowing to 2″ or higher if possible.
- Texture: coarse
- Cold Tolerance: Poor (damage possible below 20)
- Shade Tolerance: tolerates moderate levels of shade, but will become thin under dense shade conditions.
- Traffic Tolerance: Poor
- Rate of Establishment:Medium/Fast
- Planting: sod or plugs
- Watering: needs weekly watering for optimal appearance, but will survive drought conditions
- Mowing Height: 3.5″ – 4″ for normal St. Augustine cultivars
- Common Pests: grubs,chinch bugs, mole crickets,sod webworms, armyworms, and cutworms
- Thatch: heavy producer of thatch made from stolons
WARNING: an ingredient in many weed/feed products (2,4-D) that were designed for cool-season grasses, Bermuda and Bahia Grass, can kill St. Augustine. If you intend to use a weed/feed product, make sure it is labeled for St. Augustine grass use.
Common bermuda grass is drought resistant, grows on many soils, and makes a good turf if fertilized and mowed right. Common bermudagrass produces many unsightly seedheads, but in spite of this fault, it frequently is used on home lawns due to the ease and economy of establishment. Common bermuda may be planted from either seed or sprigs and with intensive management will provide a high quality turf. However, the newer hybrid bermudas are generally far superior. In Australia, bermudagrass is known as Couch grass.
Bermudagrass is also a major turf species for sports fields, parks, golf courses, and general utility turfs. It is found in over 100 countries throughout the tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Common Bermudagrass, C. dactylon, naturalized throughout the warmer regions of the United States, was introduced into this country during the colonial period from Africa or India. The earliest introductions are not recorded, but Bermudagrass is listed as one of the principal grasses in the Southern States in Mease’s Geological Account of the United States published in 1807.
Prefers full sun, drought resistant, can withstand heavy traffic. Can easily be planted from grass seed (although it was once only grown from sod and the new seed varieties are not as fine bladed as the sodded varieties). One of the South’s favorites grass types. Grows in tropical, subtropical and transition zone areas. Found extensively on lawns, golf courses, sporting fields and coast areas.
Overseeding Bermuda Grass
Bermuda grass can be overseed to maintain a green appearance throughout the winter months by planting a cool season grass such as annual rye. Annual rye cannot withstand the summer heat and will die as temperatures rise.
Controlling Bermuda Grass
The same characteristics that make bermuda grass an ideal grass for certain areas, also can create problems when it starts growing in areas where other species are growing. Bermuda spreads by both stolons and rhizomes. Kill the top and it continues spreading by the rhizomes. There are some commercial products available such as Fusilade II that can be applied in certain situations. Fusilade II is a herbicide that quickly moves through the shoots, roots, rhizomes, stolons and growing points of the treated plants. Two applications are recommended for controlling bermudagrass: once in the spring and again in the fall. It should not be applied when the desirable turf is under stress.
When bermuda grass has invaded cool season lawns, a non-selective control that contains glyphosate is required. This product will kill everything, so extreme care must be taken.
Turns brown with the first drop in temperature. There are more cold tolerant varieties available. In warmer tropical areas, Bermuda retains a beautiful green color year round.
This is a very aggressive grass and flower beds or other areas will be quickly overrun if not kept in check. Once established it is very difficult to remove due to its extensive root system.
- Texture: common Bermuda has a medium texture. Hybrid Bermuda is fine
- Cold Tolerance: good (some more than others)
- Shade Tolerance:: poor
- Traffic: good
- Watering: tolerates drought, but needs water weekly to remain green
- Mowing Height: varies between 1/2″ — 2″ Some newer hybrid varieties (Champion, FloraDwarf, Midlawn, Midfield, Tiffine, Tifgreen, & Tifdwarf) can be cut as low as 1/8″, but are mostly suitable for putting greens)
First mowing of the season: after danger of hard freezes has passed, set your mower to lower than normal to remove as much dead top-growth as possible. Normally in mid-March when the soil temperature is around 55. Don’t mow below 1/2″ or you could damage the plant. Bag the clippings for this first mowing. Lawn will turn green when soil temperature warms to 60-65. Once the lawn has greened, mow at your normal height (2″ for common and 1 — 1-1/2″ for hybrids).
Never reduce the height of your lawn by more than one-third when mowing. Removing more than this can cause scalping and may take a long time to recover, during which, the grass is more susceptible to stress and further damage.
- Planting: seed, sod, plugs, or sprigs
- Pests: dead spot, mole crickets, sod webworms, armyworms, and dollar spot
- Aeration: may be aerated any time during the growing season as long as the lawn is not experiencing a drought. Aeration is not recommended after the lawn has gone dormant.
Hybrid Bermuda Grasses:
Compared with common bermuda, these grasses have more disease resistance, greater turf density, better weed resistance, fewer seedheads, finer and softer texture and a more favorable color. They also produce no viable seed and must be planted by vegetative means (sprigs, sod).
The hybrids also require more intensive maintenance for best appearance. Frequent fertilization and close mowing, edging, and dethatching are needed to keep them attractive.
- Tifway (419)– dark green, fine texture, dense
- Tifway II– dark green, fine texture, dense, tolerates colder temperatures
- Tifgreen (328)– medium green, fine texture, very dense
- Midway– dark green, medium texture, dense, tolerates colder temperatures
Warm season grass, resistant to drought, disease and insect attacks. Will survive in a variety of soils from sandy to clay and other infertile, dry soils. Requires some maintenance. The grass will thin out over time and has a low tolerance to many weed control herbicides. Used extensively in lawns along coastal areas in Florida. Vigorous growing habit requires frequent mowing during hot weather. It has a coarse blade and is not suitable for soils with high a pH.
Bahia grass is drought resistant turf. It does well in lawns and along highways, and its best used in sunny areas in warm humid regions. Its roots can extend up to 8′ deep.
In Florida, Bahia grass survives in level areas with no irrigation, but often fails on sandy embankments. It can also be ruined by excess watering, when none is required, and by excess fertilization. Bahia grass normally goes semi-dormant during winter, yet people sometimes fertilize and water it to keep it green in winter, and thereby encourage weed populations.
There are no post-emergence herbicides for grassy weeds in Bahia grass, which is a problem. Most weed problems in Bahia grass could be avoided by proper seed establishment and timely mowing. The large state agencies responsible for maintenance of utility turf struggle to find funds to keep Bahia grass mown properly. In summer its rapid vertical growth and exuberant seed head production are remarkable.
Introduced to the US in the 30s from South America as a feed grass for cattle grazing.
- Planting: seed or sod
- Shade tolerance: moderate
- Watering: low, and survives drought. Does well in soggy areas.
- Mowing Height: 2″ – 4″ Mow regularly to avoid the numerous tall seed heads that pop up.
- Pests: brown patch, dollar spot, mole crickets
- NOTE: Bahia grass is not an aggressive spreader and does not require excessive fertilization. When fertilizer is applied, it should contain iron, especially if the soil pH is 7 or more.