Let’s Talk Grass

 

In Central Texas choosing a grass has always been a challenge for landscapers, homeowners, and commercial property managers.

Water usage is perhaps one of the most important considerations. The drought that has hit Texas in the past 10 years makes selection of sod very challenging. For areas like New Braunfels water restrictions have been put in place to preserve the local supply of water. Currently New Braunfels is at STAGE II (as of March 24, 2015). Find the current watering status here. Every municipality is different so check with your community to find out where your property stands with restrictions.

There are 3 main species of grass used in Central Texas: St. Augustine, Bermuda, and Zoysia. My plan is to give you some information that you can use to better understand your lawn or make selections for landscaping projects.

 

Raleigh St. Augustine Grass

Raleigh St. Augustine Grass

St. Augustine is commonly found in older homes and in areas that have less water restrictions. When the grass is in good health it is thick and lush. The blades are soft and wide. If the grass is not manicured it could potentially grow up to a foot tall.

The roots of St. Augustine are what I would call a running system. Long runners crisscross each other throughout the lawn area. This has benefits and disadvantages. Having long runners allows the grass to spread quickly. The disadvantage of a root system like this is that it tends to be less dense and makes the yard susceptible to weeds, insects, and disease.

Brown Patch Fungus

Brown Patch Fungus

“Brown Patch” is a fungus that effects St. Augustine and can destroy a yard very quickly if not treated. There are many fungicides that can control the problem. They can be found out most garden retailers. Grubs can also be damaging to your yard and like the fungicide there are granules that you can treat your yard with to control the problem.

One of the other considerations for St. Augustine is the amount of sun that the area receives. The Raleigh variety is one of the most common varieties and handles shade very well. Another common variety is Palmetto which is better suited for direct sunlight.

If properly maintained I contend that St. Augustine is the most desirable of the grasses. But beware water requirements, pests, and proper variety selections can be a challenge. The price range for St. Augustine is somewhere in the middle to lower end of the spectrum.

 

Tifway 419

Tifway 419

Bermuda grass is the choice grass for most builders in Central Texas. Almost all of the varieties keep it lower on the cost scale. Bermuda is a grass that is not as lush and “green” as St. Augustine. In fact with close inspection the green of the grass is at the very tips of the plant. For this reason the grass often looks brown immediately after cutting. Bermudas best quality is its resilience. I have had yards that have been neglected and left to die. When a chance rain storm comes through signs of life begin to show. I have seen Bermuda yards completely covered in weeds. Once treated and given proper watering over time it looked like a golf course fairway.

Like St. Augustine, Bermuda grasses have a runner type root system. If you have a neighbor that has St. Augustine chances are you have an area where the grass has mixed and you have a blended grass variety. One major draw back for Bermuda is hardscape and bed management. This grass is notorious for tunneling under edging, pathways, and patios. In comparison St. Augustine’s roots remain along the surface and will only penetrate bed lines if there are breaks in the edging. Managing beds and and hardscapes will require extra work with Bermuda. A good supply of RoundUp can help.

There are a dozen varieties of Bermuda grass. At this time Tifway 419 is perhaps the most common. It has a fine grass blade and is widely used on golf courses in the south. The grass requires full sun, frequent mowing, and fertilization for best results.

Bermuda grass is a great low cost durable grass for Central Texas. It has less water requirements to survive than St. Augustine and that has made it the choice of many Texans.

Palisades-Zoysia

Zoysia Palisades

 

Perhaps the all star grass for Central Texas is Zoysia. Zoysia is durable, drought tolerant, low maintenance, and beautiful. It is the most expensive of the grass varieties but it follows the old saying, “you get what you pay for”.

Zoysia root system. Diagram from zoysiafarms.com

Zoysia root system. Diagram from zoysiafarms.com

Zyosia has a much denser root system. The other grasses, St. Augustine and Bermuda, have a runner system which makes the roots much thinner. Zoysia has a more carpeted root system. This has several benifits. With more roots in the ground there is more water and nutrient collection by the plant. The tightly packed roots will detere ants from building mounds in the lawn. I have a yard that is a blend of Bermuda and Zoysia. The open area that I let my dog run is Bermuda. It is tightly packed with ants and weeds. The Zoysia side has a few weeds but no ant beds are present. That brings me to my next point. Blended yards will not really be blended. The Zoysia has some blocking capabilities against the Bermuda. While at the fringe of the Zoysia grass line there is a some mixing, the main areas are either Bermuda or Zoysia and not both. One of the best characteristics of the Zoysia root system is its inability to tunnel. The grass will not go under your edging. It will however penetrate cracks or openings but is easily managed with a quick spray or pull of the unwanted grass.

The Zoysia is less drought tolerant than the Bermuda but is a much better alternative than St. Augustine if water usage is a concern. Proper water management and training of your lawn can make this type a grass incredibly resistant to drought conditions.

Zoysia is a slower growing grass and also requires less maintenance than the other grasses. This can reduce visits by service providers or personal time in managing your lawn.

 

Sod Roller

Sod Roller

Installation of all these grasses should be relatively simple in process. Makes sure you have a good base layer of soil. If you are in the hill country and do not have sufficient soil in your yard. 4-6″ of fresh clean soil is recommended. There are a wide variety of soils. Cost can range widely. Make sure the soil is not clumpy and has some sandy loam in it. This makes it easier to create a smooth grade and allows the roots to grab the soil much easier. Make sure the sod is rolled with a grass roller. This tool is usually a drum of water that you push across the surface of the new sod. This helps break the roots out of the sod square and helps it latch into the soil much quicker. Water accordingly. If you are installing in the summer make sure you get water on the grass immediately and make sure the pallets are protected from the sun while you are installing the grass. The hot Texas sun can quickly burn a pallet destroying and wasting the stacked grass. Placing a shade cloth over the top of them can help reduce the chances of burning. Also if you have a tree placing the pallet underneath can protect the grass.

 

These three grasses all serve specific purposes. Cost, maintenance, and water needs should all be considered when choosing a variety for your lawn. If you have questions that are not answered here call your local landscaper, lawn maintenance company, or grass farm to find out more.