Selecting a Florida-Friendly Turfgrass

A lawn can be an appealing element in a home landscape and provides important benefits, like reducing stormwater runoff and cleaning the air. But it's important to use turf wisely.

Maintaining a healthy lawn requires mowing, fertilization, irrigation, and generally some pest management, so include only as much grass as you can maintain.

Lawngrasses are all Florida-Friendly when used appropriately. So make sure you choose a grass that's suited to your soil type and amount of sunlight, and that matches the amount of work you want to put into your lawn. For example, turfgrass typically won't thrive in heavy shade, so consider using groundcovers or mulch in those areas.

Consider, too, what you plan to use the lawn for. Is it primarily for aesthetic purposes, or will it receive heavy traffic from usage? Take all of these things into consideration when choosing a turfgrass.

Florida Turfgrass

The three most-used grasses for home lawns in Florida are St. Augustinegrass, bahiagrass, and centipedegrass. St. Augustinegrass is the most popular lawn grass in Florida. It's easy and quick to establish the grass from sod or plugs. St. Augustinegrass does require water to stay green during periods of drought, however it doesn't need more water than other grass species to remain green.

Bahiagrass is a popular, low-maintenance lawn grass that does well with limited water and fertilizer. Bahiagrass does form tall, unsightly seed heads throughout the its growing season that many find objectionable, and requires regular mowing to keep the stalks from becoming too tall. It is not recommended for coastal areas.

Centipedegrass is well adapted for Central and Northern Florida and is the most common home lawn grass in the Florida Panhandle. There is now a cultivar adapted to South Florida conditions, 'Hammock' centipedegrass, patented by the University of Florida. Centipedegrass tolerate poor soil conditions and drought, but is susceptible to nematodes. While drought won't necessarily kill it, centipedegrass does go dormant (turns brown) in the absence of water.

Zoysia is a type of lawngrass becoming more popular in Florida lawns. It's dark green, and shorter and finer textured than St. Augustinegrass. Zoysiagrass is adapted to a variety of soils and can have good tolerance to shade, salt, and traffic.

Irrigation

Deep-rooted bahiagrass and centipedegrass grow best in acidic, sandy soils that do not retain water. These grasses survive dry spells better and resist other kinds of stresses, such as traffic. The deep roots of these grasses make them good choices for establishing a lawn during an extended drought.

In most parts of Florida, irrigate by applying 1/2–3/4 inches of water at any given time. In very sandy soil, you may need to apply the 3/4-inch rate. In North Florida and the panhandle, where soils are heavier and have more clay, you may only need to use the 1/2-inch rate. In southeast Florida and the Keys, where the soil is shallow, you may only need to irrigate 1/4 inch to saturate it.

More lawns are damaged by over-watering than by any other cultural practice, so watering restrictions may not actually be as devastating as they seem. Water only when your lawn shows one of the three signs of wilt (lengthwise-folded blades, blue-gray color, or footprints remaining in grass).

Fertilization and Mowing

Fertilizer should be applied to St. Augustinegrass in 2–6 applications from spring green-up through fall. In South Florida, year-round fertilization is acceptable. Current UF/IFAS recommendations state that zoysiagrass should receive 3 (North Florida) to 6 (South Florida) applications per year in most situations. Zoysiagrass responds well to a fertilizer regimen where smaller quantities are applied more frequently, rather than supplying larger quantities infrequently. Bahiagrass and centipedegrass only need to be fertilized one or two times a year.

Turfgrass should be mowed as needed, maintaining the highest recommended height for their respective species. For bahiagrass this is 3.5–4 inches and 1–2 inches for centipedegrass. For St. Augustinegrass, standard cultivars are typically mowed at heights greater than 2.5 inches, and dwarf cultivars are mowed at heights less than 2.5 inches. Medium- to coarse-textured zoysiagrasses should be mowed weekly, or when they reach a height of 3–4 inches.

Pest Problems

All grasses have some pest problems, but bahiagrass and centipedegrass are generally less affected than other species. Sometimes pests can be managed by cultural practices such as fertilization, irrigation, and mowing. Other times, chemical controls may be required. Mole crickets are the major insect problem for bahiagrass, while ground pearls are the most prevalent insect pest of centipedegrass. St. Augustinegrass is susceptible to chinch bugs, sod webworm, and white grubs, while zoysiagrass suffers most from hunting billbugs.

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