Turf grass industry rolling in the green
  But you don't have to waste time and spend a fortune carpeting your lawn

February 26, 2004
by LORETTA JOHNSON and BRICE PAVLISH
Victoria County
Master Gardener Interns

Now this is a subject that can range in interest from "I'd rather pave the yard and paint it green" (no interest) to constant manicuring, watering and fertilizing (high interest). Where are you on this subject? This article is the first in a series of three that will provide information about turf grass varieties as well as their care and maintenance.

You may ask, "Where did my and others' infatuation with deep green lawn expanses arise? What am I doing right and wrong? If I am one of those of high interest, am I doing some things I don't need to do, and am I polluting the environment, streams and groundwater with my high maintenance program?"

Most people do like the appearance of a green rectangular lawn. The cultivation of lawns is a throwback to the 1700s when European aristocrats could afford to employ a staff of gardeners to manicure vast estates of rolling green. This was a very expensive, time-consuming, and by today's standards, boring monoculture. However, lawn care remains a big business. Statistics from the Lawn Institute of America estimate there are some 50,000 square miles of lawn cultivation nationwide, costing $39 billion a year to feed, water, groom and pamper. In Texas alone, turf grass is a $6 billion a year industry, according to Texas A&M University. Evidence of this can be seen in the massive advertising designed to sell you products that you may not really need. It is big business.

If you are establishing a new lawn or starting over, you have a unique opportunity to affect the cost, time demands and success of your long-term lawn care by proper soil preparation and turf grass selection. The benefits of soil testing cannot be understated. Testing of your soil samples by Texas A&M University can be accomplished by contacting your County Extension office for forms and containers. This will be discussed at a later date in another article in this series.

You should consider tilling prior to seeding or placing sod, particularly if the area has been subject to vehicular or heavy foot traffic. Potential benefits of tilling are: 1) reversal of soil compaction - which can restrict rooting and development; 2) allowance for pH adjustment by incorporating lime or sulfur; 3) incorporation of soil amendments such as organic matter (compost is the best); and 4) improvement of surface grade/drainage - poorly drained sites stay wet and result in poor growth and diseases.

Grasses grown for lawns, otherwise known as turfgrasses, are developed and chosen for their ability to control erosion, to provide beauty for landscapes and to resist wear from foot traffic. These can be differentiated from ornamental and range or pasture grasses. Turf grasses grown in the Victoria area must be selected from the group called warm season grasses. These grow best at temperatures between 80 and 95 degrees. This group includes Bermuda, buffalo, centipede, St. Augustine and zoysia. Of these, Bermuda, St. Augustine and zoysia are the most practical in Victoria because they are either native or adapted and do not require abnormal maintenance to remain healthy.

St. Augustine is the predominate turf grass chosen in Victoria. It is the most shade tolerant grass for Victoria. However, it is the coarsest in texture and has the least drought resistance. Many times homeowners attempt to maintain larger expanses of St. Augustine than is practical from an irrigation standpoint. (More will be said about this in a future article in this series to be published at a later date.) St. Augustine is well adapted to lawns where both full sun and partial shade areas exist. It should be noted that nearly all commercially available sod contains some Bermuda. Inadequate irrigation of St. Augustine will inevitably result in the decline in that species and its replacement by the resident Bermuda. St. Augustine propagates by stolons that grow at the soil surface. For that reason, it is quite easy to edge and to control invasion into vegetable gardens, landscaping and flowerbeds. St. Augustine is established from sprigs (runners) or sod. A disadvantage: St. Augustine is susceptible to St. Augustine decline (SAD), brown patch and take-all patch.

Bermuda or Bermudagrass is finer in texture than St. Augustine and more drought resistant, but is not shade tolerant. If the cost or ease of irrigation is a problem and there is no shade, Bermuda is probably the turf grass of choice for Victoria. Bermuda propagates by both surface stolons and sub-surface rhizomes. Rhizomes can be very deep and difficult to control mechanically to prevent invasion into non-lawn areas. Bermuda is established from seed or sod.

Zoysia is the finest in texture and is in between St. Augustine and Bermuda in drought resistance. It is also more shade tolerant than Bermuda, but less so than St. Augustine. It requires more time to establish as a dense turf. This makes weed control difficult during its establishment. Zoysia may provide an alternative to Bermuda for high traffic areas where St. Augustine would not hold up well. It exhibits better cold tolerance than Bermuda. If a finer texture than that provided by St. Augustine is desired, zoysia can provide a luxurious lawn once established. It will provide a thick soft carpet for sunny plant displays and herb gardens where permanent walkways are not utilized. Zoysia is established from seed, plugs, or for best results, by sod.

There has been some talk of Buffalograss - our state grass - and the advantage is it requires the least water and requires the least maintenance of all grasses for our area. The disadvantage is it will not tolerate shade. Several varieties look good, but they are planted by sod, not seed.

Several varieties of the each recommended type of turf grass are available and appropriate for Victoria culture. From 1997 through 2000, the Victoria County Master Gardeners evaluated 15 different turf grass varieties. A report of that demonstration is available at the County Extension office or online at:

http://agfacts.tamu.edu/D11/Victoria/AG/HomeHort/index.htm

 

 Follow the site to Home Horticulture and then Landscape. Those varieties rating the highest were: Floratam St. Augustine grass, Cavalier, Jamur or Crowne zoysiagrass, Palmetto St. Augustine grass and 609 Buffalograss.

Seed or sprigs of warm season grasses should not be planted before soil temperature reaches 65 degrees. Planting too early may retard development, prolong establishment, and increase weed problems. Soil temperatures of 68 to 75 degrees are ideal for germination and rapid development of Bermudagrass. Sod can be planted most any time during the growing season.

A second mention of the importance of obtaining a soil test is deserved here. Begin planning to manage your lawn correctly this year. For starters, get your soil tested now - and don't fertilize until mid-April. More information can be obtained from the extension office in bulletin No. B-5088 Home Lawns at a cost of $3. In our next article onturf grass, to be published March 11, we will discuss lawn weed identification and control.