Homeowners who want a thick, lush lawn that is less vulnerable to weed growth, easy on your bare feet and common in residential areas often choose St. Augustine grass. However, the benefits of this versatile variety are offset by the fact that St. Augustine isn’t low maintenance. If you want to keep your lawn green from spring to fall, experts recommend that your St. Augustine grass care focus on three main areas: mowing, fertilizing and watering.
Homeowners are sometimes surprised to learn that cutting your grass is not just about aesthetics, but also helps keep plants healthy. At the beginning of spring, when soil temperatures grow warmer and plants emerge from dormancy, it’s time to start mowing. To encourage the optimal growth of St. Augustine grass, we recommend setting your lawnmower to a height of between two and a half to four inches. As long as you don’t let your grass grow too tall, you can leave the clippings on your lawn instead of bagging them. Doing so provides your landscape with nutrients and discourages weed growth. The factors that determine how often you will need to cut your grass include the amount of rainfall you get in your area, as well as the temperature, sun exposure and nutrients in your soil.
During peak growing season, you may need to mow as often as twice a week to avoid what’s called scalping. If you don’t cut your grass often enough, you risk cutting off more than 1/3 of the plant. As the name suggests, this is what’s called scalping, which limits your grass’s ability to keep growing. If you neglect your grass and it grows higher than normal, you may need to mow more often and gradually lower the height to avoid damage to your landscape.
In most warmer climates, you’ll need to mow from March through September. As the temperatures drop, and your lawn starts to go dormant, you can cut back or even stop mowing your lawn. You pick up your regular lawn mowing schedule in the spring when temperature and sunlight levels signal to plants that it’s time to start growing.
Most soils lack the proper nutrients St. Augustine needs to thrive, so the application of fertilizer is often a necessary part of ongoing lawn maintenance. If you haven’t already, test your soil’s pH and nutrients to determine what amendments can help your plants from spring through what can be a hot summer. Three weeks after your first spring lawn mowing, apply fertilizer based on what you learn. Make sure to wait until the final frost of the season, since applying fertilizer before then can harm your plants. After the first application, reapply fertilizer every eight weeks. For most St. Augustine lawns, that means one pound of soluble nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of grass.
During the summer months, you’ll want to start using a liquid or granular iron fertilizer to prevent iron chlorosis, an iron deficiency that can make St. Augustine grass turn yellow. Keep in mind that many of these fertilizers that contain iron are capable of staining driveways and other pathways, so be mindful during the application process to avoid any unintended issues.
As summer comes to a close, you’ll want to ease up on your fertilizing schedule. About four to six weeks before the first cold front of the season, most St. Augustine lawns will benefit from low nitrogen, high potassium fertilizer. You’ll also likely need less of that fertilizer, with just about a half-pound applied for every 1,000 square feet. Because of the technical aspect of lawn care, fertilizing tends to be more difficult than mowing, particularly given the unique characteristics of every lawn. A lawn care specialist can always provide you with a recommended fertilizing schedule for your lawn and even take over this chore for you.
While St. Augustine grass does have many benefits, this variety does require frequent watering. In the spring, your watering schedule is going to be relatively dependent on the weather. Generally speaking, St. Augustine grass only needs to be watered once every five to ten days. For the healthiest grass, you want the water to penetrate six inches into the soil. Because St. Augustine is relatively resilient, you can usually keep an eye on it before summer and water it when you notice signs of drought stress. Signs you need to water your lawn include shoots that are bluish, dull or starting to roll in on themselves. In most cases, once you water your St. Augustine grass, it will bounce back.
Continue to keep an eye out on your grass throughout the summer and water it as needed. You won’t be surprised to learn that warmer temperatures will require the lawn to be watered more often. Set your sprinklers to run in the morning. If you water during the hottest hours of the day, evaporation rates are too high and your grass won’t get the moisture it needs. Many municipalities also have rules in place to avoid water waste that restrict watering to outside of these times. If you water in the evening, there is not enough sunlight to remove excess water from your plants and you may notice the development of fungus or mildew.
Although your St. Augustine grass may go dormant in winter, you still need to water it on days that are warmer, windy and dry.
Despite the benefits of St. Augustine grass, many homeowners opt to have their lawn maintained by a professional so they don’t have to worry about ongoing maintenance. If you decide you want to try the do-it-yourself route, keep on reading to learn more about this type of grass so that you better understand what is required for a healthy lawn. We’ll also discuss what you can do about one of the most common St. Augustine grass issues: brown patches that can appear in your lawn.
How To Plant St. Augustine Grass
Maybe you aren’t happy with your current lawn, you are interested in converting an area to grass or even you have patches you want to fill in. When you begin to do your research into your options, you’ll find that you can’t purchase St. Augustine grass seeds at a hardware store. That’s because St. Augustine actually doesn’t produce viable seeds. Instead, you must establish a St. Augustine lawn through planting, and there are two primary ways to do it: by planting plugs or by laying sod.
There are a number of factors that can help you make the decision between plugs or sod when you’re planning for a St. Augustine lawn, including:
- Size of coverage area. If you have a substantial area to cover, sod is certainly the easier choice. That being said, plugs are great for filling in patches here and there. For example, you can use plugs to create a grassy patch in the center of your garden space.
- Growth timeframe. When you need an “instant” lawn, planting sod can give you a solid carpet of St. Augustine grass immediately. Plugs, on the other hand, may take an entire season to fill in.
- Who’s doing the labor. While the cost of actual plugs is significantly less, when you pay a contractor, it’s typically a wash compared to the up-charge of St. Augustine sod. However, the time it takes to plant your St. Augustine lawn will be a factor regardless of whether you do it yourself or pay someone.
No matter what planting method you decide on, there are a couple of steps you have to take before either plugging or sodding your yard.
Measure Your Lawn Area
How can you make sure you buy the right amount of grass the first time and avoid having to make a second trip to the store? Determine the dimensions of your lawn before you buy. One tray of St. Augustine grass plugs, or 18 plugs, will cover 32 square feet of your yard, or one pallet of St. Augustine sod measuring four feet by four feet will cover 450 square feet.
You can be as precise as you’d like, but the general rule of thumb is to pull out a tape measure and get a rough estimate. Once you have that number of square feet, allow for a 10% overage. This usually covers any odd corners or spaces.
Clear Your Lawn Space
Depending on what the existing area looks like, you may need to bring in a sod-cutter or tiller to break up existing vegetation and soil. You can usually rent these from a hardware store, although you may need to also rent a truck to haul this equipment back to your home if it can’t fit in your car. Once you have removed any existing grass or vegetation, apply a non-selective herbicide two weeks ahead of planting or cover the area with opaque plastic sheeting. Even a tarp will do, although you may need several if it’s a large space.
Prepare The Soil
Once your new lawn area is cleared, you can prepare the soil by applying fertilizer to ensure proper nutrients are available during the first phase of establishment, and then adding mulch to absorb all the water your St. Augustine is going to need in those first few months.
Finally, water the ground thoroughly to activate your fertilizer and to give the roots a more malleable environment and immediate moisture. Watering should take several minutes. You want to soak until no more water is being absorbed into the ground.
Now for the fun part: getting your new grass laid down. If you decide to go the do-it-yourself route, this is how you plug or sod your lawn.
Plugging In Your St. Augustine Lawn
If you go the plugging route, it’s time to start digging! You’ll want to dig four holes in a diamond shape about 12 inches apart from each other, with holes that are across from each other being around 15 inches apart. Take a look at your plug’s root ball to determine how big these holes should be. You can also buy or rent a grass plugging tool from your local hardware store if you don’t want to dig these holes by hand.
Next, you’ll firmly press each plug into the hole you have dug. If your holes are too deep, fill them to the necessary height with some nutrient-dense soil.
Laying Down St. Augustine Sod
Laying down sod is often a quicker way to plant St. Augustine grass. However, this method is usually more expensive. While you can purchase a pallet or a half-pallet of St. Augustine grass, keep in mind that a full pallet is 450 squares of grass. If you decide to lay this sod yourself, we recommend getting in a good rhythm as you’ll be repeating the process either 225 or 450 times.
For laying down sod, all you have to do is make sure that you get the sod in line with the adjacent pieces and that it lines your driveway or any pathways that are close to your lawn space.
Once your St. Augustine grass is starting to take root, you’ll need to establish a lawn mowing, watering and fertilizing schedule. When it comes to fertilizer, you need to make sure you’re getting the correct composition of key ingredients to keep your lawn growing beautifully.
What Is The Best Fertilizer For St. Augustine Grass?
Most St. Augustine fertilizers contain a high level of nitrogen. A lawn care professional can test your soil for any other missing nutrients to make sure your investment of time and money will result in healthier grass. Without doing a test, most experts will recommend a fertilizer containing a 3-1-2 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium for this variety. When shopping for your fertilizer, you should be able to find the ratio of nutrients right on the bag.
Keep in mind that there are two types of nitrogen fertilizers out there: water-soluble and slow-release.
Water-soluble fertilizer is a good option if your lawn appears to by dying or is in desperate need of nutrients. This kind of fertilizer will absorb immediately into your lawn. If you decide on water-soluble fertilizer, you’ll want to apply it every 8 weeks. Slow-release fertilizer is best applied in small amounts, gradually. Because it’ll take your lawn longer to digest these nutrients, you’ll want to apply this fertilizer every ten weeks.
When using a water-soluble fertilizer, you’ll generally need about one pound of soluble nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet. For slow-release, you’ll probably want to apply a pound and a half of soluble nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet. Again, each yard is slightly different, so you may need to experiment to see what works best, or call in a pro to advise you.
By staying on top of your fertilizing schedule and by applying vital nutrients in the correct amounts, your lawn should stay healthy and green. However, if you’re in a hurry, how can you make St. Augustine grass grow more quickly?
How To Make St. Augustine Grass Spread Quickly
What’s great about St. Augustine grass is that it actually does spread fairly quickly on its own and, once established, it can withstand heavy foot traffic. As a matter of fact, it’s actually one of the best grasses for high traffic backyard dogs (and humans). This type of grass spreads through both rhizomes and stolons, meaning that it sends runners out both above and underneath the ground. As long as you are maintaining your lawn, you should have a beautiful, lush lawn.
If you want to speed up the process, there are a couple of things you can do:
- Use a water-soluble fertilizer that will give your grass the nutrients it needs quickly
- Mow your lawn more frequently and leave lawn clippings on your lawn for additional nutrients
- Install plugs or sod in areas that are bare
- Hand pull any weeds that show up in your lawn that could be robbing your grass of sunlight, food and water
You can always contact a lawn care professional who has a deep understanding of the best lawn care tips for your area. These experts will know the exact watering, fertilizing and mowing schedule to get quick results.
Unfortunately, if you aren’t properly taking care of your lawn, you can end up with brown patches that aren’t associated with your grass going dormant in the winter.
What Are The Brown Patches In My St. Augustine Grass?
While a dehydrated lawn or a pet urinating on your lawn can both be the cause of St. Augustine grass problems, the most common culprit of brown patches is a fungal disease called brown patch. Brown patch often affects St. Augustine grass in the months with warm, humid days, followed by cooler nights. The disease typically looks like thinned out patches of light brown grass ranging from a few inches in diameter to several feet.
If you are experiencing this issue, it’s best to call in the professionals to apply targeted fungicides so as not to accidentally damage your entire lawn.
After fungicides have been applied and your lawn has healed, follow these tips to prevent a recurrence of brown patch:
- Use less fertilizer as you near the end of summer.
- Water early in the morning to facilitate optimal evaporation.
- Mow regularly to avoid excessive thatching.
- Check for signs of poor drainage, including pooling water or wet or dry patches and correct any issues you may find.
The best way to prevent brown patch is by being diligent about your lawn care. As we’ve mentioned before, because St. Augustine grass has a specific set of needs and requirements, signing up for regular lawn service is often the easiest way to keep your lawn beautiful and green.
ABC Can Take Care Of Your Lawn
While there are reasons this type of grass is common in residential areas, homeowners often learn that St. Augustine is not necessarily low maintenance. Caring properly for your lawn can mean performing fertilizer calculations and following a regular watering and mowing schedule. Instead of spending your precious free time on your outdoor areas, let the professionals at ABC Home & Commercial Services take care of your yard. Our specialists are very familiar with St. Augustine grass and can keep your lawn and your wallet happy, all year long.