What’s the best grass, what’s the best soil preparation, what’s the best turf maintenance program? These are some of the most common questions every year at this time.
Turf grass choices for North Texas include St. Augustine, common Bermuda, hybrid Bermudas, zoysia, centipede and buffalo. The best turf is a mixture of several grasses and forbes, but if you must choose just one, here’s a rundown.
St. Augustine is the best choice for shady areas but even it needs about a half day of full sunlight to thrive. It also has problems with a fungus called brown patch or Rhizoctonia when fertilized and watered too much. The organic program is a preventive measure and the use of cornmeal on problem spots is an effective cure. St. Augustine should be planted solid sod. Spot sodding costs about as much and gives a spotty, bumpy, weedy effect for several years. There are no hardy seed available at this time. It is the most susceptible of these grasses to freeze and drought damage.
Bermuda is planted by seed as well as by solid sod. It is best in full sun and requires less water and fertilizer than St. Augustine. It’s flaw is its aggressiveness. It spreads fast. That’s good when trying to get it to grow and complete the turf, but it ’s bad when it spreads into the beds - which it commonly does. Bermuda is durable to traffic across it.
The hybrid Bermudas are finer textured selections of the parent grass. They are sterile (produce no viable seed) and require more intense maintenance because flaws and weeds show up so much. These grasses are primarily used on golf courses and home putting greens.
Zoysia is a beautiful, lush grass that is touted as the king of grasses and the most durable of them all. Nothing could be further from the truth. Zoysia is the slowest growing grass. As a result it is easily worn out from traffic - postman’s path, kid’s play, dogs, etc. It heals so slowly that weeds and other grasses can easily get started. This grass should only be used for viewing areas. If the turf is to have any wear and tear from any kind of traffic, plant something else. If zoysia does fit your low-use program, plant Meyer-Z52 by solid sod only. Don’t ever buy the mail order plugs. You should buy any grass from local suppliers.
Centipede is similar to St. Augustine in appearance and needs. It’s for those of you with sandy soil, can be grown in partially shaded areas to full sun areas and is relatively maintenance free. It can also be blended with St. Augustine, clover, dicondra, violets, and other good lawn forbes.
QUESTION: I have centipede grass and lots of weeds. I have applied weed killer with a hose-end sprayer without success. What do you recommend? J.S., Pittsburg
ANSWER: Apply an organic fertilizer and dry molasses, each at a rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Mulch the grass clippings into the turf when you mow. You also can spot-spray the worst weeds with a vinegar herbicide.
Buffalograss is my favorite grass. It is our only native turfgrass and must be grown in full sun. It has extremely low water and fertilizer requirements and no pest problems. Winter cold and summer heat stress just don’t bother this grass. The critics who love the high-nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides complain that Bermuda invades buffalograss and takes it over, making it a bad choice. Well, Bermuda will take over buffalo if too much watering and fertilizing is done. The native buffalograss is planted from unhulled seed and takes about two full growing seasons to be thick. Hulled seed is also available that will establish much more quickly. The hybrids are the best choices if budget allows. They should be planted solid sod. They include Prairie, 609, and Stampede.
The seed bed preparation for turf grasses is simple. All these plants like the same amendments - organic matter and rock minerals. Although all these grasses will respond well to compost, humate, organic fertilizers, lava sand and Texas greensand, bermuda and buffalo need very little of these amendments for establishment. Use anywhere from 5-20 lbs. per 1,000 square feet of each amendment for best results. The rates are not critical. That’s one of the nice features of the organic technique. When you plant solid sod of any kind, fill in the cracks between the solid sod pieces with compost. Don’t scalp anytime, mow at whatever height you like and use the basic organic program to maintain your turf with a minimum amount of troubles.