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What to do this week –
By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening“
I was visiting a garden center this past week when a gentleman stopped me and asked about the different varieties of plugs available to help repair his lawn. Unfortunately, he did not know what type of grass he had, and he seemed a little distressed at the prolonged answers I gave him. Sometimes, when I talk about things, I am passionate about, I tend to ramble on. So this week, I have decided to go over some of the things you need to know before making the commitment to either repair or replace your lawn. I will also talk about some of the choices in grasses you will have to make in selecting your new lawn.
One of the first questions I have to ask anyone who is considering, replacing or plugging his or her lawn is why the lawn died in the first place? This question can have many answers. Maybe the lawn died because you did not have a sprinkler system. You may have had an insect problem or a fungus could have killed the lawn. In some cases, shade could have caused the lawn to decline over the years. All of these problems, singly or in combination with each other, could have been the cause of the lawn dying.
What I do not like to hear is that a homeowner, who has not identified the cause of the lawns decline, goes out and purchases new sod at a considerable cost, just to have the grass die a second or third time. If you are only replacing a few plugs or squares of turf in the yard, then you may not have to know exactly what killed the turf, but for those of you that are replacing your entire yard; this can cost you into the thousands of dollars. The information below will help you save money and help you make the right decision in selecting the proper turf grass.
In order to select the right type of grass you will need to do a little work. Walk around your home around midday and see if your grass receives at least six hours of full sun per day. Those of you that have a lot of trees shading your property, or if you have many large ornamental plants, then you should think of something other than turf grass to fill those areas. Lawns that receive only six hours of full sun per day will limit your choices of grass to the shade-tolerant varieties of St. Augustine or Zoysia grass. The cultivars you will be able to select from the St. Augustine grass are Bitter Blue, Seville, Delta Shade, Captiva, and Delmar. For Zoysia grass choose De Anza, Diamond, El Toro, and Zorro. Remember, if you have less than six hours of full sun per day, you will not be able to grow any of these cultivars. Over time, they will all die off.
For full sun areas or lawns that receive over six hours of direct light per day, your choices are better. Bahia grass can be used in these areas. Bahia is also the only choice for homeowners who do not have a sprinkler system. Bahia can dry out almost completely but will return after a rain or good soaking. St. Augustine Grass and Zoysia grass will die without irrigation. As long as you have irrigation, then the St. Augustine cultivars you can plant in the full sun are Floratam (my number 1 choice), Floralawn, Palmetto, and Classic. Zoysia cultivars for full sun and on properties that have irrigation are Emerald, Empire (I like this one too), and PristineFlora.
I truly believe that if you are going to replace your current lawn, and you do not have a sprinkler system, do not spend the money! I would rather look at green weeds then spend my money on a new lawn that will be brown most of the year because of lack of water. For those of you that have a sprinkler system, which is in working condition, then go ahead and use the cultivars of grass I have mentioned above that match your individual requirements. The next thing you will need to know is how to install your new grass.
Small areas of turf can be plugged relatively easily. That is of course if you are currently growing St. Augustine. St. Augustine grass is the only grass you should propagate by plugs in our area. I never suggest mixing grasses such as plugging a Bahia lawn with St. Augustine plugs. This will only cause you problems down the road. One thing you do need to look for when you purchase your plugs is that the garden center may have several varieties of St. Augustine sold as plugs. If you do not know the cultivar of St. Augustine you are currently growing you may need to take a sample of your turf to the Cooperative Extension office to have it identified.
Once identified, you can pick out the same cultivar of plug to use in your lawn. I have seen the results of people purchasing different cultivars of St. Augustine and co-mingling them in their lawns, and the results are not pretty. Co-mingled lawns produce different colors of grass, and the growth habits will not match giving your lawn an unkempt appearance. Believe me, you will not be pleased. If you cannot identify the cultivar of St. Augustine you currently are growing, then you can simply cut out some of the good grass you have near your plant beds and cut these portions into plugs that you can use in the dead areas.
At my home, I am constantly fighting my lawn as it tries to invade my flower beds. The grass in these areas always tends to grow very strongly so just use a shovel and cut some of this grass away from the beds and use these as plugs to fill in the bad areas of your lawn. This will save you money, keep your beds looking good, and keep your lawn all the same cultivar. This process will not work if you are replacing your entire lawn.
When you replace an entire lawn, you will need to kill off the existing growth and weeds with Round-up. Round-up will eliminate most of the weed grasses you probably have growing and any Sedges or grass currently still alive. Several people have asked me about taking shortcuts when replacing lawns such as, “I still have a few good areas can I try to keep these?” Yes, you can if the areas measure out to three to four hundred square feet. But as I noted above, this leads to mixing turf grass cultivars, so be very careful.
Another good question is, “how long do I have to wait before I can put the new sod down after I spray the round-up”, and “can I place the new sod directly over the old dead grass?” Round-up takes about three weeks to work, and you should wait until all areas are dead before you put down the new sod. If green areas are still visible after this time, then you can spot treat with round-up to kill those areas. Never ever place new sod over the top of old sod. This is a common mistake I see homeowners using regularly. Of course, not having the old sod scraped up is a money saver, but you are leaving weed seeds, grasses, and diseases in place. Your lawn will also be uneven when you are finished making the lawn hard to maintain. Please, have the grass scraped up. If you hire a Sod Company to replace your lawn, then they will do this anyway.
Once the grass is scraped up, you may notice grubs or other insects, which may have been a contributor to the problems the old turf grass had. You should apply an insecticide and a starter fertilizer over the dirt to control the insects you have seen and to give the grass a boost of fertilizer. I would apply Dylox granules for the grubs or other insects and a 6-0-10 fertilizer to help get the new grass off to a good start. Be sure the water these products in lightly to kill the insects before the new sod is installed.
Once the new sod has been delivered to your home, be sure to inspect the new turf for color and root mass. If the sod does not look good when they deliver it, then I will guarantee it will not perform up to your expectations. Look for green open blades and a dark, thick, moist root system that has not dried out. Refuse any portion of the load that does not meet these requirements. Most sod company’s warranty the new grass for thirty days; make sure this is in writing.
Any sod that dies or does not “Peg” (root) down at thirty days, should be replaced by the Sod Company. Hiring a pest management company before your warranty is up from the Sod Company, will nullify your guarantee. However, after their warranty expires, I strongly recommend you hire a company to spray your turf and feed it regularly. If you are using Bahia or St. Augustine grass, then your lawn will need to be treated every seven weeks. Those of you that have chosen Zoysia grass will need a monthly service to control diseases and insects.
I hope you find the contents of this article helpful. If you follow these simple guidelines, I have laid out, then you should not have to replace your lawn again for a very long time. I will also say “you get what you pay for.” When selecting a Sod Company, make sure you shop around. I have gone over the most common mistakes people make when contemplating replacing their lawn. These mistakes always end up costing you more money down the road so make your life easier. Use these guidelines and enjoy your yard and landscape. Good luck, and remember, without plants, we would not be here!