Which turf grass is best


There are over 5,000,000 acres of turf grass grown along the Gulf Coast. All are warm-season turf grass, each with its own characteristics and its own pros and cons. Others, like buffalo grass – although considered a warm-season grass – do not do well in Gulf Coast lawns. There are, however, three types of grass which grow reasonably well here. (Lawn statistics for the Gulf Coast)

Bermuda grass

If you’re new to the area, and want to see what Bermuda grass looks like, go to the nearest sports field. Sports fields usually have one of two types of surfaces. One is artificial turf. The other is Bermuda grass. The chief advantage of this turf grass is it has few disease or insect problems and, although it is a warm-season grass, it is more cold tolerant than other warm- season grasses. However, the main requirement for Bermuda grass is that it needs full sun. It is also much more tolerant of traffic than other types.

One disadvantage is that it does not tolerate shade, it turns brown after the first frost. However, just because it turns brown after the first frost, it is still alive but dormant. It will return to green in the early spring. Many gardeners (including myself) despise Bermuda grass because it is aggressive, quickly invades garden beds and is a devil to remove.

Bermuda grass needs about one inch of water a week during the growing season (April-October). That includes rainwater. So, if it rains an inch this week, you don’t have to water it at all – good news on your water bill. In fact, the three warm-season grasses mentioned here go dormant in the winter. Here is an example of a lawn that has not been artificially watered in over 2 years.

St. Augustine grass

St. Augustine is the most commonly used turf grass along the Gulf Coast.It is relatively shade-tolerant and may remain green but dormant throughout most winters here. Like Bermuda grass, it does need a lot of water (about one inch a week). It is the most tolerant of salt water, which can be a boon during hurricane season.

This turf grass is susceptible to disease and insect damage, its two major disadvantages.

Zoysia

Zoysia grass is becoming more and more popular among residents along the Gulf Coast. It’s almost as shade-tolerant as St. Augustine and has few disease or insect problems, Zoysia also requires much less water than either St. Augustine or Bermuda grass and it tends to be more wear-resistant than either of the two other grasses.

A disadvantage is that it is the earliest turf to turn brown at the first frost. It is also the last to green up in the spring.

When to sod

Although theoretically, all three grasses can be sodded anytime, the very best times to sod are late October and early April. Those months are cooler than our hotter late spring and summer and allow the grass roots more time to grow without the stress of extremes of temperature. April is also the best time to aerate your lawn and add compost to it.

Is Spring Early This Year?


Officially, spring arrives in the United States on March 20. Spring comes early along the Gulf Coast though, and gardeners shouldn’t be too eager to plant just yet. A few warm days toward the end of February has prompted many, this gardener included, to jump the gun and begin putting in tender plants.

Even thought the USDA has published cold hardiness zones, and has projections for last frost, the parameters are quite large. For instance, the USDA indicates that absolute last frost date in region 9A (which includes a great deal of the Gulf Coast) is March 20. However, there are very few years when we had a frost that late. Not to say it can’t happen, The average risk for last frost in our area is March 1, although it may be a little later in the northern part of the county.

Before you start putting in tender tomato seedlings you might want to wait until nature tells you it’s actually springtime. Here are some indicators that herald the real arrival of spring:

The birds are singing

Backyard birds are one of the best indicators that springtime has arrived. Birds are extremely sensitive to weather. Bluebirds, for instance, are good harbingers. As the old poem goes: “Bluebirds are a sign of spring and gentle south breezes they bring.”

Other “early birds include the American golden plover, the purple martin although they sometimes arrive before the last frost, barn swallow and yellow-throated warbler. Check out the Audubon website or Cornell Ornithology website for identifications of these birds.

Doves (white-wing, mourning and Aztec, begin their cooing mating rituals in the backyard and elsewhere. Carolina wrens and pileated woodpeckers begin visiting trees in the neighborhood.

Trees

In about a week, begin looking for buds on your trees. Willows, pecans, and silver maples are good examples of early spring budding. Eastern and Texas redbuds are also early bloomers. These attractive trees bloom from the branches before leafing out and create a wonderful show with their tiny pink blossoms.

Many magnolias also begin blooming in very early spring. Star magnolias, saucer magnolias, Jane magnolias (tulip tree) and lily magnolias are some species that herald spring.

Flowering dogwoods are also an early indication of spring.

Vines

Some say that Carolina jessamine is the first harbinger of spring. With its golden yellow flowers climbing up leafless white oaks, sweet gum and our evergreen yaupon, it sends quite a message if you’re looking for it. Find it in wooded areas.

Another early spring bloomer is the pitcher clematis. Unlike its showy cousins, it sports a small purple flower- about the size of a 50-cent piece – resembling an upside-down pitcher. It grows in heavily wooded areas.  

Lightning bugs

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where there are lightning bugs, know that these glowing insects are also an indication that true spring has arrived. Lightning bugs spend the winter as larvae munching on worms and other small invertebrates in soft moist soil. Highly sensitive to temperatures, they are a good indication that spring has arrived.  

Fish indicators

If you like to fish, largemouth bass bedding earlier than usual is also a good sign of an early spring. Largemouth bass go to shallow water to spawn when the daytime temperatures are consistently past the mid-60s and hits 70, and nighttime temperatures stay above the low 60s. Crappie also move to the shallows when bass begin bedding.  If you like saltwater fishing, black drum begin spawning after the last freeze, when temperatures stay consistently around 65 degrees.

 Flowers

When winecups, Indian paintbrush, and bluebonnets begin flowering earlier than usual, that’s also an indication that spring has arrived.  Although it’s too late to plant wildflowers now in Montgomery County – make a note in your calendar now to plant them next fall.

People

People can also inadvertently be good harbingers of spring as well. Seeing more people in the parks, more kids playing outdoors, more bicyclists, more hikers and more backyard barbecues? Keep your eyes open for these events in your neighborhood. Although we all like to follow calendars, many of us respond instinctively to the weather.

Where do those winter weeds come from and how do we control them?


Every winter and early spring along the Upper Gulf Coast, weeds begin appearing in even the best-maintained lawns. Chickweed, henbit, burweed, dandelion and other weeds, carried in by the wind, by birds, or merely lying in the soil for years until sprouting, begin their annual blight across our landscapes.

Whatever way they got there, our main concern is “how do we get rid of them?” Don’t despair. Homeowners have many choices to remove and eradicate these annoying plants.

Mow them down before they seed. Most of the weeds that appear in the lawn in late winter and very early spring can be destroyed completely by simply mowing them down before they form seeds. These weeds are annuals, like corn, tomatoes, begonias, petunias, nasturtiums and others – which means they only live for one year. They propagate their species by making seed and dropping it onto the ground in the spring. But if these plants are mown before they create seed heads, they cannot propagate. This is the least invasive method of getting rid of weeds in your garden.

Add organic material in spring and fall. Most lawns here are varieties of St. Augustine turf. St. Augustine is a very rugged, aggressive and durable warm-season grass. Healthy, strong, disease-free St. Augustine will eventually force out weeds. A quarter inch application of organic material, once in mid-October and another in mid-April will help the St. Augustine grass itself to eliminate the weeds.

Pull the weeds. Work-intensive and probably not the preferred method for homeowners and landscapers alike, this requires a lot of stooping, bending and kneeling. If one seeks a good workout, then this might be an acceptable method.

Pre-emergent herbicides. I do not recommend chemical herbicides. Herbicides containing benefin, trifluralin, isoxaben, pendimethalin and dithiopyr are effective as pre-emergents do work, but residents must be very careful in their use, read and follow instructions to the letter, avoid run-off (they can cause damage to both fresh and salt water marine life, as well as beneficial microbial life in the soil), and ensure that children and pets are not around when applying. Also, avoid tracking the material into the home. Wash clothes worn during application and run the washing machine empty immediately after washing those clothes.  If the above doesn’t scare you or at least get your attention, then you should probably read Rachel Carlson’s book, Silent Spring.

Let the weeds grow. Although neighbors and covenants would probably object, the adage of “one man’s weed is another man’s flower” does have a certain charm.  And, as Emerson said: “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”