How can I help my St. Augustine grass survive the drought? PICS

lauren0319October 17, 2011

I pray my St. Augustine isn't doomed!! My husband and I take pride in our yard; we've even won yard of the month a few times :) Our front yard is nice and shady and the St. Augustine did okay even in the scorching summer we had. Pics below just to show that we *do* take care of our yard! ;)

The back is another story. The previous owner removed a lot of the beautiful oaks in preparation of putting in a pool. Then he moved and the pool never happened. The back of our house faces East and the yard gets a LOT of sun... hand watering wasn't an option (we live in San Antonio and are in water restrictions) with a 2 year old and being 9 months pg in August. Our back yard is pretty big; 1/3 acre. So the grass really really suffered.

and a close-up :(

It's bad.... I know. And this morning I noticed weeds popping up. So my question is, is there anything we should be doing NOW to help it along? I know not a lot will happen until spring, but I'm hoping with enough water and care it will come back. Believe it or not, it was lush, thick, and weed-free this past spring.

We are very hard workers and aren't afraid of a little labor in order to get our beautiful yard back.... we spend every evening in our yard and having beautiful grass is a priority. I just feel there is *something* we should be doing before the spring!!!!

Thanks for your thoughts.

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Yes, you can spread a nice layer of compost.
We need to do that in our yard as well. I think molasses is another thing that's good to put out there now.

There was a thread a while back about what to do to re vitalize your lawn. Perhaps Lou will pop in here?

If I can find the old thread I'll post again with a link to it.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2011 at 5:16PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Yes, I believe you about having a lush lawn this spring. This past summer was a tough one for lawns, but I know you want a nice lawn for your babies to play on.

Lou is our lawn expert around here, but I'd suggest watering in some pre-emergent weed killer now and in Feb. to keep the weeds in check. You may want to use the organic pre-emergent which is corn meal, believe it or not. Check with someone like Milbergers to get a 50 lb bag, or a feed store.

And then do what we did a year ago and plug in some Floratam St. Augustine which is as sun and drought tolerant as Burmuda. The regular St. Augustine prefers shade. I'm not sure when the best time to do it would be. We did out in the spring and got ours at Milbergers so you can call them and find out. They sell the sod in 24 inch squares and we chopped it up into smaller pieces to plug in instead of laying it solid, which is another option.

Floratam St. Augustine is very vigorous and will soon fill in. We fertilize organically with 50 lb bags of soy bean meal and/or cotton seed meal according Lou's instructions and our lawn has NEVER been better even with only once a week watering all this summer. Of course, when we plugged it in spring of 2010 we hand watered the plugs to make sure they got a good start.

I hope Melva will find and post the thread she mentioned about revitalizing the lawn.

Here is a link that might be useful: Click on 'Turf Grass and Sod' - Milbergers Plant Nursery in San Antonio ...

    Bookmark   October 17, 2011 at 5:49PM
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here it is... lots of great info here.

I am considering doing what roselee did with her lawn. A good portion of ours is full sun and the dog has torn up the center of it chasing the ball. I've been able to get most of it back but it won't quite be filled in by the end of the growing season.

I also have a huge issue with weeds and nutsedge. :( The service we use won't spray in the back because its St Augustine. :( We've decided to go the totally organic route and see if we can get it under control. We're also firing the service, they've lead us on and lied for the last 2 years about what they were doing: nothing but fertilizing... They have done a fine job in the front with with the bermuda.. but the back is terrible.

Here is a link that might be useful: top dressing the lawn

    Bookmark   October 17, 2011 at 6:00PM
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I thought I would post a little UPDATE. We decided to seed with Winter Rye just to get us through the winter. Neither my husband nor myself could stand the thought of looking at a dead yard all winter long. Plus, we have a toddler and a dog and our house stays cleaner when there is grass.
Winter Rye grows like crazy, especially with all the rain we've been having. Luckily my husband loves to mow! It's cheap therapy The grass looks awesome... I'm just anxious to see what happens when it dies off and the St. Augustine comes back.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 9:03AM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Wow -- it looks great. Thanks for the photos! And I know what you mean about the house staying cleaner. Plus the cut grass blades will help the soil and its cover probably kept a lot of weeds from sprouting.

At the risk of sounding like a nagging mother I'll say: now would be a good time to plug in Floratam St. Augustine. The plugs we put in a couple of years ago have over taken the old St. Augustine and is SO much better in its drought and sun tolerance while taking much less water to keep it looking good.

Happy lawning!

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 11:09AM
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I've heard Floratam is succeptible to freezes pretty easily. Is this true? Bad idea to plant it in North Austin area?

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 7:02PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

I'm not sure how low temps have to be to damage Floratam St. Augustine, but here in San Antonio it went through last year's very cold winter just fine.

Here's a link to a discussion with a report about it's hardiness a little south of Dallas in the winter of 2010. Maybe Lou will tune in and tell us how it did last year.

Here is a link that might be useful: About Floratam St. Augustine ...

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 10:37PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)


I live in Midlothian, just south of Dallas-FT and I have Floratam in my backyard. While there was some winter damage, it's vigorous growth filled in fast with no problem. Sapphire is another one that can survive cold weather with no problem. Sapphire is a fast grower and can fill in fast compared to Raleigh cultivar which I am not too impressed with. It's most commonly sold around here at big box stores. I tried Palmetto cultivar but apparently, it got SADV and looked like it got wiped out and Floratam and Sapphire filled in.

Proper maintenance is the key to keeping Floratam more cold hardy. Mow at 3 inches height. Water deeply when needed. Fertilize in the Spring and Fall. Fertilizing during the summer seemed to increase demand for water due to extra growth. I did an experiment last year during very hot and dry summer where I did not fertilize during the summer. It worked better. I was able to go longer between deep watering. Fertilizing in the fall is supposed to make Floratam more cold hardy according to turf expert.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 1:05PM
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You've convinced me, thanks!

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 3:59PM
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maden_theshade(8 - Austin)

Does the molasses help the grass? I got cinchbugs last summer and I'd like to strengthen the grass I have left. I'm also trying to get Floratam to fill in the bare spots.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2012 at 12:11AM
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Hi everyone, Adam here, a newbie to these forums, well I've been lurking awhile and this my first post.

Hoping someone could answer a few concerns I have. I'll admit I don't know much about turfgrass or gardening but my wife and I bought a house about a year and half ago that had a beautiful St.Augustine lawn, not sure what variation. Anyways last years drought coupled with me messing up by putting weed and feed and fungicided on my lawn (been over a year since) destroyed about half of my front lawn. There is still good St.Augustine everywhere there was shade, so basically the slopes where there is full sun and side yard is dead.

I just had a new irrigation system installed, and I'm determined to get my lawn back to looking how it was when we bought it. I've done a lot of research and have pretty much decided Floratam St.Augustine is what I'll go with. FYI I live in the San Antonio - Medical Center Area)

I guess some questions I have are......

1) How and where can I get a soil test?

2) Can anyone recommend a good company that installs sod? Are any sod producers favorable over another I've mostly seen King Ranch and Milbergers?

3) A big question I have as I am in the process of getting bids is what is the best method for extracting old sod and putting new sod in. I've read so many different things, not sure what is best but would be nice to have some info when deciding on a contractor.

4) Being that I have still have good grass in the shady areas and back yard where I have live oak canopies, is resodding even necessary? I've heard from some that I could get some really good quality compost and just top dress and my grass may come back on its own.

5) If I do resod, can I just resod the dead areas or will that look strange as I doubt I have Floratam now. Just curious how mixing different variations of St. Augustine works and what it would look like.

I'm willing to fork out the money to completely resod my front lawn if necessary, just curious if people here that know much more than me think I should as I feel overwhelmed and confused honestly. The first bid I got was for $2000 7 pallets of sod to redo entire front.

Ok sorry to ramble and for the long post, thanks to everyone for any info for those who have already provided very valuable info in my months of lurking here. It is appreciated.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 12:58PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Welcome to the forums Adam!

I don't think you need to totally resod the lawn unless you've got money to burn. A couple of years ago my husband Bob and I bought several pallets (about four I think) of Floratam St. Augustine from Milbergers. He set up a table of sorts with saw horses and a piece of heavy plywood. He used a hand tree saw to cut of the sod into about four inch pieces which we placed in shallow holes about three or four ft apart in an even pattern into the previously existing St. Augustine lawn, which was thin and in pretty bad shape. We plopped the pieces of sod into the holes which Bob had made with one swing of a pick and I had made with a small shovel (we took turns) and stepped on it to firm it in.

Either before or after, don't remember which, we brought in a very good quality compost from Fertile Garden Supply in San Antonio and spread about an inch deep on the lawn. I also sprinkled a little bagged lawn fertilizer on each clump of sod to give it a quick start and watered it in well. It only took a couple of days work.

The Floratam took over very quickly. If you have shade and sun the old St. Augustine will persist in the shade and the Floratam in the sun. You really can't tell the difference in the two grasses except Floratam is slightly more coarse in appearance.

Your St. Augustine will come back on its own with top dressing with good compost and fertilizing with organic products. I mention Floratam because it does better in the sun with lots less water.

I hope this helps. You might get some ideas from the thread linked below, and also by doing a search on this forum for Floratam.

If you have more questions feel free to ask. If you don't want to do the work your self you can probably hire a couple of guys to do it. They don't need to be professional lawn people, just yard guys.

Here is a link that might be useful: Top dressing the lawn ....

    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 1:45PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Two things to mention: one must be fairly diligent to remove every little weed to prevent it from going to seed until the grass takes over. Preemergent weed preventers help a lot in that department.

Another option is to take up the grass and put gravel in the front yard (or the back for that matter) with a few well placed drought tolerant plants. We did it ourselves in our front yard, but you have a really large area you might want to have that done and perhaps hire a landscape designer to help select plants and plan their placement. The gravel saves a LOT of time and water in the long run. However, it is not totally maintainence free as leaves have to be blown off the area several times a year and some weeds will germinate in the gravel.

Wishing you the best!

    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 2:08PM
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Thank you Roselee for the info and welcome. I am a big fan of your contributions in the Top Dressing the lawn thread which I've lurked on many occasions. I will be trying to go organic following the guidlines you an lou set out regardless of what I end up doing sod wise.

I want to get that molasses compost you mention from Fertile Garden Supply. I just don't know if it is best to lay sod first and top dress with it. Or put the compost in after you stripped the old lawn but prior to laying the new sod.

Does Floratam do bad in shade? I know it is good in the direct sun but curious if it would do well in live oak shaded areas were it gets patchy sunlight.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 2:11PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

My inclination would be to apply the top dressing after plugging in the Floratam, but either way would work. Just do what you're going to do pretty quickly before it gets too hot and the grass is not so actively growing.

None of my back yard where I have the Floratam is in heavy shade, just shady for part of the day so I really can't say how Floratam would do in all day shade. Maybe someone who can answer that will chime in.

After giving the top dressing link I saw that it was already linked above.

Keep us posted on how it goes. It's all pretty simple except for the work involved and that's not too bad. You really can't mess it up. Floratam is very strong and fast growing. I love it!

    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 3:57PM
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