During the spring months I spend a lot of time consulting homeowners about why their grass is not healthy and growing. Our company does a lot of lawn renovation work and I am often asked the question, "What is the best grass for my lawn?" or "Why do I have weeds growing here and not grass?" The answers to those 2 questions are not easily resolved without looking at your lawn and knowing a little bit about the history of the feeding and care provided for your lawn. In this article I want to explore 2 areas: (1) The best varieties of grass for a North Texas lawn, and (2) the typical problems most home owners in North Texas face in having a green, lush lawn.
Probable Problems With Your Lawn
- Soil Conditions - I have written extensively in the past about soil conditions in North Texas. Typically most of us inherited clay soil with a mixture of caliche rock. There is very little organic nutritional food in the soil to feed your lawn. No soil amendments and little preparation is done before throwing down grass on the existing hard clay. I have watched other landscape companies hired to "replace" existing lawns and all they do is "rooter till the existing ground, rake it out, and then lay new sod." No soil amendments, organic matter, or nutritional soil and sands are added.. You still have the same hard clay as the foundation for your lawn.
Typically when we replace a lawn, we recommend that we cut out your old grass and an additional 2 -3 inches of clay and build a 3 inch foundation of green sand, lava sand, compost, zeolite, humate and molasses before laying out your new sod. Aerating and topdressing your existing lawn with a half inch layer of organic amendments works to achieve the same principle. Topdressing your lawn every couple of years, along with your fertilization program, will solve 99% of your soil problems and keep your existing lawn lush and green. Remember, "your lawn will only be as healthy as the health of the soil."
- Shade Conditions - Know the sun light requirements of your grass. Common Bermuda and 419 Tiff Bermuda need a minimum of 10-12 hours of sunlight on a daily basis to be healthy. Typically St Augustine grass needs a minimum of 4 hours of direct sunlight, plus additional filtered sunlight. A common myth is that St Augustine will grow in shade.
The typical areas where we face shade problems are (1) Under the tree canopy. Keep your tree canopy raised and thinned out to get the required sun light for your grass. Another solution is to not grow grass under your trees and have a 3 inch layer of mulch or lightly landscape under the tree canopy. (2) The side lawns usually do not get the required sun light due to the houses being built so close together. (3) Cedar fences provide privacy, but they too block the sunlight. When I was a kid we had ornamental or chain link fences and we didn't have problems with the grass not growing all the way to the fence line.
- Water and Drainage Issues - It can be just as destructive for your lawn to be to be "over watered" as it is to be "under watered". The soil needs to dry out between watering for our southern grasses to be healthy. This may seem strange to bring this up since many in North Texas are under severe watering restrictions, but you would be surprised to know that I find green mold growing on a lot of lawns. Green mold is an indication that the soil stays continually wet and St Augustine or Bermuda will not grow in those conditions. I usually observe mold growing in the side lawns up next to the house and along fence lines.
Due to the clay soil and the typical slope of the side lawns between houses there is the need for a drainage system along most property lines. One suggestion that will eliminate some of the drainage issues is to not run your irrigation system on your side lawn for as long as you do the front and back lawns. Typically your front and back lawns receive more direct sunlight and there is greater moisture evaporation and/or they are competing with trees for water. You may want to consider hiring a licensed irrigator to rework your irrigation system so that the sprinklers on the side lawns are on separate zones from your front and back lawn sprinklers. The money you save on your water bill will pay for the cost of the additional irrigation work in the long run and you will have fewer drainage issues, fewer weeds, and a healthier lawn.
Recommended Lawn Grasses for North Texas
There is no perfect grass. Every variety of turf that I will discuss has its pluses and minuses. My goal is to give you enough information so that you can determine which grass is best suited for the growing conditions your property provides. You may need to consider that you need to choose a different type of grass to grow in the problem areas that we have already discussed. Personally, I would rather have a second type of grass growing in areas where my primary grass won't grow, than to have nature landscape (weeds) the area for me. The #1 solution to weed control is not putting poisons in the soil, but a thick, healthy lawn that crowds out nature from replanting her weed seeds like she does in a thin, unhealthy lawn.
The most prevalent grass you will find planted in most North Texas lawns is either "Common Bermuda" or "Tifway 419 Bermuda". Both grasses are drought resistant, and provide excellent wear. The 419 is a finer blade grass than the common bermudagrass. One knock against the common bermuda is that it produces unsightly seed heads. The 419 tiff doesn't seem to fare as well as the common bermuda once the temperatures are in the triple digits, but the 419 tiff does seem to green up earlier in the spring while the common bermuda looks great in the hottest of weather if fertilized and watered properly. Both of these species of Bermuda require a minimum of 10 - 12 hours of sunlight. So this grass does not fare under trees that have a shady canopy or between closely built houses or along some cedar fence lines.
Celebration Bermuda Grass - Originally bred in Australia, Celebration™ Bermuda grass is highly drought tolerant and quite visually appealing with its dark, blue-green color. Celebration Bermuda Grass requires less mowing than typical bermuda varieties and has tough runners, rhizomes, and deep roots that provide excellent sod strength, durability, and improved drought tolerance. In addition to expanding rapidly after planting, Celebration™ is more tolerant of shade than other Bermuda turf species. It requires a minimum of 6 hours of sun light and is more weed resistant due to the thicker rhizome system than the other Bermuda varieties mentioned.
Raleigh St Augustine is the most widely grown variety of St. Augustine in Texas. Raleigh St. Augustine is medium green in color, and has a SAD virus resistant and is best grown in heavier clay soils. Although finer textured (with a narrower blade) and more tolerant of shade than Floratam, Raleigh develops dense ground coverage. Typically Raleigh requires a minimum 4 hours of direct sunlight and will work well in partial shade.
Palmetto St Augustine is Spriggs Brothers' choice of St Augustine turfs. Palmetto® has been observed to be somewhat more cold tolerant than a typical St. Augustine grass. Beautiful emerald color, hardy (thrives with minimal maintenance), shade tolerant, drought, heat and cold tolerant. Palmetto requires 4 hours of sunlight and will work well in full sun or partial shade.
Palisades Zoysia was developed and released by Texas A&M University and is a variety of Zoysia Japonica, which originally came to North America from Japan in 1895. Palisades has a medium-coarse texture, it tolerates heat and withstands cold relatively well. It also handles moderate shade, requiring 3 hours minimum of sun light. Most importantly, Palisades Zoysia is one of the most drought tolerant of the Zoysias. In fact, some studies have shown it to survive up to 15 weeks without water. With its drought tolerance, a naturally thick turf that wards off encroaching weeds, and shade tolerance, Palisades is a Spriggs Brothers favorite grass recommendation.
Emerald Zoysia is a fine-textured, dense-growing, dark green Turfgrass. Emerald was released by the USDA and the Georgia Agricultural Station in 1955 and is known as the "Cadillac" of turf. Emerald is very drought and cold tolerant. It is slow to spread, but once established, it crowds out weeds. It is wear resistant to foot traffic. Emerald grows in full sun but also has good shade tolerance, requiring a minimum of 6 hours of sun light. Emerald Zoysia is another Spriggs Brothers favorite. If you like the texture of 419 Tiff, but want a darker, richer green color; then Emerald is the grass for your lawn.
609 Buffalograss is a native blue-green, dense, fine-textured, stoloniferous turf. Compared to Prairie buffalograss, 609 is more dense and has a richer, deep blue-green color, and ranks as a top turf-type buffalograss in the market for high-end users. Because of its slower growth rate and drought tolerance, buffalograss requires less water than other turfgrasses. Buffalograss does not tolerate shade and needs full sun.
There is a variety of buffalograss that was developed out of Lubbock, Texas called "Turffalo". It is suppose to be a thicker and greener turf than the 609 Buffalograss and there is also a shade variety of Turffalo. It is sold by buying a tray of plugs vs buying and laying whole pieces of sod. It is very pricey. Our experience with the "Turffalo" is limited to two lawns. We did not plant the plugs of Turffalo but was called in both times to organically fertilize the Turffalo areas because they were having problems growing and getting the grass to spread. The reason why we even mention Turffalo is because we get questions from people who are considering buffalograss.
There is a common misconception that St Augustine will grow in shade. St Augustine will survive in partial shade, but it needs a minimum of 4 or more hours of sunlight. St Augustine grass will die off in complete shade. Only one or two grasses will grow in complete shade: Fescue and Bluegrass. The problem with Fescue or Bluegrass is that they are a cooler climate grass and will tend to wilt in the middle of the summer. The grass will bounce back in the fall, but the first few years you will need to sow more seed to keep the turf nice and thick. Sowing the Fescue or Bluegrass seed in the fall allows the root system develop over the fall, winter and spring months before the debilitating summer heat arrives. The shade grasses become more heat tolerant and hardy once the grass has been established for 3 or 4 seasons.
These grasses are green year round in our climate. They do not turn dormant. Some people are concerned about having to mow in the winter months, but the grass does not grow that much in the winter even though it stays green. You may need to mow once or twice a month in December through February. If you are just spot treating small shade areas in your lawn, then you probably won't need any additional lawn maintenance.
Our house in Allen has Fescue grass on the north side of the house and along some fence lines. I would rather have the different types of grasses growing in my lawn than to fight off the invasion of weeds. Remember, "the best deterrent for weed control is to have thick, healthy grass that chokes out anything nature chooses to plant." Where ever your grass is thin due to shade or drainage, nature will do her best to plant her version of grass or ground cover or plants in order to help you out. Usually what nature plants, we call "weeds" and we don't want her help. So I would rather plant another grass that will grow in the shade than to fight the "Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors" that nature wants to plant.
Normally you do not think of Mondo Grass as a lawn option. Mondo grass is an ornamental grass that is usually sold in 4 inch flats. It is primarily used as a plant border around landscapes. This idea came from one of our customers a few years ago. He had two large live oak trees that provided shade for an area of about 1,200 sq. ft. He planted mondo grass as a border around his landscaping. Mondo grass can be very invasive in the flowerbed so he was continually having to thin it out of his flowerbeds. He got the idea to try to "sprig" some Mondo grass under the shade of the trees and see if it would grow and spread. Well, now he has a beautiful lawn of Mondo grass under the two large shade trees. From the street it looks like a very green lawn because he mows it just like the rest of his Bermuda Tiff lawn.
We have been suggesting to people the last 3 years to sprig Mondo grass in the shade areas and let it grow and fill in over time. While you are waiting for the Mondo grass to grow and fill in, plant some Fescue seed to fill in the bare areas immediately. Once the Mondo grass fills in there is no need to continue with the fescue seed. Mondo grass will grow to be 5 to 6 inches tall. Mow it at 3 inches and you will have green grass year round in the shade areas.
The Perfect Grass For Your Lawn
Every species of grass has its pluses and minuses. There is no perfect grass for everyone's lawn. Each lawn presents its own challenges and set of circumstances. As you read the short description that we have provided about each turf, and as you observe the shade and drainage conditions of your lawn, hopefully you can come up with the best grass for your lawn. Remember, sometimes it is not the variety of grass that is the problem but the health of your soil. Spriggs Brothers has been able to rescue a lot of lawns with our unique topdressing formula. If you are thinking about refurbishing your lawn, please give us a call. We will be glad to analyze your lawn and discuss the best turf options.