There’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to be planting new turf in the next few weeks, if you haven’t done so already. We have thousands of new houses, and St. Augustine lawns also suffered a great deal of setback with take-all root rot coming out of this past winter. There is still ample time to get the job done, and our warm-season grasses do their best growing now through mid-September, so let’s look at the steps.
Which lawn grass is best?
Determine what type of permanent lawn you want to have. Common Bermuda is the least expensive. You can plant it from seed, sod or by plugs. It tolerates the pounding of kids and pets better than any grass, and it’s equal in drought tolerance to any turfgrass in Texas.
St. Augustine withstands more shade than any other grass that we grow. It has a brighter, crisper look from mid-summer on, and it’s much easier to remove from flowerbeds and vegetable gardens because it doesn’t produce below-ground rhizomes (“runners”). But it also has more insect and disease problems. It is planted from sod or plugs (not from seed).
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Zoysia varieties are intermediate in shade tolerance, texture and many other features to Bermuda and St. Augustine, but they’re slower to cover and more expensive to plant (sod or plugs). The variety Palisades was developed locally at Texas A&M Dallas and is well adapted to our area.
Buffalograss looked like it would be a good option for Texas lawns because it’s a native grass to Texas. Varieties Prairie and 609 were introduced in the early 1990s, but we soon discovered that Bermuda grass would invade and crowd them out and there was no way to stop it. For that reason, buffalograss is not a good option.
Preparing to plant
Apply a glyphosate-only herbicide to kill all existing weeds and grasses to get ready for planting. That herbicide will not contaminate the soil, but you need to give it 10 days to do its work, then rototill to 4 to 6 inches deep. Rake to remove all roots, rocks and building debris. Establish a smooth planting bed that drains away from your home.
It’s important that you do this work whether you will be seeding or solid-sodding your new lawn. However, at that point the two approaches become different.
Seed Bermuda at the rate of 2 to 4 pounds of hulled Bermuda seed per 1,000 square feet. The seed is very tiny, so combine it with equal amounts of corn meal from the grocery mixed carefully before you pour it into a hand-held seeder. Apply half going east-to-west and the other half going north-to-south. That will help you avoid missed sections.
You will not need to cover the seeds at all, nor will you need to rake the newly seeded area. Use a sprinkler with a fine spray pattern to water lightly for five or eight minutes per area. Repeat morning and evening for the first week or so. You must not let the surface dry out. The young grass seedlings’ roots will be extremely shallow.
The seeds will begin to germinate in seven to 10 days. At that point begin to let the surface get slightly dry for half a day at a time to encourage the plants’ roots to grow more deeply. Within two to three weeks the grass will be firmly rooted and growing vigorously.
If you’re sodding, make arrangements for the new sod to be delivered early in the morning. It will have been dug late the afternoon before and shipped overnight. Have the ground prepared and ready. Lay it in place, taking care not to make tracks. Snug each piece against the last. Use a square-bladed shovel to cut pieces as needed. Have a wheelbarrow of topsoil nearby to fill in the voids. Water each area as soon as you finish it. You’ll probably see it go downhill somewhat for a few days, then quickly bounce back as its roots take hold and start growing.
In you plant plugs
There are times when you don’t need to go to all of that trouble. Perhaps you just have a few thin spots that you need to fill in. Use a square-bladed nursery spade to dig plugs of your own sod or buy plugs from a local retail nursery or sod yard and checkerboard them into your lawn. If you want to convert your lawn from Bermuda to St. Augustine, for example, you can plant plugs of St. Augustine (our most dominant lawn grass) into a Bermuda lawn on 16- or 24-inch centers and they will grow and expand to crowd out the Bermuda in just one or two seasons. That’s actually much easier than all the rototilling and raking.
One note of caution
If you have bare areas that are mainly beneath shade trees and you’re thinking about sodding or plugging those to get grass to fill in the bald spots, there is a very good chance that you don’t have enough sunlight for any type of grass to grow there. I’ve answered questions on my weekend gardening talk show for more than 40 years. I keep a record of all of my calls, and this is the most-asked question I get. I can tell you with great assurance: If you have an area that gets less than five or six hours of direct sunlight daily, grass isn’t going to grow there. You’re wasting your hopes, effort and money in trying to get it to happen. Go to a shade-tolerant ground cover instead.