St. Augustine Lawns Damaged by Cold Winter

By Dr. Dotty Woodson

St. Augustine lawns are always slow to green up each spring but this spring many homeowners are seeing no life in part or entire St. Augustine lawns. In some cases, if there is enough live sprigs the lawn will recover but some lawns will require replacing with new sod. Each situation is different and the amount or severity of the damage will determine what action is required.

If you have enough lawn left to grow, aerate the lawn, add about ½ inch of compost and fertilize the lawn with about half the mount of fertilizer you would normally use several times during the summer. Do not use a feed and weed fertilizer. Control weeds by mowing often and pulling. Pull weeds when the soil is wet to make sure the entire root system pulls up.

The lawns most affected by freezing weather are lawns challenged by shade, swallow and/or compacted soil, short roots and insufficient water. If a freeze is expected, always water the landscape if rain has not occurred previous to the freeze. Water helps protect the plants from freezing.

Before replanting, make sure St. Augustine is the best selection for your lawn. In shade, St. Augustine is the best choice, but if too much shade is a problem, St. Augustine will struggle, thin and eventually fade away. If shade is a problem, prune trees to allow more light to enter in the morning or afternoon. This is done by removing lower branches not thinning out the canopy. Unfortunately, thinning the canopy will actually stimulate more growth if not done by an expert arborist. Consult an arborist and listen to their expert opinion. Prune only if more direct light is the result. If pruning the trees is not an option, planting a groundcover is a better use of your time and money. Select a groundcover from the many choices available to grow in this area. Drive through any older neighborhood with large shade trees or visit the Japanese Garden to see some of the wonderful ground covers planted in large areas.

One other turfgrass is available for shade areas with four or more hours of direct sunlight, Zoysia palisades. Zoysia palisades, once established, is drought tolerant, grows deep roots and is more cold tolerant than St. Augustine. The grass blades are not as wide as St. Augustine but not as narrow is Bermuda. Zoysia palisades grows into a thick lawn comfortable to walk and sit on. The runners growing into planted areas are easy to control with a string trimmer.

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