HERE’S HOW TO KEEP YOUR GRASS HEALTHY
BY DEAN ROWLAND
An oasis of greenery greets homeowners and guests from Bluffton to the island.
The lushness of Bermuda grass in the sun, St. Augustine turf in the shade and Empire everywhere are plentiful in the Lowcountry.
These three warm-weather grasses and centipede grass are prevalent in our neighborhoods and proudly sway in the salt-air breeze.
The short gray-green Bermuda blades have a deep root system and are heat- and drought-tolerant. This grass requires good drainage and will stay green throughout the winter if it’s not bitten by frost.
St. Augustine’s blue-gray grass is salt tolerant but needs to be well-drained. It thrives in high temperatures, is unaffected in cool, coastal climates and tolerates moderate shade.
Blue-green Empire grass is low maintenance, drought-, disease-, shade- and wear-tolerant.
“People maintain their lawns very well around here,” said U.S. Lawns of Hilton Head owner Martin Schuppert. “It’s a difficult area to grow grass, because we’re too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter for a lot of varieties. There’s only a certain number of grasses that do well here.”
“Identify the grass you have,” said Brian Hodges, landscape maintenance supervisor for The Green Thumb. “Around here, we have all-season, yearround grasses. They all turn brown in the winter.”
Green thumbs should follow these guidelines to keep their lawns healthy:
• Start dethatching. This necessary but arduous process removes dead grass stems to allow nutrients to reach healthy grass roots. Too much thatch restricts air and water movement within the soil and restricts repair and recovery. “Some thatch is necessary for good organic material because we live on an island that is nothing but calcium,” said Darren Davis, The Greenery’s residential branch manager for Hilton Head. “It offers a good soil profile for air and decompaction.”
• Aerate. Let the soil breathe by poking holes in the ground to allow air and water to penetrate the soil’s surface. It also reduces soil compaction.
• Soil testing. Seventeen essential nutrients for plant growth and reproduction make up the composition of soil. This test determines the presence of each and their moisture content. “All grasses are dependent on soil temperatures,” Davis said. “We would aerate in March and fertilize in late March and early April and then irrigate.”
• Weed control. Dandelions, plantains, yellow nutsedge, crabgrass, thistle, quickgrass, ragweed, ground ivy and other common weeds make their appearance in the spring. The stage of growth determines whether to use a preemergent or post-emergent product.
• Pest Control. Common signs that pests have invaded your turf include brown spots, dead and dying grass patches, wilting blades and insects in the grass. Signs of underground pest damage include thin or missing roots and holes in the soil. Pests can do damage at any time and applying an herbicide will help prevent damage.
• Seed or overseed. Overseed your thinning lawn after you aerate, sometime in the late spring after the soil warms. Cover the seed with topsoil and peatmoss and then water for a few weeks. Make sure to seed and cover brown patches. After the new growth appears, you can begin fertilizing.
• Mowing. After thatching, remove any dormant clippings to prevent fungal disease. Once the lawn begins to green, mow the lawn for the first time in late April/early May. Wait until the grass blades are about 3 inches high and set the sharp mower blade at about 2 inches high. Clippings can be left on the grass because they decompose quickly.
• Irrigation. Once growth begins, water the lawn about 1 inch weekly including rainfall. During very hot weather, apply an inch of water every week. Always irrigate early in the morning because fungus can occur if leaf surfaces are moist. Even in winter when the grass goes dormant, it needs moisture.
“Irrigation needs to be well timed and well thought out, so you don’t overwater,” Davis said. “Once you turn the irrigation on, you’re going to wake that grass up. And you’re off and running for the season, providing you don’t have a cold snap.”
One serious problem that homeowners face is where to grow grass.
“Most people want to grow grass where they don’t get enough sunlight, near live oak trees where there’s a lot of shade,” Schuppert said. “Grass needs sun.”