Grass examples

Clockwise, from top left: healthy St. Augustinegrass, diseased St. Augustine, healthy Zoysiagrass and healthy Centipede. Provided

Lawn care in the Lowcountry has its own challenges. Unfortunately, this tends to happen because we do too much rather than not enough. While there are those moving toward alternatives to the dominant mono-culture lawns, turf grass remains the predominant choice.

Christopher Burtt

Christopher Burtt. Provided

With that choice, there are those still making common mistakes that can create problems and costs down the road.

Turf grass is defined by its growing season, and for the Lowcountry, warm season grasses are the predominant type. There are four main types of warm season turf grasses in the Lowcountry: Centipede (Eremochloa ophiuroides), St. Augustinegrass (Stenotaphrum secundatum), Bermudagrass (Cynodon species) and Zoysiagrass (Zoysia species).

Centipedegrass is considered a low-maintenance turfgrass while the other three are considered high maintenance. While there are alternatives to these four, these are the most widely used for lawns.

The most important part of maintaining a healthy lawn is knowing and maintaining a proper mowing height, which is the key in keeping it healthy. A well-maintained mower is one with sharp blades. This will help eliminate many of the problems that come with turf as improper mowing is a big source of stress for lawns. Proper mowing height, proper nutrient distribution and proper irrigation practices go much farther than spraying every chemical in the book.

But problems still arise. The two most important things you can do as the summer ends and the dormant period approaches is to cut at an appropriate height and to start the pre-emergent application early enough to keep down the annual winter weeds.

The more surprising issue a lot of people run into is too much water. Regular water too often can run the risk of fungus and causes shallow rooting. Grasses like Bermuda are exceptionally drought-tolerant and should not require irrigation once established. Other types of grasses go through periods of dormancy during drought but tend to recover with adequate rainfall.

This is not the case if the root system is too shallow. As fall approaches, one must look out for fungal diseases. Fertilizing in the fall is one of the worst things one can do with turf as this encourages fungal growth. This can be detrimental to the health of any lawn as fungal growth, such as brown patch and large patch, tends to prefer the cooler nights. Use fungicide treatments with turf to manage these conditions.

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The best defense against disease is to know when to fertilize. For certain grasses like Bermuda and Zoysia, fertilizer is necessary but in limited amounts. Bermuda is a grass known for its ability to handle traffic, and therefore needs little input to keep it healthy. Zoysia is a much nicer grass that also needs little input to keep it healthy.

For other grasses like Centipede, fertilizer is generally not needed at all. St. Augustine is in the middle, depending on its location. Outside of lime or sulfur, any type of soil amendment should wait until the following growing season. Avoid using products like winterizers as these are designed for cooler climates and cooler season grasses. Also avoid combination products, like weed and feeds, as these are designed as a one-size-fits-all approach for turf, which is almost never the case.

Another practice that is catching on is over-seeding with ryegrass. This allows you to have a green lawn year-round, but there are many issues that can arise.

First, the input must be increased as ryegrass is a heavy feeder. It also has the potential to increase the chance of the lawn dehydrating in the winter, which hurts its ability to grow the next spring. And when it comes to insects, the ryegrass provides food in the winter when, under normal conditions, the cold would allow them to die.

Make sure to always read and follow every label in full. For more detailed information regarding proper turf management, go to Clemson University Home and Garden Information Center's website, hgic.clemson.edu.

Christopher Burtt is the Urban Horticulture Extension Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator for Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. He graduated from Clemson University and his main area of expertise is consumer horticulture with experience in research agriculture. He can be reached by email, cburtt@clemson.edu.

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