By Bob Dailey
Every year about this time, residents began calling to report their grass is dying. Their beautiful, green, lush St. Augustine has turned a sickly brownish yellow. They worry that it’s not getting enough water, so they water profusely. They think that some disease or insects may be attacking their lawn, so they pile on pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers.
The fact is that St. Augustine grass is supposed to look brown and dead in the winter. However, St Augustine is a warm season grass. When the soil temperature drops below 55 degrees, the grass goes dormant.
Homeowners shouldn’t panic, nor should they use the myriad of panaceas offered on the market.
Watering during the winter
This is not a recommended practice. Fungal infections are particularly damaging to turf grass. And what causes fungal infections? We don’t see too many fungal infections in the desert. It’s humidity and wetness that fungi like. Watering lawns during the winter is the major cause of fungal infections. The damage is done when the grass is dormant, so the infections are not visible then. Come spring and early summer though, and the presence of fungi is evident from the great yellowing patches of turf. By then, the damage has already been done. Instead of spending bucks on fungicides, just stop watering. We get enough rain in the winter to provide what little water St. Augustine might require.
Planning for Spring
Now is the time to get ready for springtime. A soil test might be a good idea. Texas A&M offers a great soil test for about $15. Use your computer search engine to browse for Texas A&M Soil Testing. There are explicit instructions on how to take a soil sample, how to fill out an application and how to send the whole package to the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Soil, Water and Forage Testing Lab. St. Augustine turf does best in soil with a pH of around 6.5. The test will provide good, empirical data which will help in maintaining a healthy and green lawn in spring, summer and fall.