Given the tropical Tampa climate, the best options for turfgrass are warm-season grasses. While some of these may still go dormant in the winter, the levels of maintenance, watering and fertilizing habits can vary drastically due to your selection. Read below to see what type of grass works best for your lawn. If you don’t want to deal with regular mowing or maintenance, you may want to check out a professional Tampa lawn care service provider.
St. Augustine grass
St. Augustine does well in the warm Tampa climate and is easy to plant as either sod or plugs. It does require regular watering to remain healthy and depending on drought conditions could potentially need additional irrigation. One big drawback is that it does not do well with regular foot traffic, so if you’re looking for a grass you can run around on in the backyard with your kids this may not be the best choice.
There are many different cultivars of St. Augustine, but they can be broken down into two categories: Standard and Dwarf. These groupings refer to their mowing heights. If it isn’t already obvious by the names, dwarf cultivars should be mowed at a lower height of 2.5 inches as opposed to standard cultivars, which require 3.5-4 inch mowing height.
This type of grass can be planted year round in Tampa, however it is best to avoid temperature extremes when installing. The best ways to plant are sodding (fastest), sprigging (least expensive), or plugging. Once your lawn is fully planted and growing, proper maintenance is key to keep it healthy and green. As with all lawns, proper fertilization habits are necessary to keep your yard looking healthy and green. In Tampa, the first fertilizer application of the year should be in early April. However, keep in mind that Florida Rule (5E-1.003) requires that fertilizer application cannot exceed 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet. Depending on the pH levels in your soil, fertilizer treatments can vary from 2-6 applications per year.
Irrigation is recommended only on an as-needed basis. This is only necessary when leaf blades begin to wilt, turn a blue-gray color, or when walking across the lawn leaves visible footprints. A few common diseases to be on the lookout for with St. Augustine are gray leafspot and large patch. Gray leaf spot usually appears during summer season and is a result of the rainy season or over watering. Large patch is spread if there is excessive nitrogen present in the lawn. Both can be controlled with proper fungicides.
Bermudagrass is among the most commonly used warm-season grasses. It is especially popular in the south for athletic fields, golf courses, or commercial landscapes. However, due to the extremely high maintenance requirements it is not commonly recommended for residential lawns.
An advantage of Bermudagrass is its durability against wear and tear. It also performs excellent in drought conditions comparatively and has a high salt tolerance. It quickly establishes and its dense nature helps squeeze out most weeds. However, it has poor tolerance to cold weather and shade. Due to the high maintenance requirements with regular fertilizer and chemical treatment compared to most other grasses, a professional service provider is recommended to handle Bermudagrass.
Planting Bermudagrass can be accomplished through sodding, plugging, seeding, or sprigging. Sprigging is the most common method, but sodding provides an instant turf surface. Mowing Bermudagrass is a very time consuming task. During the growing season, its recommended height is ½ inch and requires daily mowing. It can be mowed at its highest recommended height of 1 ½ inch, which requires mowing approximately 3 times a week. Its watering and fertilizing schedules can be just as time intensive, so we’ll just move on to our next type of grass.
Zoysiagrass has, in recent years, seen drastic improvements due to turfgrass breeders. These genetic modifications help improve insect resistance and quicker establishment when planting among other things. It has a strong tolerance to shade, salt, and foot traffic. Due to its dense nature it helps naturally resist weeds, but pests can still be a problem. While Zoysiagrass can also be used for golf courses and athletic fields, choosing the right type (zoysia japonica) is important and can lead to a great choice for your residential lawn.
Zoysia japonica is the only species where planting with seeds is an option. All other types of Zoysiagrasses must be planted using sod, plugs, or sprigs. For fertilization treatment, Zoysiagrass responds better to smaller doses applied more frequently as opposed to large applications a few times a year.
Mowing height recommendation is 2-2.5 inches and should be mowed whenever it reaches a height of 3.5-4 inches. During the growing season this often leads to weekly mowing requirements. Fine-textured zoysiagrass can be maintained below 1 inch, but that leads to more frequent mowing. The leaves from zoysiagrass are course and therefore it is recommended that clippings not be bagged and left on the ground. Contrary to popular belief, leaving the clippings actually does not contribute to thatch buildup.
Of course be sure to comply with any local watering restrictions, but zoysiagrass requires approximately ¾ inch of water per application. Irrigation is on an as-needed basis. Zoysiagrass will go dormant and turn brown during a drought faster than other types of grasses. This usually will only take a week of drought conditions. However, it can stay dormant for extended periods of time and once it is properly watered again or rainfall resumes it will get its natural green color back.
Centipedegrass can be an excellent choice for a Tampa lawn as long as proper conditions are maintained. It grows slowly and has a significantly lower fertility requirement compared to many of its Florida lawn counterparts. It does well in acidic and infertile soils and can survive droughts by going dormant leaving a brown lawn. The downside to Centipedegrass is its high risk to nematodes and other insects. Fungal disease also has previously led to its decline in South Florida.
Proper conditions for planting or establishing Centipedegrass can be very important for its continued success. It does best in low pH soil. The best time of year for seeding is from April-July, since this leaves a full growing season before the winter months. It does have a slow germination period leaving this time critical for proper watering. Once it is established, Centipedegrass is low-maintenance and does not respond well to over-fertilization. Be careful to not over-fertilize in an attempt to turn the grass a darker green. This leaves it significantly more susceptible to disease and insect attack.
Centipedegrass is recommended to be mowed at a height of 1.5-2.5 inches. This can be either weekly or every other week, depending on how fast your lawn is growing. Fortunately most lawn services in Tampa offer weekly or bi-weekly options and allow you to switch between the two whenever you feel necessary. Clippings can be left on the ground as they will not contribute to thatch buildup.