Choice Lawns

Classic Gardens Lawn

When it comes to lawns in this area of the state, many people struggle. Please believe me when I tell you that we have a vast amount of experience in this area and will be pleased to help you with your lawn problems.

There are two main reasons people have problems with lawns. The first is that there are so many potential problems with lawns that when your lawn has a problem (and most problems look very similar) you don’t really know what problem to treat for. That is when it is nice to have a professional company taking care of your lawn that can diagnose the right problem. The second problem is choosing the right grass to grow in the first place.

As far as sun/shade is concerned let me say that ALL grasses prefer sun. None of them like shade. Some grasses will tolerate shade better than others but again, ALL grasses will look better in full sun. The more shade you put them in, the more they thin out. I will list the grasses from the least shade tolerant to the most shade tolerant Bermuda, Centipede, Zoysia, St. Augustine. Now you will need to read the rest of my comments below to see why I don’t like to recommend Centipede or St. Augustine.

Birmingham Alabama is in what we refer to as a transition zone. What that means to us as gardeners is that we are so far south that many Northern plants suffer here from the heat. It also means that we are so far north that many Southern plants suffer here from the cold. Let’s talk about grasses in that respect.

Some of the time the best way to choose a lawn grass is by the process of elimination. The first lawn I choose to eliminate is Fescue. Fescue is a Northern grass that really struggles in the south. That problem is compounded because the Big Box stores sell fescue at the wrong time of the year plus they sell many fescues that do not perform well in the south. Here is another problem. Any fescue you plant at any time of the year pop’s up and starts to grow almost immediately. You think, “Wow, this is great.” Then in a few weeks to a few months when it starts its demise you are wondering what in Sam Hill you did wrong. Chances are you did nothing wrong other than buying the wrong brand and planting it at the wrong time of the year.

Fescue should be used in shade areas only. Fescue should be planted in mid October for best results. You should buy Five Star Fescue for a good heat tolerant brand. Remember, Creeping Red Fescue does not creep, is not red and does not do well in our area. Kentucky Blue Grass does great in Kentucky but not in Alabama. Fescue should not be fertilized in the summer, only in fall, winter and spring. Fescue should be mowed about 2 to 4inches tall.

If I can avoid it, I do not like to use Centipede or St. Augustine. That does not mean that there are not beautiful Centipede or St. Augustine lawns in Alabama. There are. You have to remember that we have a VAST amount of time and expertise invested in the care of lawns. It has been our experience that Centipede and St. Augustine are great Gulf Coast grasses, but we are simply asking them to grow too far north in this area. Not only that but they are very sensitive grasses to treat. They are not tolerant of many of the common chemicals used on other grasses. I think what adds weight to my comments more than anything is that MOST professional lawn care companies including us choose not to treat Centipede and St. Augustine. They just have so many problems that eventually you get blamed for them and it is just simpler to stay away.

Centipede is often labeled “low maintenance” or “a lazy man’s grass.” Nothing could be further from the truth. In actuality, no grass is low maintenance. They all require approximately the same amount of mowing and watering. Centipede in many respects is more difficult to take care of because of its super sensitivity. It is also labeled “shade tolerant.” First “shade” is a descriptive term that is hard to get a handle on. Centipede could handle light pine tree shade but is not good in medium to heavy shade. Also, about one out of every five years we have a freeze that will damage Centipede. Centipede is not wear tolerant and is slow to recover from any damage.

St. Augustine is more shade tolerant than is Centipede. It also has more insect and disease problems than does Centipede. There is so much information I could share with you about these grasses but it is not my intention here to write a text book, though I could. I am trying to give you as brief information as possible saying either “yea” or “nay” and hoping that you know us well enough just to take my word for it. St. Augustine is not very wear tolerant.

Centipede and St. Augustine should be mowed about 2 to 4 inches tall.

That leaves us with Bermuda and Zoysia, both of which we do recommend. Bermuda is a full sun grass only. My corny joke about Bermuda is that if you are standing on your lawn talking to your neighbor, don’t stand in one spot too long because the Bermuda will start to thin out. However corny it is, it does drive home the point that Bermuda will not tolerate any shade at all without starting to thin. Bermuda is a very wear tolerant grass and with proper mowing, fertilization and irrigation can hold up even to kid traffic. Bermuda is used on all athletic fields in the south again testifying to its resilience. Bermuda requires frequent and very low mowing, less than one inch is preferred March through August and 2 inches September through February. We always recommend bagging. I know this is contrary to what you might read other places, but in our opinion there is more drawbacks to mulching than there are benefits. Bagging is always preferable for all grasses.

When you know as much as we do about grasses, I can find a drawback with almost any grass, but, Zoysia is my favorite. Of the two types of Zoysia available, I prefer Z-52 over Emerald. Emerald has had some problems in recent years with some lawns being slow to green up in the spring. Some people have concluded that this came about because some inferior sod was sold in this area. That does not explain however how areas of sod that have been in people’s lawns for over forty years came to have the same problem. Here is my theory. In the summer before the spring that this problem was noticed, we had a severe drought. In nature stresses will often cause a plant to mutate. It is my belief that the severe drought caused enough stress on Emerald that we had a few genes mutate and as a result we now have some Emerald that is slow to green up in the spring.

Z-52 Zoysia is my favorite. It loves the sun and will tolerate some medium shade. It is not as wear tolerant as is Bermuda, but holds up well under normal wear and tear. As with all grasses, Zoysia should be bagged when mowed. Z-52 is easier to mow than is Emerald and does not turn brown after mowing as does Bermuda. Zoysia should be mowed between one to 1 ½ inches March through August and two inches September through February.

There are new varieties of Zoysia on the market all the time. If you like a fine bladed grass but are afraid to use Emerald due to the slowness to green up, use Zorro. Zorro is fine bladed and looks very similar to Emerald but is a little deeper green. I've never personally mowed Zorro but when I sell the sod here at the garden center, it looks incredibly thick and I wonder how I'd ever get a mower through it.

For proper mowing & watering techniques please click here for Mowing or Watering.