As a landscaping enthusiast living in the southern United States, I’ve become quite familiar with St. Augustine grass over the years. This lush, green turfgrass is a staple of countless lawns, golf courses and parks throughout the warm southern climate. But for those not acquainted with St. Augustine, you may be wondering – what exactly is it that makes this grass so popular in the region?
In this article, I’ll give you the full lowdown on St. Augustine grass – from its origins and features to ideal growing conditions, benefits, potential drawbacks, improved varieties and more. You’ll learn how to identify St. Augustine, what makes it a top choice for lawns in the South, and how it differs from other turfgrasses. As someone who has tested the performance of various St. Augustine cultivars in my own yard, I’m excited to share insider tips and personal experience to help you understand everything that this versatile, classic warm season grass has to offer.
Let’s get started uncovering what St. Augustine grass is all about, from its background and characteristics to how it can potentially transform the look and enjoyment of your lawn in warmer southern climates. I’ll answer your top questions to help you determine if St. Augustine is the right fit for your yard.
What Exactly is St. Augustine Grass?
To fully understand St. Augustine grass, it helps to first look at its origins and how it became established as a popular turfgrass. As someone who has researched and tested many types of lawn grass, I’m always fascinated by the background stories behind them.
A Grass Species Born in the Americas
St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum) is native to coastal regions of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Its ancestral home ranges from subtropical areas of the southern United States, Mexico, and South America across to Africa and southern Asia.
The grass naturally thrives in tropical and subtropical climates near the equator. It likely spread across oceans and continents by stowing away on sailing ships years ago.
St. Augustine derives its name from the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the United States. It was most likely introduced in St. Augustine, Florida sometime before the 1870s.
From there, St. Augustine grass gained popularity across the southern coastal states. It became a favorite for warm climate lawns, pastures and erosion control projects.
Key Characteristics of St. Augustine Grass
St. Augustine is a lush, thick-bladed grass that spreads laterally by aboveground stems called stolons. It forms a dense groundcover mat that requires minimal mowing and readily chokes out weeds when healthy.
The blue-green leaf blades are coarse to the touch and turn purple-brown in cold weather. St. Augustine flourishes in heat, humidity and bright sun. A saline tolerance allows it to thrive nearer to ocean coastlines as well.
Now that you understand where St. Augustine grass originated and how it behaves, let’s look closer at ideal growing areas for this staple southern turf.
Where Does St. Augustine Grass Grow Best?
Given its tropical and coastal origins, St. Augustine grass thrives best in certain warm, humid climates and soil conditions that closely match its native environments. Through testing different growing conditions, I’ve learned where St. Augustine flourishes versus struggles.
Ideal Regions and Zones for St. Augustine Grass
St. Augustine performs best in the hot, humid regions of the southern United States, from Florida across to Arizona and up along the Gulf Coast. It can survive in southern regions of the transition zone, but cold tolerance declines beyond Zone 8.
Within its ideal zone range, St. Augustine delivers lush green density. In cooler climates, growth slows and the grass may turn brown and become semi-dormant in winter. It prefers consistent high temperatures between 80-100°F.
Soil Preferences for Optimal Growth
In terms of soil, St. Augustine grass grows best in fertile, loamy or sandy soils with good drainage. Clay-based soils often retain too much moisture, leading to fungal issues. Very sandy soils may dry out too quickly.
A soil pH between 5.0-8.5 is preferred, as St. Augustine struggles below 5.0. It also appreciates some salt tolerance for coastal regions. Avoid planting in heavy shade or overly acidic soils.
Pro Tip: Test your soil’s pH, nutrients and drainage before establishing a St. Augustine lawn. Address any needed amendments to match the grass’s ideal conditions for lusher growth.
When planted in the right Southern zones and soil types, St. Augustine forms a lush, verdant lawn. But it’s not necessarily the best fit for all landscapes, so let’s look closer at the upsides and potential drawbacks.
The Benefits and Drawbacks of St. Augustine Grass
While St. Augustine grass offers many benefits as a warm season turf, it also comes with a few potential drawbacks to consider before planting it in your yard. Based on my hands-on experience with St. Augustine, here are the key pros and cons.
Advantages of St. Augustine as a Turf Grass
St. Augustine provides a lush, thick green lawn with minimal effort in the right climate. Key benefits include:
- Thrives in heat, humidity, and bright sunlight that scorch other grasses
- Tolerates salt, so suitable for coastal landscapes
- Dense growth chokes out most weeds when healthy
- Requires less mowing due to slow vertical growth habit
- Establishes quickly from sod, sprigs, or plugs
- Withstands light foot traffic after established
- Soft blade texture creates comfortable barefoot lawn
- Readily resists insects and most diseases
Potential Disadvantages of St. Augustine
- Struggles in cooler climates and loses color below 70°F
- Not as shade tolerant as some other warm season grasses
- Higher water requirements to stay lush and green
- Susceptible to chinch bugs and some lawn diseases
- Requires more fertilizer to maintain optimal growth
- Prone to fungal issues if overwatered or planted in poor drainage
- Can be more expensive than some alternative grasses
- Not the best choice for heavily shaded lawns or cooler regions
To summarize, analyze your specific climate and needs to see if the advantages of a lush St. Augustine lawn outweigh the potential drawbacks for your yard.
St. Augustine Grass Varieties and Cultivars
Beyond the common St. Augustine grass type, there are a number of improved varieties and cultivars to choose from if you decide to install this lush lawn grass. After testing different St. Augustine cultivars in my own yard, I’ve learned the differences and can recommend the best options.
Popular Varieties of St. Augustine Grass
There are a few main varieties of St. Augustine grass, including:
Raleigh St. Augustine – This hardy, disease-resistant medium-to-dark green variety thrives across the Southeast from Texas to Florida. It has good shade and cold tolerance.
Floriaita St. Augustine – Developed in Florida, this variety exhibits better frost hardiness and shade tolerance but requires more water. The dense texture has dark blue-green color.
Palmetto St. Augustine – Palmetto demonstrates enhanced shade and drought tolerance but is less cold hardy and prone to fungus. The light green color stands out.
Seville St. Augustine – Introduced in Australia, Seville boasts excellent salt tolerance, making it ideal for coastal climates. It has a medium green color.
Improved St. Augustine Cultivars
There are also many newer cultivars of St. Augustine bred for better disease resistance, cold tolerance, color and other attributes:
- Amerishade St. Augustine stays greener in shade and requires less water.
- Delta-Shade St. Augustine thrives in partial shade conditions.
- Sapphire St. Augustine maintains deep blue-green hue with less fertilizer.
- Captiva St. Augustine exhibits drought tolerance and deep roots.
I suggest researching cultivars’ specific characteristics and talking to your local nursery to pick the best St. Augustine variety for your specific needs and climate. The improved cultivars offer solutions to some of St. Augustine’s drawbacks.
Now that you’re familiar with the types available, let’s look at some frequently asked questions about growing St. Augustine grass.
Frequently Asked Questions About St. Augustine Grass
When weighing whether to plant St. Augustine grass, homeowners often have lingering questions around caring for and maintaining this lawn type. Here I’ll address some of the most frequently asked questions I encounter about St. Augustine grass.
Is St. Augustine Shade Tolerant?
St. Augustine grass has a reputation for requiring full sun. But there are variety and cultivar differences in shade tolerance. Traditional St. Augustine struggles in deep shade, but the newer Amerishade and Delta-Shade varieties thrive with 4-6 hours of sun. Periodic light shade typically won’t harm St. Augustine, but dense constant shade causes thinning. If planning a shady lawn, look for an improved shade-loving cultivar.
How Invasive is St. Augustine Grass?
As a spreading grass, St. Augustine will slowly expand via aboveground stolons if given the opportunity. But it is not classified as an aggressively invasive grass like Bermuda or zoysia. Growth is gradual rather than rampant. Use edging and mowing to define boundaries and contain spread. Thinning indicates it’s not encroaching into neighboring lawns or beds. St. Augustine tends to stay where it’s planted.
Does St. Augustine Grass Have Deep Roots?
St. Augustine forms a dense mat of roots in the top 6-12 inches of soil. Roots typically reach 3-6 feet deep over time. Newer cultivars like Captiva and Palmetto have been bred for deeper root systems, increasing drought tolerance. Proper infrequent deep watering encourages deeper root growth as well. St. Augustine’s mix of shallow and deeper roots suits its growth habit while supporting access to moisture.
Conclusion: Bring Lush Appeal to Your Lawn with St. Augustine
After reading this guide, you now have a well-rounded understanding of St. Augustine grass. This classic warm season turf has been a landscape staple across the southern United States for generations due to its lush texture and vivid green color.
The key takeaways around what St. Augustine grass is include:
- Native to coastal regions of the Americas and Africa
- Thrives in heat, humidity and bright sun
- Forms dense mats that choke out weeds
- Prefers fertile, well-draining soil
- Ideal for Zone 8 and warmer
- Improved cultivars available
While it has higher water and fertilizer needs and poorer shade tolerance than some grasses, St. Augustine provides a soft, resilient lawn with minimal mowing and care in the right climate.
If you live in the transition zone or southward and want vibrant green curb appeal from spring through fall, St. Augustine may be the perfect choice. Just be sure to select a variety suited to your specific conditions.
I hope these insider tips from my own experience growing St. Augustine grass help you determine if it’s a good match for your landscape. Please let me know if you need any other advice on establishing and caring for St. Augustine sod. I’m always happy to help fellow lawn care enthusiasts get the most out of this rewarding warm season grass.