If you want greener grass, you’ve got to get the right kind and give it the right care. While all grasses respond to basic maintenance, each type of turf does have its particular needs. But when you get the basics right, the grass is sure to be greener on your side of the fence.

The first step is to mow the grass right. Essentially, mowing is pruning. If you cut all the leaves off your favorite shrub once a week, what would happen? It would weaken and die. Grass plants respond the same way: Remove too many leaves and the plants weaken and the turf thins – allowing weeds and pests to invade. The solution is to mow the grass high for a strong turf.

The height to which each warm-season grass should be mowed depends on the species and variety. Here’s a chart with recommendations:

Turfgrass Mowing Height
St. Augustine Generally 2-4 inches
St. Augustine dwarf types like ‘Delmar’, ‘Jade’ and ‘Seville’ 2-2¼ inches
St. Augustine normal-growth types like ‘Bitterblue’, ‘Floratam’ and ‘Raleigh’ 3¼-4 inches
Bahia ¼-1¼ inches
Bermuda (for lawns) 2-3 inches
Buffalograss (turf) 3-4 inches
Centipede 2-2¼ inches
Seashore paspalum ¾-1¼ inches
Zoysia 1¼-2 inches
Ragged grass blade

Sharpen mower blades often for a healthy cut. A dull blade can do a lot of damage, leaving behind ragged cuts that heal slowly and allow fungus to strike. It also effectively lowers the mowing height to the bottom of the shredded area in the blade.

Photo Credit: Carol Cloud Bailey

Gray Leaf Spot

Gray leaf spot disease is common in St. Augustine lawns, particularly in the early summer. High temperatures and humidity, excessive soluble nitrogen fertilizer and shade, drought, mowing or herbicide-induced stress favor the disease. A healthy, well-maintained lawn is the best defense.

Photo Credit: Carol Cloud Bailey

Wilted lawn

The silvery or blue-gray patches of wilted grass indicate the need for water. You may also notice the grass blades are rolled or folded, and footsteps or tire tracks remain in the turf long after being made.

Photo Credit: Carol Cloud Bailey

Irrigation head

Run irrigation systems only when the lawn indicates it needs water. The best time of day or night for a system to run is when it’s cool and the grass is already wet from dew. This is generally just before the sun comes up. Time irrigation to finish the scheduled run as close to dawn as possible.

Photo Credit: Carol Cloud Bailey

Shade and turf

Even shade-tolerant grasses need at least 6-8 hours of sun to form thick, weed-bustin’ turf. Consider installing landscape or groundcover beds in heavily shaded areas to avoid problems with the lawn.

Photo Credit: Carol Cloud Bailey

How often you should mow is determined by how fast your grass grows – but typically it’s about once a week – often enough so you never need to remove more than one-third the top growth.

Another key to healthy green grass is fertilizer, which supplies the nutrients plants need to grow. The goal of a turf fertilizer program is to promote healthy, stress-tolerant grass with good color that’s vigorous without producing excessive growth. Start with a soil test. You’ll learn your soil’s pH (measure of acidity or alkalinity), as well as what nutrients are currently available for plant growth. Armed with this information, you can pick the right fertilizer.

Of course, nutrients are generally needed while plants are in active growth – and in tropical and subtropical zones, that’s pretty much all year. Look for a good, balanced lawn fertilizer with a complement of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (called N-P-K, represented by the three numbers on a fertilizer bag), as well as minor elements such as iron, magnesium and manganese, as indicated by your soil test results. Slow-release fertilizers are a good option. Fertilizer application times and specific amounts vary from area to area. A good general recommendation for fertilizing lawns is to apply 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet 3-4 times per year.

The last piece of the green-grass puzzle is irrigation. Though most subtropical and tropical zones have more than 50 inches of rainfall a year, it falls in a specific rainy season – which means there’s also a dry season. And even drought-tolerant turf needs regular water to stay green. (Of course, homeowners have to realize there’s nothing wrong with letting grass go dormant.) Good choices for drought-tolerant turf include bahia, seashore paspalum and buffalograss. All of these selections may turn off-color or brown when dormant, but they’ll green up once the rain returns.

When it comes to proper irrigation, the process is really quite simple: Irrigate so enough water is applied to wet the root zone, and don’t water again until the turf needs it. This means not relying solely on a timed irrigation system. Most systems are programmed poorly – they run for too short of a time way too often. The goal is to wet the root zone thoroughly, which means the water needs to reach 8-18 inches deep in most soils (but typically 10-12 inches). Sandy, porous soils need approximately 3/4-1 inch of water to soak the soil to a depth of about 12 inches.

To calibrate your watering system, use a number of same-size, straight-sided cans (like soup cans, coffee cans, juice cans, etc.) and spread them out evenly in an irrigation zone to collect a sample, and run the irrigation system for 15 minutes. Measure the amount of water in the cans in inches. An average of ¼ an inch of water in the cans in a 15-minute run means the system will have to run for an hour to apply 1 inch of water.

Some soils can’t take water as fast as the irrigation system puts it out. In this case, watering thoroughly and deeply is still the rule, but the system may have to apply water more than once a session to allow for water to infiltrate the soil.

How often you water depends on many things, including the type of grass, time of year, soil type and amount of rain. Generally, water is needed every 10-14 days in cool weather and every 2-3 days in hot weather – and this includes rain.

That’s all there is to it. Plant the right grass – one that matches your use needs, sun and level of care it will receive – mow it right, supply the appropriate amount of nutrients and water only as needed, and your lawn will be green, lush and pest-resistant. Your neighbors will be green with envy – as your lawn not only survives – but thrives in the heat.