There is no magic cure for lawn problems. Most people will experience frustration with their lawn at some point in time in northwest Florida. Some people are continually frustrated with the condition of their lawn. There are many reasons why our turf grasses are at times difficult to maintain. In the Southeast it is possible for a lawn to look picture perfect one year and decline the very next year. The causes of problems in our lawns can be complicated (involving environmental conditions, pests and poor maintenance). To appreciate the difficulties of maintaining a lawn in Florida, it may help to understand the history of our Southern turf grasses
There are six types of grasses used in home lawns in Florida.
- Bahia Grass
- Bermuda Grass
- Carpet Grass
- St. Augustine
All six are not native to the United States. Bahiagrass, originally used as a pasture grass, was introduced to the United States in 1914 from Brazil. Pensacola bahiagrass was discovered in 1938 on a sodded bank in Escambia County, Florida by E.H. Finlayson, a County Extension Agent. It is thought the seeds came in on a ship from South America. Bermuda grass is a native of Africa and was brought to the U.S. in 1751. Bermuda grass has been used in pastures, athletic fields and home lawns. Carpet grass is native to the West Indies and is thought to have been brought to the U.S. during the early 1800’s. Carpet grass looks much like centipede and is best suited for wet soils.
Centipede grass, one of the most commonly used lawn grasses in our area, was brought to the U.S. in 1918 from China by Frank N. Meyer, a plant explorer. Afterwards, centipede was grown under the name “Chinese love grass” at the Belle Glade Experiment Station. St. Augustine grass, another commonly grown lawn grass in our area, was discovered growing in South Carolina in 1788. Its origin is not known prior to this time; however, it is believed to be native to the West Indies. Finally, zoysia grass was introduced from the Orient during the late 1800’s.
All of these grasses have been studied extensively and in most cases plant breeders have developed improved cultivars which we commonly use today. It’s surprising to some to learn that our lawn grasses are not native. It’s important to understand this in order to appreciate and better understand the difficulties of growing these grasses in our landscapes.
To better understand our lawn problems, it also helps to know that northwest Florida was not designed to be a “grass growing area.” If you study the natural vegetation of north Florida, you will find primarily a densely wooded area comprised of a combination of various pines, oaks and other trees, a tremendous variety of shrubs, vines, wild flowers and other vegetation.
A common practice in our modern landscapes is to remove many of the natural or native plants and replace them with these foreign grasses. We then expect these grasses to provide a picture perfect lawn in a foreign environment created for trees and shrubs — not acres of open grass areas. Maybe our expectations are too high. Larry Williams is the extension horticulture agent with the Okaloosa County Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida.