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Best lawn grass in Northwest Florida for shade and drought

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Q. My yard has a slight slope and some trees but all areas get several hours of sun per day. What is the best grass for slight shade tolerance and drought resistance? Pensacola bahia, Zoysia and St. Augustine are the grasses I favor.

A. There is no best lawn grass. Each lawn grass has its own set of advantages and disadvantages that should be considered. Pensacola bahia is most often used as a utility turf along roadsides, as a pasture grass and sometimes for hayfields. It is most often established from seed. Its growth habit is more open compared to other lawn grasses that have runners. It produces tall unsightly seed heads during summer months and the seed heads are difficult to mow with a typical residential rotary lawnmower. If I were going to plant a bahiagrass lawn, I would go with Argentine bahia. It still produces seed heads but typically fewer than Pensacola bahia. It can make a better looking lawn as compared to Pensacola bahia. It is difficult to find bahiagrass as sod and it may not hold together very well. Seeding can be tricky on slopes with our rainfall, with reseeding being required numerous times due to rains washing the seeds down the slope. Also, the seeds may not germinate uniformly, sometimes requiring several years to achieve a uniform stand of bahiagrass. The following UF/IFAS Extension web publication provides more information on bahiagrass. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh006

We are seeing more zoysiagrass lawns in Florida. Selecting the right type for a home lawn is important. Some cultivars to consider for a home lawn include Empire, El Toro and Jamur. Zoysiagrass has better shade tolerance than bahiagrass. It has good drought tolerance but the way it deals with drought is to quickly go dormant. If it “feels” a hint of drought, it will respond by going dormant and turning brown. Many people have been disappointed to find this out. A good supplemental irrigation program during times of inadequate rainfall can help prevent this. The following UF/IFAS Extension web publication provides more information on zoysiagrass. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh011

St. Augustinegrass is probably still the most common lawn grass grown in Florida. In general, it has the greatest degree of shade tolerance. But shade tolerance is cultivar dependent. The sod may be a little less expensive than zoysiagrass. The following UF/IFAS Extension web publication provides more information on St. Augustinegrass. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh010

When it comes to shade tolerance, tolerance is the key word. Tolerance does not mean that the grass prefers shade. It means that the grass has some degree of tolerance to shade. Even the most shade tolerant cultivars of St. Augustinegrass will have difficulty in areas that receive less than five hours of sun per day, resulting in thinning and lawn decline with time.

Larry Williams is the Extension horticulture agent with the Okaloosa County Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida. Contact Larry at 689-5850 or email lwilliams@co.okaloosa.fl.us.

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