Curb appeal is definitely a science and an art. The look of your lawn reveals to any passerby how well you’ve mastered it. In the south, one big element of that mastery is understanding the pros, cons, similarities, and differences of Bermuda grass vs. St. Augustine.
For me, coming to this understanding was quite a journey full of ups and downs. I had to learn the type of grass that came with my new home. I had to fix the issues I had caused in trying to make style improvements.
When trying to choose the right grass, the key considerations you should make include:
- Climate of location
- Shade and sun
- Soil quality requirements
- Traffic tolerance
- Water needs
- Visual appeal
- Overall maintenance
Both Bermuda and St. Augustine grass thrive well in warm climates, but even in this factor the two do vary a bit. In fact, I find that they vary in just about every area of consideration, even if just slightly. And there are some factors where they are very different.
And let me tell you up front that when it comes to overall maintenance there’s no solid rule. The amount of maintenance you’ll have to put into either one depends on the conditions for your individual lawn.
Though it probably shouldn’t be your deciding factor, this grass is generally cheaper than St. Augustine and you can start from seeds. And Bermuda grass is highly regarded for being low-maintenance.
You may want to note, however, that cheaper seeds don’t always equate to long-term savings – it’s a lesson I had to find out the hard way.
I was surprised to find out Bermuda isn’t the place of origin for this grass. It’s actually from India and Africa Savannah. Now when I think of medicine I think of herbs, but in India, the grass is used in Ayurveda and Hindu rituals.
It has an odd nickname too. Some call it the devil’s grass or crabgrass. While it often serves as the lawn of choice where the climate and sunlight are right, it’s invasive nature has made it quite a nuisance in some areas.
If you don’t want to read the full article here is what I am about to tell you about Bermuda grass:
- Great for high traffic areas
- A little more tolerant of cooler temperatures
- Doesn’t like shade
- Less drought resistant
Where Is Bermuda Grass Suitable For Growing?
This warm weather grass grows best when the temperature stays between 75 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re a golf enthusiast in one of the South or Southeastern States of the US, there’s a good chance this is what the turf of your favorite course is made of.
Interestingly, this grass does not always grow well in Florida – particularly South Florida. The problem is that nematodes are common in the state, and the grass is particularly susceptible to their stings. This doesn’t mean you won’t find some very beautiful lawns in Miami made of this grass, as it’s more a matter of maintenance.
It also depends on the variety you choose. Some have been developed that are a bit more cold-tolerant. For this reason, you can find Bermuda grass growing as far north as New Jersey. It can still grow where the nighttime temperatures drop to 34 degrees as long as it gets to 70 degrees or higher in the daytime.
How Much Water Does Bermuda Grass Require?
The quality of the soil is a big factor in determining the water requirements. This grass can thrive in sandy soil but will require more water. In general, the grass will stay lush and green in summer months as long as it gets at least an inch of water a week.
A great thing about this grass is that you don’t have to despair if it turns brown during a drought. One good, heavy rainfall will bring it back fast. Water is also a factor that influences its aggressive nature.
If where you live gets lots of rain and you grow flowers or vegetables, keeping the spread of your Bermuda grass under control may become quite a chore. Left unchecked it’ll invade gardens and flower beds and take over.
Sun And Shade Requirements Of Bermuda Grass?
Shade is one of the key factors where Bermuda and St. Augustine contrast. And here is where my big lesson was learned because it’s a matter I overlooked. As it turns out, shade isn’t smart for a lawn of Bermuda grass.
Of course, my issue was the shade added in hindsight by trees I thought would help my landscaping pop. The only pop I ultimately got was that of bare patches popping up in my lawn. No, this grass needs plenty of good sunlight.
Full sunlight time should never drop below 70 percent. Once it does, the grass will slowly start to thin out. At a minimum, you want to make sure your lawn gets at least 4 hours of direct sun if it’s made of this grass.
What Type Of Soil Can Bermuda Grass Grow In?
One thing I like about Bermuda grass is how well it can tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions. Of course, it thrives better in some types of soil over others, but this grass can take on even sandy Arizona. Again, the biggest factor influencing its soil tolerance is the amount of watering it gets.
Bermuda grass lawns are particularly popular in Texas thanks to the ability to grow in various soil qualities. There I think that perfect balance is stuck in terms of maintenance because it’ll need a little extra watering but not by much.
But if you’re looking for this grass to be at its very best, make sure the soil’s pH stays from 5.8 to 7.0. Especially if you’re starting with seeds, you may want to get your soil’s pH tested. The soil in the South is often acidic, but testing will help you know how much lime to treat your lawn with before putting in your Bermuda.
Is Bermuda Grass Good For High Traffic Lawns?
As the sports sod of the South, traffic is no issue for this type of grass. Its high amount of traffic tolerance is one of the reasons it’s often preferred for all kinds of sports fields. That makes Bermuda grass a great pick for any size family’s backyard – as long as it isn’t shady or cold.
This grass just doesn’t wear easily. Its weed-like nature makes it quite hardy.
And if you seed with a mix that has been specially designed to deal with the demands of high traffic areas, then your lawn will be even more resilient.
Personally, I prefer durable grass regardless of routine wear. For me, it’s like a safety net against the unforeseen. It gives me the peace of mind of not having this as a consideration should I ever want to throw the rare outdoor get-together.
St. Augustine Grass
Another popular warm-weather grass, St. Augustine certainly has its share of fans. And there are times when it’s clearly the best choice. This is, however, the more expensive of the two, and starting with seeds isn’t an option.
Planting pods or laying sod is your only option with this choice. Viable St. Augustine seeds simply don’t come in enough quantities to be made commercially available. Instead, farmers start with plugs and produce slabs of sod, as is the case with most warm-weather grass types.
This grass is coarse and thick. It makes for lawns that are of a darker green – a look and feel many find more attractive. Plus the color of this turf visibly hides any weeds that don’t get crowded out.
Here is a summary of what I’m about to tell you about St Augustine grass:
- Not great for high traffic
- Not great for cooler temperatures
- Can grow in shade
- Can tolerate drought
Where Is St. Augustine Grass Suitable For Growing?
This type of grass thrives within the same temperature range of Bermuda grass – 75 to 90 degrees. But one major difference is that St. Augustine is far more popular throughout Florida. Lawns made of it are comparatively lower maintenance there.
Still, this grass isn’t as versatile for colder climates. Only as far north as Atlanta, planting it is a big gamble. There are a few varieties, however, that can withstand a bit of exposure to cooler temperatures than others.
In fact, one variety called Floratam is even less cold tolerant than common St. Augustine grass. And if you happen to live in Louisiana or Texas, keep in mind that the St. Augustine grass Decline virus is common in those states. At the moment, there’s no way to control the SAD virus.
How Much Water Does St. Augustine Grass Require?
If you’re looking for a grass that’s more drought-resistant than Bermuda grass, this is it. One of the reasons I prefer it is that this quality of it equates to lower maintenance. It’s also why it makes a better pick in certain areas.
But as a rule of thumb, St Augustine grass’ watering requirements are about the same as with Bermuda grass. You want to make sure it gets at least an inch of water every week. It’s just that there’s less reason to stress if you happen to get off schedule.
Some recommend watering this type of grass twice a week, aiming for three-fourths an inch at every session. It’s a schedule that probably does make for a healthier lawn, but I personally prefer the simplicity of the once-a-week approach.
Sun And Shade Requirements Of St Augustine Grass?
The sun and shade requirements are where St. Augustine really stands apart from Bermuda grass. Whereas you’re sure to get thinning and patches where Bermudagrass is left to the mercy of shade, St. Augustine can tolerate it much better. The Palmetto cultivar is the most shade-loving of all.
Though this grass should be your preferred option where there is sure to be a good amount of shade, sun brings out its best. It just doesn’t reach its full beauty in shaded areas.
To see it really do well, make sure the grass gets at least 4 hours of sunlight a day.
In shade, the blades of St. Augustine comes up thin. That means there will be some visible difference in the grass between the full sun and shaded parts of a lawn. The wider blades are a key part of what gives this turf its beauty and that look requires a good 5 to 6 hours of sun daily.
What Type Of Soil Can St. Augustine Grass Grow In?
Much like Bermuda grass, St. Augustine grass can thrive in an array of soil conditions. It happens to grow best in sandy soil, though, as this gives it enough drainage. What really counts for this grass is the soil’s pH.
The pH range for this type of soil is a bit wider than its competitor, going from 5.0 to 8.5 as opposed to 5.8 to 7.0. In highly alkaline soils, however, the grass gets a chlorotic appearance – a direct contradiction to the beautiful dark green color it’s prized for.
For optimal health of your lawn, you want the soil to be slightly acidic. This, of course, is perfect for the soil of the South, which is acidic anyway.
Is St Augustine Grass Good For High Traffic Lawns?
Now here’s another area where these two kinds of turf differ. Though it does great in the shade, it doesn’t do so well in high traffic areas. It’s ironic because the shade is exactly where people are drawn on hot summer days.
That doesn’t mean this grass won’t stand up to a bit of wear. It can withstand the normal amount of traffic any standard lawn sees. This makes it a fine choice for both commercial places like office buildings and most residential lawns – especially front lawns.
Choosing The Right Grass For Your Lawn
There’s a good chance that by now you have a clear choice in mind. But don’t feel frustrated if that’s not the case. After all, this is an important decision that may require a long-term vision.
You want to make sure the type of grass you choose will be healthy and thriving no matter what happens years from now. The good news is that now you know the difference between these two popular kinds of grass. This can help you adjust quickly if it should become necessary.
I mean, you don’t want to do like me and go plant a bunch of trees only to realize you’ve blocked off much-needed sunlight from your lawn!