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Mr. Smarty Plants - Seed Habiturf on top of existing St. Augustine from Austin

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Thursday - January 26, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Planting, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Seed Habiturf on top of existing St. Augustine from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We don't want to rip up an existing St. Augustine lawn (potential HOA problems), but we'd like to go native grasses (like Habiturf?). Is there anything we can just seed on top of our present lawn and wait for it to take over? We're not in a hurry. Thanks for any help you can give.

ANSWER:

If only it were that easy. To begin with, any lawn grass, including the Habiturf that the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower developed, requires weeding and watering until they get started. Sprinkling seed on top of an established lawn means you are feeding the enemy. If there is bermudagrass mixed in that lawn (and there usually is), it is considered one of the most invasive weeds in the South, and those new seeds would never be seen again. Probably some insects, birds or small rodents would enjoy them, but that is not what you have in mind.

We have written a great deal about changing out the grasses in a lawn, and will link you to some of the best information we can find. That, however, is not your primary concern at this time. We are not familiar with Homeowners Associations, never having belonged to one, but we know they are committed to consistency of plantings and appearance. You should be very clear on what is allowed and not allowed in your community before you spend any money or time on replacing your lawn with Habiturf. It is not so much that they might object to the Habiturf; in our drought and heat it would be a great advantage to have it, and it is very attractive. It is the process of removing the old lawn that is time-consuming, and is likely not very attractive, so be warned. From our How-To Article on Buffalograss, which is one of the components of Habiturf, here is information on removiing the existing vegetation:

"GROUND PREPARATION

Bed preparation for buffalograss seed and sod differs little from preparation for other lawn grasses. Till the soil no deeper than two inches; rake level, and roll the soil lightly to make the bed firm. Remove all existing weeds. Because tilling often stimulates weed germination, it is advisable to water the bed one to two weeks before planting. This encourages weed germination. Weed seedlings can be killed by hand-pulling, laying a sheet of plastic over the weeds until the sun cooks them out, or by using a post-emergent, non-residual herbicide. You may need to repeat this procedure several times to ensure a clean bed. Starting with a clean bed is much easier than eliminating weeds after planting."

Where you read "Weed seedlings can be killed by laying a sheet of plastic over the weeds...." read that as killing the established lawn of St. Augustine.

From a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer, here are instructions for solarization:

"Soil solarization, a nonchemical technique, will control many soilborne pathogens and pests. This simple technique captures radiant heat energy from the sun, thereby causing physical, chemical, and biological changes in the soil. Transparent polyethylene plastic placed on moist soil during the hot summer months increases soil temperatures to levels lethal to many soilborne plant pathogens, weed seeds, and seedlings (including parasitic seed plants), nematodes, and some soil residing mites. Soil solarization also improves plant nutrition by increasing the availability of nitrogen and other essential nutrients.

The area to be solarized should be level and free of weeds, debris, or large clods, which could raise the plastic off the ground. Transparent (not black or colored) plastic tarps or sheeting 1 to 4 mils (0.001 to 0.004 inch) thick are anchored to the soil by burying the edges in a trench around the treated area. Plastic tarps can be laid by hand for small farms or gardens or by commercial machinery for large farms. To prevent air pockets that retard the soil heating process, there should be a minimum of space between tarps and the soil surface."

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