New St Augustine Sod turning brown

pflugerJune 22, 2013

I am new to this forum searching for help with my new St. Augustine sod. I am a rookie when it comes to gardening, so please bear with me ;-)

I put new St. Augustine sod in my garden (myself) about 3 to 4 weeks ago. Unfortunately the sod started to turn brown in the last 1 or 2 weeks.

I was watering for 10 minutes every night the first two weeks and then every other day. We had very heavy rains nearly every day during the first two weeks.

After reading a little bit through this forum I assume I didn't water enough? Can I still recover it? What can I do?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

pfluger, I was watering for 10 minutes every night the first two weeks and then every other day. We had very heavy rains nearly every day during the first two weeks.
That certainly sounds like adequate watering.
The reason why freshly laid sod is watered for a very short time, every day, is because all the roots are contained in the sod piece which can hold and use only so much water.
The objective at first is to keep those roots alive and growing down towards the soil. The soil surface beneath the sod is kept damp to facilitate the sod roots "knitting" to the soil.
It appears that the grass is suffering (or recovering) from a rot associated with too much watering. Try to lift pieces of sod at random to judge if this knitting is underway. At the same time you can check the soil below to ascertain that it is damp enough to encourage rooting or perhaps too wet. If you can see white rootlets from the underside of the sod, that would be a good sign. If you see a lot of brown root(let)s, that would indicate too much watering.
If you conclude that there has been too much watering, hold off with irrigating and observe regularly and carefully, the edges of the sod pieces. If the grass blades start to show signs of wilt; or the edges of the sod pieces (starting at the corners) start to curl upwards, those are drought signs.
But it might indicate that the sod was not tamped down enough in the first place; stamp on the areas to accomplish this. It can also mean that the edges of the sod pieces were not butted closely enough. It might be worth your while to fill such gaps with clean builder's sand.
St. Augustine is a 'stoloniferous' grass which gives it great chances of recovery in the wild, in pastures, or in the lawn.
But in the lawn it sometimes needs our help.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2013 at 7:14AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

What did you mean when you said you did not water enough? Because what ronalawn said is right. You only need enough moisture to keep the sod moist and that top part of the underlying soil. It sounds to me like you watered too much if you were watering in addition to rain.

How to recover: Get some ordinary corn meal, yes, the kind you cook with. Apply it at a rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet over the entire lawn. You can find cooking corn meal in bulk in grocery stores catering to Hispanic cooking. Be sure you don't get the kind with the baking powder in it. It should be unadulterated corn flour or meal. You can also find it in 50-pound bags at feed stores. This is an agricultural type and works just as well but may cost less. At feed stores they sometimes will try to sell you corn gluten meal instead of corn meal. Corn gluten meal will cost much more than corn meal. I only say this so you know that there is a difference and corn meal is the one that has the antifungal properties you need.

Chemical fungicides don't work well in the south in the summer. Corn meal should work for you, though. I just put some down last weekend. We've had some rains spaced just right to keep the grass too wet for a couple weeks. This is what I have...

You need to do something right away. You will lose the entire lawn if you sit back and wait for it to go away.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2013 at 10:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thank you ronalawn82 and dchall_san_antonio for your help!

So I tried cutting back on watering and it didn't really help. I was then told by a landscaper that it could be chinch bugs. I couldn't find anything in the lawn, but I treated it anyways. It doesn't seem to affect anything.

This was before I read your suggestions dchall_san_antonio. I will try the corn meal now. I attached a photo of one small patch. There practically is no more lawn there. I have two such patches now.

The healthier parts of the lawn have some spots on the leaves just like on the photo you posted. But only very few.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 3:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Here is a close up of the parts where it turns yellow.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 3:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Those are good pix. You can see how it completely kills an area...and then lets one or two sprigs in to make you think the grass is coming back. You stare at those single sprigs day after day and don't even notice the brown area enlarging by a square foot per day. And then the sprigs die. And then new sprigs pop up. It's a vicious cycle.

Now you are an expert at diagnosing a fungal problem in your lawn. It will completely wipe out the lawn so get some corn meal on it. Before I discovered corn meal I would buy new sod. Then in less than 2 weeks, the new sod had the disease and would completely die out. Corn meal has worked for me every year since 2002.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2013 at 4:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Today I was doing my daily lawn inspection and found dozens of dead worms. Most of them look like on the picture.

They were everywhere, especially in the dead parts of the lawn, as well as thirty or more on the sidewalk.
I also found a single one of another kind, I will post photo below.

From googling the second one seems to be bad, how about the first?

    Bookmark   June 30, 2013 at 7:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

So after all, do I have an insect problem? Or is this just a side effect of killing everything with the insecticide I put on there?

    Bookmark   June 30, 2013 at 7:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Okay. What insecticide are we talking about? When did you apply? How many times?

Have you put anything else down? besides the corn meal for the fungus?

The second picture is a beetle grub. Those are bad when you get more than a dozen per square foot. Dig around and count how many you find. Normal lawns can handle a surprising number of these things without looking bad.

Don't recognize the worm/caterpillar. Paper wasps are good at keeping the caterpillar population way down but they will not do it if you put insecticide down.

Yes, dead bugs is a side effect of using insecticide. ;-)

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 9:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I got the insecticide from Home Depot. It is called "Spectracide Triazicide". I applied it only once about 7 or 10 days ago. Other then that only the corn meal.

I was expecting dead insects, but not that many ;-) On the dead spot of the lawn I found definitely more than a dozen per sq ft of that first worm.

It is looking like the lawn isn't getting worse since a couple of days. So something must be working! :-)

When would I start seeing signs of recovery? Do I have to reapply the corn meal (or the insecticide)?

    Bookmark   July 3, 2013 at 2:15AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Wait 3 full weeks before evaluating the recovery of the grass. It is a good sign that it does not seem to be getting worse. That is what you should be seeing. In 3 weeks, though you should see more than a little new grass growth and no more lesions on the green blades. If you feel like you need more corn meal, that is the time to decide. Corn meal is normally a fair organic fertilizer, so you cannot go wrong applying it any day of the year. You can apply it any day, or every day, of the year. With organics there is no burning.

Normal lawns do not need insecticide. I've never used it in 50 years of lawn care on many lawns in California, Ohio, and Texas. I'm not saying you did not need the insecticide, but the problem with insecticide is that is also kills one of the major classes of beneficial soil microbes - the micro arthropods (teensy insects). The other classes of microbes include bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. When those creatures all work together, they make the soil healthy. When you eradicate an entire class of them (like when you use a chemical fungicide or insecticide), then you really should plan to restore them soon, before something else happens. The best way to do that is with excellent, finished compost.

You can identify excellent finished compost by the smell (it should smell wonderful, like a forest floor after a summer rain), it should be room temperature (not hot like just out of the oven), and it should be all pieces of stuff too small to recognize (no woody stems, bark, or leaves - they achieve this by screening the compost). The application rate for compost is a maximum of 1 cubic yard per 1,000 square feet. Use more and you risk smothering the grass. St Aug smothers easily, so use a push broom to sweep the compost down into the soil. Or you could try dragging a hose around on the yard to get all the blades of grass up and out of the compost. Any grass blades underneath the compost will die and could restart the cycle of that fungus you are getting rid of right now.

I would wait until you are fairly certain the fungus is gone before using compost. Normally I would say to use it 3 weeks after you applied the insecticide. That gives the insecticide time to do its job and start to decompose from the rest of the soil microbes.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2013 at 9:09AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Just found this great forum and feel I have almost the exact same situation as pfluger. I'll check the roots and try the corn meal suggestion.
One additional question: Is it a good or bad idea to rake the grass to remove some of the dead grass. A friend (who has a background in Botany) suggested it might help, but I thought I'd ask here too.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2013 at 2:37PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

So, here is an update. The sod didn't make and we had to remove everything.

We now put down new sod. We tilled the soil before putting down the sod. It is now 2-3 weeks old. We have been watering twice a day for 10 mins (approx 1/4 to 1/2 in) as suggested by the sod supplier. There has been nearly no rain.

Unfortunately I am again seeing brown leaves (see photo) and I am afraid the same is going to happen as last time :(

I lifted up one piece in an inconspicuous part. The soil is damp but not wet (like sogging wet). I see a handful of white roots about 2 inches long (less than 10 on a piece)

The sod feels soft and spongy when walking on it.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2013 at 3:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
beacivil1(8a/8b NW Austin, Tx)

Dchall, you sure that is not take-all root rot? One of the earlier pics shows a dark, almost black-ish area. I would suggest checking the grass runners/roots to see if they are turning black in the new grass, and, that you can pull them out without any struggle. The thing with TARR is that once you get it, it takes a few years after treatment to get grass to grow there again. I went through this about four years ago.

Again, to the OP, google Take all root rot and look at pics and compare to your grass.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 5:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks beacivil1!

While googling I once came across that, too. The thing is, most of the sod I put down is right next to established lawn, and the established lawn hasn't been affected at all.
Wouldn't it die, too?

I will check the roots and try to upload a picture.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 6:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

New sod often feels soft with all the water. Still, 1/2-inch per night is too much. All you need is enough to moisten the bottom of the sod, not saturate the soil underneath. Maybe you only need 2 minutes???

I would still be hitting it with corn meal.

Rototilling was a mistake, but its already done. In a couple years it will be bumpy because of the tilling. But you're in Florida. Don't you have sandy soil? If you do then the rototilling did nothing, and it might not result in bumps.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 11:07PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I started the corn meal today. When would I have to reapply?

I tilled everything manually ;-) And yes, the soil is sandy.

So could it be I am killing my sod with too much water? Should I cut back the watering now?

All recommendations I got (a landscaper, sod supplier, online "manuals") said to do 10 mins two times a day during the first 2 weeks and then 20 min once a day for another 2 weeks.

10 mins equals 1/4 in with my irrigation system.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 11:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I pulled this one out today. Not sure if it is a good sample, it was pretty loose.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2013 at 1:13AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Apply the corn meal again in 3 weeks. The corn meal should clear this up for you. I would continue monthly for the rest of the growing season. That is some nasty looking grass.

When they recommended that watering time and frequency they must not have known how much water your sprinklers put out. That is a LOT of water. I would shoot for 1/4-inch per day (total) at first and maybe go to 1/2-inch every other day. The soil surface needs to dry out a little or you get what you got. My watering system puts out 1/8 inch per hour. Every system is different, so I believe there is a lot of bad advice out there. For you 1 or 2 minutes, 3x per day, would have worked. I know a guy in Phoenix who had to get special sprinkler heads to slow down his watering system. At first they flooded his yard in 10 minutes. Now they shoot a tiny stream that gives the moisture time to soak in before the stream swings by again. He has to water for a couple hours, but it's the same amount of water.

Sand never really develops a soil structure, so rototilling may not be a long term problem for you. Then again, since sand never develops a structure, rototilling does absolutely nothing beneficial for you. So at worst you spent a little time and money on something that likely won't hurt you.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2013 at 10:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for the advice dchall!

I now changed the timer to 10 min once in the morning, which should be approximately 1/4 in.

Should I skip a day or maybe start even lower for a couple of days or anything like that?

    Bookmark   September 4, 2013 at 11:07PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Once the sod is sticking to the underlying soil, then you can start to skip days. Give the roots a chance to knit in.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2013 at 2:45PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

In parts of the lawn the sod is already sticking to the soil very well. I cannot lift it at all.

The lawn is already getting taller. Once everything is sticking well, should I already mow the lawn or keep it growing? Would it be beneficial or detrimental to the recovery of my sod?

    Bookmark   September 5, 2013 at 9:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Mow when the grass is 5 inches high. Mow it back to the highest setting on the mower. Tall St Augustine is MUCH healthier than short SA. How do I know? Here's a picture of my chow sitting in my grass in George West...

That grass is 32 inches high and has not been mowed (obviously), fertilized, or watered since October 2011. It happens to be in the shade, but still. George West is at the edge of the Texas desert. We get some gulf influence, but not that much. Based on this experiment, tall St Augustine is much healthier and drought resistant than short. Here's another picture where all you can see is her tail and ears.

This area gets full afternoon sun and must still be watered. But I have been away from the house for 3 weeks and have not watered it.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2013 at 11:18PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Lawn care novice
I recently purchased a home in late fall and I'm new...
Problem with St. Augustine grass
Hi! I live in the north of Portugal (Hardiness Zone...
What order do I restore my lawn?
I live in the CA Bay Area and have a fescue lawn. ...
Brent Villalobos
I need a lawn "redo". More weeds than grass and more...
Here's the skinny. We live in Jacksonville, FL. Everybody...
Rich Possert
Artificial Grass Maintenance?
I'm newbie in gardening. I want to know what kind of...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™