Florida’s common turf grasses include Bermuda, Zoysia, Centipede, St. Augustine, and Bahia. Each one contains multiple cultivars. Some grasses, like St. Augustine, die if they do not receive adequate water. Others, like Bahia, are drought resistant and simply go dormant during dry spells.
Florida rainfalls pendulum-swing from one extreme to the other as the year progresses. Dry springtimes give way to water-soaked summers which give way to dry falls and winters.
Irrigation systems come to the rescue and ensure that turf grasses receive the life-sustaining water they need regardless of season.
Here are five common Florida turf grasses and their water needs.
Bermuda grass encompasses several cultivars: Tifway, TifGrand, TifSport, Latitude 36, TifTuf, Celebration, Bimini, Princess 77, and Sultan. Watering maintains Bermuda’s color and vitality; however, it can survive mild droughts and will regain its color with rainfall or watering. Typically, Bermuda blades will fold and turn blue-gray when they need irrigation. At this point, apply ½ to ¾” of water.
Zoysia grass includes cultivars De Anza, Diamond, El Toro, Emerald, Empire Zoysia, JaMur, Meye, Toccoa Green, BA-189, Zeon, Zenight, and Zorro. Zoysia grass turns brown in a drought, but it doesn’t die. It goes dormant and remains dormant until it receives water and turns green again. Like other grasses, zoysia blades fold and turn bluish-green when they need water. Half an inch or ¾” of water in an application will restore color and vibrancy.
Centipede grass is a common homeowner turf in central and northern Florida. Only a handful of centipede cultivars have been developed, and most of these are still being evaluated. Cultivars include Common, Covington, Santee, and TifBlair. Centipede grass requires 1/2” to ¾” of water to retain color and vigor.
St. Augustine grass is the most widely-grown grass in Florida, with multiple cultivars: Bitterblue, Classic, Deltashade, Floratam, Palmetto, Raleigh, Captiva, Delmar, Sapphire, and Seville (the latter four are dwarf cultivars). This species of grass will die if it does not get enough water. Signs that St. Augustine needs watering include leaf blades folding together, turf taking on a blue-green cast, and grass crunching underfoot when walked on. Apply ½” to ¾” of water twice a week if no other water is being received.
Bahia grass is drought-resistant, hardy, and requires little maintenance. It was originally brought to the United States as a pasture grass. It has thin, light-colored blades, and while it provides a sturdy ground cover, it does not resemble a vigorous green carpet like other Florida turf grasses. Three varieties of Bahia exist: Common, Argentine, and Pensacola. Argentine is darker in color than the others and looks more like other lawn grasses.
The beauty of Bahia is that it can withstand long periods of drought without dying. It turns brown and goes dormant, but as soon as rain falls or irrigation is delivered, Bahia revives and regains its vigor. Half an inch to 3/4” of water at a time is adequate.
Unsure of how to determine ½” or ¾” of water delivery? The University of Florida Extension Services suggests placing several short-sided, empty cans around each irrigation zone. Run sprinklers until cans contain ½” or 3/4”. Note how many minutes it took to fill the cans, then program zones to run for that duration.