Sod University presents our second issue of Turf Wars: St. Augustine vs. Bermuda Grass, following our first issue comparing zoysia with St. Augustine. When it comes to choosing a type of grass for your home lawn, options can become overwhelming. Homeowners frequently think about differences in physical appeal, pricing, regular maintenance, the climate he or she is located in and other things. The bottom line is this: there’s a lot to consider when making a large investment on a living product.
This particular Sod University blog focuses on the generic differences between St. Augustine and bermuda grasses. Although this article compares certain characteristics between St. Augustine and bermuda grass directly, the winners for each category below are determined solely off of generic comparisons. There are many types of St. Augustine and bermuda grass available to the homeowner, so a lot of these characteristics may vary depending on the cultivar of St. Augustine and bermuda grass selected for sod installation.
Different cultivars of St. Augustine and bermuda grass are bred with goals of having different and appealing colors. In other words, no two bermuda grass cultivars have the exact same color. For example, Celebration® Bermudagrass has a deep blue-green color whereas Latitude® 36 Bermudagrass has more of a dark green color. On the other hand with St. Augustine grass, CitraBlue® St. Augustine is in part named by its deep blue-green color whereas Floratam has a medium green color with red stolons. When it comes to the battle of which grass has a better color, the results are clearly a tie because it all depends on what you’re looking for. The images below show a visual representation of what some of the popular bermuda grass and St. Augustines look like.
St. Augustine Colors:
Palmetto St. Augustine: Emerald Green
CitraBlue St. Augustine: Deep Blue-Green
Floratam St. Augustine: Medium Green
Raleigh St. Augustine: Medium Green
Bermuda Grass Colors:
Celebration Bermudagrass: Deep Blue-Green
Latitude 36 Bermudagrass: Dark Green
NorthBridge Bermudagrass: Bright Green
Tifway 419 Bermudagrass: Blue-Green
Discovery Bermudagrass: Dark Blue-Green
Blade Width and Texture
St. Augustines and bermuda grasses have completely different blade widths from one another. In fact, this is usually the easiest way to identify a bermuda grass and St. Augustine. St. Augustines are frequently sought after by homeowners who enjoy the look of thick, tropical grass blades. St. Augustine can be spotted in the majority of Florida home lawns. St. Augustine grass has a very coarse texture. In comparison, bermuda grasses are on the total opposite end of the spectrum with really fine, hair-like grass blades that are soft to the touch.
St. Augustine grass blades typically range from 8–9 mm in length. Bermuda grass blade widths can range from about 1.67–1.7 mm—at least 1/6 of the width of a St. Augustine grass blade. The homeowner who favors bermuda grass over other grass looks is usually after the look that resembles a golf course or sports field look. Again, the winner for blade width and texture is a tie because it is left up to personal preference.
St. Augustine is, for the most part, unbeatable in the battle for shade tolerance. Most St. Augustines, with the exception of a few varieties like Floratam, are highly shade tolerant. However, CitraBlue and Palmetto® St. Augustine are the best grasses for shade. Bermuda grass is not a very shade tolerant grass in comparison to St. Augustine or even zoysia. Some of the finer-bladed zoysias are in fact more shade tolerant than some St. Augustine varieties. However, the most shade tolerant bermuda grass available is Celebration. To learn more, read Growing Grass in Shaded Landscapes.
Winner: St. Augustine
Mowing Heights and Growth Habits
Similar to color differences amongst bermuda grass and St. Augustine cultivars, each variety of grass requires different mowing heights to perform and looks its best. These heights will also vary throughout the different seasons of the year. Take a look at our Bermudagrass and St. Augustine Homeowner Maintenance Guides for more information. Bermuda grass, in general is kept at a height of 0.5–1.5 inches and St. Augustines are kept at a height between 2–4 inches. Mowing heights matter because they usually dictate how frequently homeowners will need to mow. Different varieties grow at different speeds, so this isn’t always the case.
All bermuda grasses grow and spread with the use of rhizomes and stolons. A rhizome runs underground horizontally—often just underneath the surface of the soil. Rhizomes strike new roots downward into the soil and also shoot stems upwards. A stolon is an above-the-ground stem that creeps along the surface of the soil and subsequently grows a clone of the original plant on the end of it. St. Augustines only spread through the above-the-ground runners, also referred to as stolons. They are usually better than bermuda grasses at choking out weeds for this reason.
Since bermuda grasses grow with both methods, they usually rank higher in wear tolerance, injury recovery and drought tolerance. Bermuda grasses also have a more aggressive growing pattern and rate. They require more maintenance in terms of mowing or edging because they will encroach your driveways, side walks, roads or garden curbing. Because bermuda grasses require a little more maintenance with mowing, St. Augustine wins the battle for mowing heights and growth habits. To learn more, check out our Lawn Mowing Guide.
Winner: St. Augustine
Bermuda grasses typically rank higher in wear tolerance and injury recovery than St. Augustines. St. Augustines are considered “good” with wear tolerance and injury recovery, although the superior variety, CitraBlue, has a better wear tolerance than most other St. Augustine varieties. However, there’s a reason why bermuda grasses can be found in golf courses and sports fields instead of St. Augustines—bermudas are generally more durable and can withstand a lot of heavy foot traffic with high recovery rates.
Winner: Bermuda Grass
Drought Tolerance vs. Drought Resistance
Drought tolerance and drought resistance are two different things. Drought tolerance is the ability to survive a drought. In comparison to drought tolerance, drought resistance is the ability to look good during drought up until a certain point where the grass can no longer survive without water. Both bermuda grass and St. Augustine require about one inch of water per week including rainfall as a part of normal maintenance, but in general, St. Augustines have a moderate drought tolerance and a high drought resistance.
Bermuda grass tends to perform a little bit better in both drought tolerance and drought resistance, which is why it can perform so well in hot, dry climates. Celebration Bermudagrass, for example, was bred and developed in Australia, so it is more accustomed to drought tolerance and resistance.
Winner: Bermuda Grass
Soil Preferences and Salt Tolerance
Each grass performs best in certain types of soils. In our Soil Management for Lawns and Gardens blog, we discuss a variety of soil types such as sandy soils, clay soils, loamy soils, their pH ranges and how this plays into your grass’s performance and health.
Both St. Augustine and bermuda grass have the ability to grow in a wide range of soil types, however, St. Augustine really thrives in sandy or loamy soils. St. Augustine is also highly salt tolerant and can be found near a lot of coastal regions for this reason.
Bermuda grass, in comparison, tolerates both acidic and alkaline soil conditions and is highly tolerant to saline soils (soils high in salt content). Soil testing will reveal if your soil needs more nutrients to adjust pH ranges. Due to its wide flexibility of soil types and saline conditions, bermuda grass wins the fight for soil preferences and salt tolerance.
Winner: Bermuda Grass
Fertility and pH
First, it is important to mention that all grasses require some form of nutrition. As living products, grass requires nourishment just as much as we as people do. This is more than just water and sunlight. Both St. Augustine and bermuda grass require a certain amount of macro and micronutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium (NPK), iron, manganese and sulfur.
St. Augustines prefer soils with a wide pH range of 5.0–8.5. Bermuda grass, like St. Augustine, can perform well in a wide range of soil types, but thrives when the pH range falls between 6.5–8.0. St. Augustines, however, need soils with good drainage in order to grow appropriately.
Sod University recommends the Lawnifi fertilizer program—the perfect fertilizer program for both St. Augustine and bermuda grass. While the nutritional needs for both grasses slightly vary, Lawnifi meets their main requirements. Be sure to take a look at a few related Sod University blogs on Collecting and Submitting a Soil Analysis and Why Use Lawnifi Fertilizer?.
Both St. Augustine and bermuda grass have a wide variety of insects and pests that can plague them. Certain varieties of St. Augustine are especially prone to chinch bugs. Although Floratam St. Augustine originally claimed to be chinch bug resistant, the chinch bugs evolved and this is no longer the case. Other insects that can damage St. Augustine include grub worms, sod webworms and fall armyworms. Bermuda grass is usually invaded by bermuda grass mites, billbugs, and similar to St. Augustine, sod webworms and fall armyworms. A few insect control products for these variety of pests are listed below. Learn more about these insects in our Insect Identification article.
The same can go with turfgrass disease—St. Augustine and bermuda grass are prone to different diseases. St. Augustine grass is susceptible to a number of turfgrass diseases such as brown patch, SAD, grey leaf spot, pythium and others. However, Palmetto St. Augustine is resistant to lethal viral necrosis (LVN) and the sugarcane mosaic virus (SCMV), which are both viral diseases that cannot be treated with fungicides. Grey leaf spot and brown patch are the two most serious of these diseases though. Bermuda grass is more prone to dollar spot, spring dead spot, leaf spot, brown patch and pythium. You can learn more in Identifying Common Lawn Diseases.
Although St. Augustine may be stronger than bermuda grass in some areas, bermuda grass also has stronger characteristics than St. Augustine in certain areas. As previously stated, this blog discusses comparitive traits between St. Augustine and bermuda grass from a generic perspective. Each cultivar of St. Augustine and bermuda grass performs differently as they were bred at different times with varying goals in mind. In this edition of Turf Wars, St. Augustine scores an overall 6/10 including the ties, bermuda finishes with a score of 8/10 including ties and bermuda grass wins the war between turfs.