Winter's cold spell levels some yards in favor of Bahia

I’m a little nuts on this subject, but to at least explain my obsession, let me point out that just about all of us have some type of lawn.

Everyone drinks from the aquifer, and our choice of grass makes a huge difference in the amount of water we pump from the aquifer and the amount of chemicals we dump into it.

And as we've learned from the disastrous oil spill, on this side of the state, the health of the gulf is everything, and yard fertilizer has been shown to foul its bays and estuaries.

Keeping all that in mind, we all have a rooting (no pun intended) interest in this showdown: Bahia vs. Floratam.

Floratam's been the champ since it was developed as a chinch bug-proof variety of St. Augustine nearly 40 years ago. It's a little scratchy, but at its best it forms a thick, green turf that's the closest alternative to the lawns a lot of us remember from up North.

Bahia is sparser and not quite as lush as Floratam. But it has scored points in recent years as Floratam's resistance to chinch bugs has faded and Bahia's advantages have become more apparent.

You don't have to douse it with bug spray or fertilizer. It survives drought and doesn't need much water to stay green. It's also cheaper than Floratam (a disincentive for landscapers to push Bahia, especially if they're also in the business of spraying yards).

Then came last winter's freezes, and suddenly Floratam is reeling. The cold killed a lot of it and didn't touch Bahia. Homeowners noticed.

"Probably 90 percent of our customers have gone from the Floratam to Bahia,'' said Mike Eberts, owner of the Sod Guy (formerly Sod Masters) in Spring Hill. A few years ago, he said, that percentage "would have been completely reversed.''

Jim Moll, the urban horticulturist at the Cooperative Extension Service, said he's talked to homeowners who have lost three or even four Floratam lawns.

"The overwhelming majority are disappointed with their Floratam or their St. Augustine and are looking for something hardier, something that will save them money. … That's a big paradigm shift from a few years ago, when people looked at me a little funny if I recommended anything other than St. Augustine.''

Eberts said Bahia's origin as a pasture cover is its advantage. "It doesn't need any more water than Mother Nature provided and no more fertilizer than the manure a cow dropped on it once in a while.''

"What was this, a beach a few thousand years ago? It's not like New York,'' said one of Eberts' customers, James Bravico, a transplant from Long Island, N.Y., who said his Floratam yard in Spring Hill was ailing for years before the frost killed it.

"(Bahia) is just a lot better in this (sandy) soil. … I'm ecstatic with it.''

For shaded, clayey yards that hold moisture, Floratam can still be a good choice, Moll said. Other grasses, such as zoysia, have also shown some promise, and mulched beds with a few plants can be the most efficient cover of all.

Here's one other qualifier. Some of the other sod companies said they haven't noticed nearly as dramatic a move to Bahia as Eberts has.

"We're still doing a lot of Floratam,'' said Don Jones, a truck driver at the Sod Mart on County Line Road in Pasco County. "It's certainly not obsolete.''

To which I say: Go, Bahia! Shift that paradigm!

Winter's cold spell levels some yards in favor of Bahia 07/06/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 6, 2010 5:33pm]

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