Soft Grass Types for Florida
The mild winters and hot, tropical summers of Florida make warm-season lawn grasses a key landscape feature. While St. Augustine grass may be common, its stiff and coarse blades aren't exactly the nicest to walk upon barefoot. Softer, more finely textured and lower-growing grasses may prove more comfortable on the feet. Often these soft grass types can be mowed at a lower height and may handle wear better, such as on athletic fields or more heavily walked areas in your home yard.
Needing a sunny exposure, bahia grass (Paspalum notatum) is drought- and heat-tolerant and requires much less care than St. Augustine grass but never gets dark green or dense. Bahia grass can be easily started from seed or laid as sod anytime from March through September in Florida. It does best where soils are acidic (pH 5.5 to 6.5). Two varieties that are popular for home lawns, roadside verges and athletic fields are "Argentine" and "Pensacola." The latter has thinner leaf blades and tends to yellow during spring, according to Tom MacCubbin and Georgia Tasker, authors of "Florida Gardener's Guide."
Although some may casually call Bermuda grass (Cynodon spp.) a "coarse grass," it is by no means tough and prickly coarse like St. Augustine grass. Tolerant of drought, salt spray and heat, Bermuda grass finds its place on golf courses and oceanside estates. Best in a near-neutral pH soil, but adaptable if fertilized properly, thatch removal is often needed to keep the lawn looking and feeling nice. The softest, finest-textured varieties of Bermuda grass include "Tiftgreen," "FloraTeX," "Tifway" and "Tifway II."
Gardeners in the northern half of Florida tend to more easily grow and maintain centipede grass (Eremochloa ophiuroides), according to "Florida Gardener's Guide." Tolerant of drought and light shade, this grass type has a pleasant green color to it, and looks like miniature St. Augustine grass but with softer feel. Spreading by running stems, it grows fastest in summer's warmth and in moist, slightly acidic soils with organic matter and free of nematodes. Generally speaking, centipede grass doesn't need much fertilization to perform well.
Sometimes you'll hear someone refer to zoysia grasses (Zoysia spp.) as Korean or Japanese lawn grass. More tolerant of alkaline soils (pH above 7.0) than other types, zoysia grasses will grow in all soil types and areas of the Sunshine State. If winters get too cool, zoysia grasses often turn tan, something people in central and southern Florida, with their more "tropical" landscapes, may find objectionable. Zoysia is normally planted by small plugs in spring, but it can also be started by seed—unlike Bahia, centipede and Bermuda. Varieties "Meyer," "Belaire" and "El Toro" are often sold in Florida.
- "Florida Gardener's Guide"; Tom MacCubbin and Georgia B. Tasker; 1997