by Dan Smith
Spring comes early here in Central Florida. By mid February the trees are in bud and all around plants are turning a bright green. That is all of the plants except those in my front yard.
There, the color is a deadly gray and looks as though a rugby scrum has just taken place. It will take the onset of the summer rains to turn that weed bed to green. You see, I gave up on having a lawn back in winter of 2009-10. That year was so cold I stayed inside for most of the season working on a book. Each day as I looked out the big picture window in our living room, I watched my grass slowly dying. I reasonably attributed that death to the cold, but once it warmed up and I ventured out, I discovered the lawn had been invaded by hungry insects.
Looking back I suppose the presence of big white wading birds all winter should have been a clue. They were having a field day feasting on the bugs that were eating my St. Augustine grass. If you have not made the attempt to grow a lawn in Florida, you may not know that we don't have grass at all. It is a complete misnomer to call the St. Augustine vines grass. A wiry, tough looking plant that sends its tentacles out across the sand in search of water, it does not resemble the grass that grows in other parts of the country.
To complicate matters, it is also very fragile. Up north when spring arrives and you notice a bare spot in the yard, all you need do is throw a handful of seeds on the spot and forget it. Every now and then I see new arrivals trying that here and it always brings a laugh. Sure enough the sewn seeds take root, but as soon as our sub-tropical sun comes on full bore the new grass withers and fries.
There should be a law keeping stores from selling Kentucky blue grass seed in Florida.
Now understand, a great looking lawn is not high on my list of priorities. I only hope I can maintain one that is not the shabbiest on the block. Looking out now, I know that ship has sailed.
My only consolation is that when the chinch bugs ate my yard, they also feasted on each lawn on my side of the street. After they had done their dirty work, I applied an insecticide to kill the bugs and then planted plugs. I carefully watered and fertilized the St. Augustine plugs and within weeks they were dead. Apparently the active ingredient in the insecticide I bought had been cut back by the EPA and it was useless.
Next, I bought a stronger product guaranteed to work by the salesman and applied a double coat. When I put my new plugs down I could almost hear the insects smacking their lips. Another failure.
That was it for me. I turned off the sprinkler and let nature take its course.
In short time, I had a nice green yard filled with a variety of interesting weeds. As long as I kept it trimmed I could almost fool a casual observer into thinking that I actually had a lawn. It is an amazing fact, but somehow the bugs can distinguish between the St. Augustine and the weeds. They never touch the weeds, but I know they are still there -- lurking -- waiting for me to make the mistake of planting the new vines.
Nasty little beggars, up close they look like the prototype for the creature from the Predator movies.
If there is any bright side to any of this it would be that a column I wrote describing my plight was submitted in 2010 to the Florida Press Association by this paper. My diatribe about failing to grow a Florida lawn won second place in the humor category for larger circulation newspapers. The note that accompanied the award said that my piece was a witty look at Florida life and was genuinely funny and clever. It was indeed an honor to be selected and thanks to the chinch bugs I can now refer to myself as an award-winning columnist.
Now with a new spring season here, I gaze at my forlorn yard with no plan to resolve the issue. I am leaning toward covering the whole thing with boards and painting them green. At least then I could sit in my yard without having a butt full of sandspurs.
Dan Smith is on the board of directors for the Ormond Beach Historical Society and The Motor Racing Heritage Association and is the author of two books, "The World's Greatest Beach" and "I Swear the Snook Drowned." Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (386) 441-7793.