Need help please. Completely clueless!

November 4, 2019
last modified: November 4, 2019

Before I do anything, let me give you a bit of background info. I moved in with my folks to help them since they were getting older, but ever since I was a kid, my father took care of anything yard related. Fast forward to now and my dad has passed away and we are completely clueless about all things green other than regular mowing. We have no idea what kind of grass we have, but we think that it might be two different types, including weeds, mushrooms, bugs, and I think fungus... so we really need help. The only thing I can identify is the crabgrass, all the rest... no idea. And we have these tiny dirt/soil mounds all over the yard that I know don't belong to fire ants.

No matter how we treat the yard, it has to be pet friendly since we have 2 mastiffs. I don't know if this will help but we are in central Florida (zone 9b I believe).

I'll post a couple if pics to give you an idea what we're working with. BTW, with fall now upon us, is there anything special that needs to be done? What order do we treat the bugs, fungus, weeds, etc.

My mom and I thank you ahead of time for your help.

Comments (34)

  • Rebeca

    Sorry, I couldn't add the pics, so I'll try it now. Here are the little bug mounds.

  • Rebeca

    A pic of a fungus looking thing that I have. We have spots like this all over the yard. I've even found them growing on mushrooms.

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  • Rebeca

    One of the types that we think might be grass.

  • Rebeca

    Another thing we think might be the second type of grass.

  • Rebeca

    This patch is old grass that has turned bald. I've cleaned up some thatch since this pic was taken, but as you can see, the grass is a weird color yellowish-green while the rest looks like a normal green color.

  • Rebeca

    We literally have no idea what in the world this stuff is, but it's all over the yard.


  • Rebeca

    Here is what it looked like before my dad started getting too sick to do his thing with the yard.

  • dirtygardener -- Z9a, N. Central Florida

    Like most Florida lawns, you have mostly weeds. I see what might have been St. Augustine and also Bermuda grass, which is something everyone has. I don't know where you are, or I could help you more.

    Rebeca thanked dirtygardener -- Z9a, N. Central Florida
  • Rebeca

    I'm in central Florida. Almost the middle of Tampa and Orlando.

  • carolb_w_fl_coastal_9b

    Not a lawn expert, but this I know: winter is coming and a lot of grasses go dormant in winter and look dead. I overseed with winter rye, which makes for a fresh green lawn in the cooler months and enriches the soil after it dies back in the hotter months.

    Spreading approx. 1/2" composted cow manure can help your lawn & soil, and is safe for pets to walk & play on, tho it is black and can stain. I get it at Home Depot, usually, for less than $2 a bag.

    Alternately, you can plant ground covers that do not require as much water and maintenance, and are also safe for pets.

  • dchall_san_antonio

    The good news is those mounds of soil are caused by earthworms.

    The bad news is you are watering too much which is causing lots of problems. How do I know?

    1. There is some fungus visible in the brown grasses in your fungus picture. When you water correctly, there should be no fungus. The disease will not go away when you back off on the watering frequency.

    2. There's a ton of nutgrass growing. Nutgrass is a swamp grass. It will go mostly away when you start to water more correctly.

    The grass in the fungus picture appears to be centipede. It looks like St Augustine except the blades come to a point on centipede. Here's a comparison picture with centipede on top and St Augustine underneath the quarter.

    Now that you know what you're looking for, you might be able to tell what you have by looking more closely at it. You might have a mix. I think I see spear points and blunt points in the fungus picture.

    Another problem with watering too frequently is the grass develops short roots. When you start watering better, the roots will grow much deeper into the soil where the water is.

    Before I launch into the basics of lawn care, can you confirm that what you have is mostly centipede...or St Augustine. Walk around and take a mental inventory of spear points versus blunt points. My direct experience is with St Augustine, and I'm pretty sure I can help you with that. However, after being on the forums since 2002 I have done some reading about centipede. The care for the two is different enough that I don't want to waste my time or yours until you have a feel for what you have.

    Having said that, centipede is supposed to be an almost care free lawn if you ignore it. When you start doing things like watering and fertilizing, it thins out. St Augustine is a more normal and predictable turf. You water it between 2 and 4 times per month, fertilize in May, September, and November, and that's about it - just like other grasses (bermuda, zoysia, and all the northern grasses).

    Also you might walk the neighborhood looking at lawns you like. Take note of what kind of grass they have. Bermuda is another very popular grass in the south, but takes more care than the others mentioned. If you find one you like, we can get you going on that.

    Right off the bat I'm going to suggest either bermuda or St Augustine as your primary target turf because you have two dogs. Zoysia and centipede are slow growing and might not fill in after being damaged. But take a look around and get back.

    Almost forgot: if you want to do something about the fungal disease now, I recommend using ordinary corn meal from a feed store. Call first to get price and availability. A 50-pound bag should cost well under $15, but prices vary with transportation distances. The application rate is 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet over the entire lawn whether you see the disease or not. I scoop it into a 2 pound coffee can and estimate 100 square feet and scatter by hand. You cannot overdo it, so relax. It takes 3 weeks, but it should cure the problem. Cornmeal is a biological approach to fungus in St Augustine and centipede. The corn attracts a predatory fungus which feeds on the disease fungus and kills it. If you want to do some research on cornmeal and fungus control, you'll find two professors who claim it is a myth. One thing they have in common is they have never tried it. I have used cornmeal successfully every year for 17 years, and it worked every time. In fact it was the only thing I found that worked.

  • Rebeca

    I think the majority of the grass is St. Aug. Believe it or not, we've never watered the lawn. We don't have sprinklers in neither back or front. The only sprinkler we have was for my dad's garden when he decided to dabble in growing his own veggies. So the only water the lawn has ever gotten is from good ole' fashioned rain. Now because of the hurricane that came through a few months ago, the back area of the yard flooded but the yard was going down hill ever since my dad got too sick to take care of the yard and when that happened, there was nothing to take care of because the weather was too cool and everything was dormant for the season. When spring came, my mom and I mowed but that was it. She loves picking weeds, but I think she was pulling grass along with the weeds... and our Italian Mastiffs are a bit like cows since they love pulling up grass (I keep telling my mom that they are only following her lead).

  • dirtygardener -- Z9a, N. Central Florida

    First, you do not have centipede grass, because the only place centipede grass grows well -- or semi-well -- in Florida is in the northern part of the state in zone 8b. You have St. Augustine and wild bermuda grass. Bermuda grass will choke out any good grasses eventually, and there is no way to get rid of it except to pull it out, and you'll be pulling until the cows come home and never get rid of it. While people from different states try hard to be helpful, they don't live in FL and don't know what a PITA growing grass is here.

    Second, the holes and mounds in the ground are from grubs and insects that have probably destroyed the roots of your grass, which is why there is none. Can you fix it? Yes, but it will cost you an arm and a leg. St. Augustine is a thirsty grass here in FL due to our sandy soil. It's extremely expensive to get a St. Augustine lawn to grow well without some way to water it regularly.

    Because of the large dogs who are probably going to dig and use the lawn as a bathroom, I'd just let Mother Nature take over. It's going to anyway, because nature abhors a vacuum, so you'll soon have winter weeds setting up shop in all the bare space.

    The main rule of lawns in FL is "If it's green, mow it. That's your lawn." Unless you have a lot of time and money, you aren't ever going to have a perfect lawn like some people have in other climates. Honestly, I've seen some absolutely beautiful lawns of mixed grasses and weeds. Unless you live in a deed-restricted community that demands you have a perfect lawn, I would treat for the fungus, grubs and insects and just mow it. Overseed this winter with rye to keep the weeds from getting a foothold and deal with it next spring.

    If you want a beautiful lawn, there are a dozen ways to grow a lawn in FL. Check to see if you have watering restrictions where you are, and if you do, ditch the St. Augustine and go with Bahia if you want grass, or find a nice ground cover like Sunshine Mimosa or Perennial Peanut.

    I don't know if you're selling the house or staying there. If you're selling it, you might want to invest in a complete resodding. I don't know much about when that should be done in your area, so your best bet is to watch for when the big box stores have sod and plugs available and do it then. OR call your county extension office.

  • dirtygardener -- Z9a, N. Central Florida

    GardenGal, I agree with you. Corn meal/corn gluten is the most useless expensive scam ever perpetuated on the lawn growing community.

  • danielj_2009

    I think if he has used it successfully for a long time then we have to at least consider that it works under certain circumstances. I'm not willing to say a guy with his experience is unable to figure out whether something is working for him after 17 years. On the other hand, my experience with northern grass and cornmeal is that any real fungal benefit was not observed.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    "I think if he has used it successfully for a long time then we have to at least consider that it works under certain circumstances."

    Since it was applied with no controls, there is no possible way to conclude that the cornmeal was the reason why there have been no fungal issues or that they haven't been corrected, if they existed, by other factors.

    That is the very basis of junk science.....making claims of efficacy without the procedures/controls, testing and review that comes from a true scientific process.

  • Rebeca

    We had the grubs a couple of years back that were treated and killed and the lawn hasn't really recovered from them. The spots really hit by them is on top of the septic tank which is now all covered by some kind of weeds that I have no clue what they are, and by the porch steps and front gate. Pretty much most of the bald spots. The spots that weren't killed by the grubs seem to be the area's covered by the mystery bugs. No we aren't selling or anything like that, I just want to try to get the yard healthy again. I could care less about looks since we're in an unincorporated area, I just want to make my mom happy by giving her a nice yard again.

  • Rebeca

    Here is the stuff that's invaded the top of the septic tank.

  • dchall_san_antonio

    Sorry for the derailment on your topic, Rebeca. I happen to have a masters degree in aerospace engineering and 27 years as a rocket scientist, but I certainly cannot rely on that for my growing grass hobby. At least my background gives me an understanding of gardengal's need for a control plot, but I'm a home gardener. I'm not tooled up to grow grass in multiple plots and do a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled, peer reviewed study. My experiment with cornmeal began after living with a dead spot in a low lying area in my lawn in San Antonio. I tried putting new sod over top of the old without knowing what I was doing. The organic guy on the radio suggested using corn meal both as a fertilizer and to control powdery mildew and black spot on roses. He explained that the black spot lived in the soil and spores splashed up on the plants when they were watered. That's the reason it returned all the time. So I dusted corn meal over top of the rose plants and clipped off the black spot leaves. I put about a handful of cornmeal around each plant. What happened surprised me, because prior to that I was an organo-skeptic. But, as Daniel mentioned, it's a low cost thing to try. What happened surprised me. Again, with no controls, because I applied the corn meal to all three rose plants, the powdery mildew disappeared, the black spot never returned, AND, most incredibly, the plague of aphids on the roses disappeared. Now I realize that statement will send gardengal into one of her frenzies. I don't mention it much, because I don't know what to make of it. We had those roses until 2015 when we sold the house and they never got another aphid. Was it the corn meal???? I've moved away from the city and still use corn meal on the roses and on the diseased spots on the St Augustine. I still have no powdery mildew, black spots, or aphids on the roses. After the success with the roses, I started paying much closer attention. Radio guy mentioned getting rid of fungus on grass. Was this my destiny? After 3 years of dead grass, was did it have a chance to return to health? Yes, it did. Three weeks later it was all new grass. And I still have no real control group other than sometimes I don't get all the diseased spots with the corn meal and the disease persists until I finally hit it with the corn. Cornmeal doesn't cost much to try, and it is not going to hurt anything. So if you cannot call it science, which I never claimed, you can call it experiential evidence. I have coached people on this forum to use cornmeal on St Augustine for years. I can't remember any of them who were unhappy. As morph mentioned, corn meal does not seem to work against fungal disease in the northern lawns, so I stopped recommending it to them years ago. It sill works as a fertilizer, although not the best of the organics. In fact it is among the worst, which still makes it effective.

    My diagnosis of your lawn was off a little. The bit I was unaware of was the hurricane and the standing water. The standing water caused the disease. Left untreated (with cornmeal, ahem), the disease will take out all the grass and persist until it gets treated. In about 2005 I bought a few pieces of Floratam St Augustine and put them in front and back. That variety is faster growing and somewhat resistant to disease. And when it gets the disease, it does not die out, it just looks ugly. The Floratam grows so quickly it appears to be immune to the disease, but sadly, it really does look ugly, just not dead.

    I'm also going to disagree with just about everything dirtygardener said in his reply right after my first reply. His defeatist attitude toward St Augustine seems to come from his experience. When you mow St Augustine at the mower's highest setting, it will stomp all over bermuda. I have been relying on that fact since 2014 when I bought this house (we moved in 2015, but I started caring for the yard in 2014). What started out as about 10 square feet of St Augustine growing in protected shade, along with 6,000 square feet of bermuda and wild grasses, has now become about 4,000 square feet of St Aug. It spreads about 15 feet per year in this area. The shade provided by the tall, coarse blades of St Aug is too much shade for the lower growing grasses like the bermuda and our wild stuff. I also give it one blast of a special herbicide for St Aug in April. There are weeds that will shade out St Augustine including clover, dichondra, horse herb, and oxalis. The herbicide is for those plants leaving the St Augustine to fill in nicely.

    So here's what I would do if I lived on your lawn.

    Prepping the soil: I would bring in enough topsoil to go slightly beyond level, so that the water will drain away instead of puddling. I'm not sure I understand puddling in sandy soil, but I believe you saw what you described. There could be an unseen clay layer below. Anyway, bring in some soil, "level it," by dragging a 2x4 possibly with some chain fencing attached, until you are happy with the profile. Drag criss-cross and in big circle until you have it. Then water that down to settle it. If you see more low spots, apply more topsoil, drag, water and check it again. You want this to be as good as you can make it.

    Deweeding: start watering lightly 3x per day to sprout any weeds that might have come in with the topsoil. Water only enough to moisten the surface of the soil. Soggy is way too wet. Water maybe 5-15 minutes each time. After a week some weeds will have sprouted. Spray those with Roundup and continue watering for another week. At the end of the second week, spot spray any new weeds with the RU. Now you are ready to plant without having all those new weeds coming up.

    Planting: When you have it like you want, find some Floratam and put several pieces around the yard. It takes root fastest in the shade and then spreads quickly. The pieces can be 15 feet apart so that they will spread into each other. Or you can do the entire yard at one time and have an instant yard. That would work best for the dogs. Roll the new sod down with a rented roller so the bottom of the sod makes good contact with the top of the soil. Grass roots won't grow through air to find water.

    Watering the new sod: water the new sod 3x per day just like you did before. Continue until the pieces of sod are connected to the underlying soil by the roots. Then start to back off on the frequency of watering and water for a little longer. This is something you'll have to get a feel for. It should never get soggy. If you were watering 15 minutes, 3x per day, then go to 15 minutes once per day for a few days. Let the grass roots reach downward for the moisture. After a week of that, skip 2 days and water for 30 minutes for a few days. You're still trying to get the roots to stretch out. After a week of that, you can do the can test to time your sprinkler to see how long it takes to apply 1 inch of water. Put some cat food or tuna cans around the yard and turn on the sprinkler. Time how long it takes to fill all the cans. That is your new watering time. Don't listen to the FL folks who insist you must water daily. They will be very free with that advice. You're shooting for deeply and infrequently. Deep is the 1 inch all at one time. Infrequent means once a week in the hottest heat of summer but ONLY if you have not had any rain in the past several week. For example I did not turn on my sprinklers this year until late June. We got enough rain in the spring that the grass did very well. And since then I have watered the south-facing back 5 times and the north facing front 3 times. We don't get much rain, but when your roots are deep, the soil will keep them cool and moist for a long time. With your soil, rain, and humidity, you will have to gauge this 'infrequent' time for yourself. Since I learned this, I have never watered more frequently than once per week and that was only when we got a arid north wind.

  • morpheuspa (6B/7A, E. PA)

    " As morph mentioned, corn meal does not seem to work against fungal disease in the northern lawns, so I stopped recommending it to them years ago. It sill works as a fertilizer, although not the best of the organics. In fact it is among the worst, which still makes it effective."

    Hey! I'm quite happy with corn meal as a fungal disease....well, very minor preventative in the sense that it helps round out the soil and keep the other fungi happy and in good proportion and the fungi eaters around and in good populations and ready to eat disease fungi.

    It's not magic, it's not going to cure an issue, and it's not going to stop anything already started or keep a bad year from turning into fungal diseases. But a gentle nudge to keep something minor from starting...sure.

    And my control plots are the acres of grass around me that don't get the treatment mine does. And the sections of mine I've isolated and treated differently, but of course for some reason that doesn't seem to count in any argument with what's her name Because Reasons and Selective Reading.

  • Rebeca

    How do you guy's spread the corn meal? By hand or spreader? And do I use any particular type of topsoil? Do I do this before I get rid of the bugs or after?

  • Rebeca

    Can you guy's tell from the last pic that I posted what kind of weeds I have on our septic tank? How to get rid of it?

  • dirtygardener -- Z9a, N. Central Florida

    Rebeca, that looks like a common summer weed here. I can't remember the name. It will die down in the winter. It's not a desirable grass.

  • Rebeca

    Ah ok. can't really layer topsoil to an even area since the septic tank is on an incline. I'll attach something to show you.

  • dirtygardener -- Z9a, N. Central Florida

    That's your drain field. It could be something you're flushing down the commode, or the tank could be stopped up. Try using some Rid-X in the septic tank to see if that helps clean it out. Since that's a summer weed, it may just be dying back.

    From the pics of the "good" lawn, it looks like your dad has a regular old Florida grass and weeds lawn. Parts of it will die in the winter because it's either summer weeds or bermuda grass, which goes dormant in the winter. Winter weeds may come in and fill in those spots, or you can overseed them with rye if it really bothers you. Most normal FL lawns get dead spots in the winter. I have a slope in front of my apartment that is dead bare every winter, but every summer, basketgrass grows and fills it in. I wouldn't worry about it too much.

  • Rebeca

    Nope, nothing wrong with the tank since it was cleaned out about 2-3 years ago. The brown and bare areas were there during the summer. I was really worried because of the fact that the grass died out and now there's nothing but weeds. Its to the point where those funky weeds are now EVERYWHERE mixed in with the yard.

  • ritaweeda

    Pristine lawns are pretty. They give your eyes a rest between garden beds and hardscapes. Kids can play on them. They help prevent soil erosion and create fire barriers. OK, now I'm trying to think what else is good about pristine lawns. To me, pristine lawns are a throwback to the rich landowners who grazed sheep and cattle on them. I'm not saying that people shouldn't have lawns but I think that in this day where so many are so concerned about the environment, using chemicals and water resources, and promoting biodiversity, why do we keep insisting on trying to have these vast expensive lawns and just be happy with whatever grass will grow there? Florida is a very difficult place to have a lawn. It's not like other areas. What works in another place won't work here.

    We live in a rural part of the county where no-one does anything with landscapes or lawns - they are too busy farming or ranching. But when we built this house we were forced to install a minimum square footage of sod which was very expensive, took enormous amounts of water to get started, and was very expensive and labor intensive to maintain until we finally just started relaxing and saying this is ridiculous. No-one out here cares what our lawn looks like. So now it has weeds in it and bugs in it and sometimes fungus spots in it. In the Summer when it all gets mowed it looks green and unless someone comes on our property and gets close, it looks pristine, too. Yes, I do know that there are deed restricted neighborhoods that require the pristine lawns and I am so glad we don't have to put up with that.

  • Emily H

    There have been many posts deleted here that were off topic and not in keeping with the kind and helpful spirit of the discussions that we try to maintain. Please take a look at our discussions code of conduct, if you haven't seen it.

    (P.S. Good luck with the lawn!)

  • Rebeca

    Other than the normal trees, we don't have anything planted in the back yard. We've always had anywhere from 2-4 dogs at a time and we didn't want to take a chance on anyone getting sick from eating a plant so the backyard has always been nothing but grass. At one point, my dad tried to grow his own fruits and veggies, so to keep the dogs out, he fenced in an area of the backyard especially for those (We used to call it 'Dad's Playpen'). Even now with him gone, any kind of plants that are brought in or are questionable are either put in the front-yard or put into the fenced in 'playpen'; the plants stay in their own planter instead of in the soil and are kept in there so it's a one stop shot for watering.

  • morpheuspa (6B/7A, E. PA)

    No help there, then! You can get a lot of clues from whether the plants are doing well, and sometimes by which plants are doing well (although less often with the latter).

    When you say "tried" to grow his own fruits and didn't go too well, did it? Just an off the cuff guess. I still have some suspicions. :-)

    The dogs themselves are actually a good thing. Personally, we have two. They're nice little fertilizer producers and, if you have enough activity in your soil, their little leavings don't last long.

    We do seem to be going in circles. My personal recommendation to start is with the soil test--it's winter for all of us, so I wouldn't expect much in terms of your lawn from what I was reading above (I didn't know your lawns died back just like ours did, but I've never lived south of Pennsylvania, so...)

    But since you don't go through ground freeze, you have time to make adjustments before you have to plant grass. Probably in February or March.

    Let's see if others concur.

  • Rebeca

    Nah, with the chemo, he was too tired to mess with it and then he got too sick; my mom and I have no clue about anything that is green or comes from green so it all went down the drain. I think the only thing that almost came close was the potatoes that he tried growing. He did everything that the instructions said but they ended up looking like baby potatoes, but of course the spuds came from the potatoes you get from the store so who knows if that was the problem.

    Well I have no clue if there's something special that I was supposed to be doing for fall with the lawn. I think the only things that are actually turning color with the season are the weeds. They are turning yellow and dying.

  • jstropic (10a)

    During this hot and dry summer we noticed the grass over the septic tank dying back and were able to bring it back by hand watering that area.

  • dirtygardener -- Z9a, N. Central Florida

    I will add that I agree with a soil test, in fact several over several areas of your lawn. I PMd you that you should talk to your county extension service. They may actually come out and give you some advice, although some counties have stopped that service.

    Another thing my friend mentioned was that when she was going through chemo, the grass around her septic tank died also, and she attributed it to the chemicals in her body leaching into the drain field. Those are very strong chemicals, designed to kill everything and see what survives, so it's a viable theory, although I don't know if it holds up scientifically.

    Might just be lack of water, who knows? Hopefully, some watering and fertilizer (not now, in the spring) will bring it back.

  • sonni1

    Rebecca, consider how much money you want to spend on this. For lots, you can hire a company to bring in soil, level out the low spots and re-sod. and then you can spend more money and time maintaining that lawn. Once, when I was flat broke and needed to sell my place which had a yard that looked much like-or worse than the pictures you've posted, I dug up plugs from my neighbor's yard (with his permission) and transplanted them to mine. I'm guessing St. Augustine, which did grow to fill the space and looked presentable when mowed. It was an incredible amount of work, took a long time and I was nearly eaten alive by mosquitoes. There are many solutions which can be weighed against expense and amount and type of work you can handle. County Cooperative extension -my guess- would be the best source for information. Amazing how helpful they can be.

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