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New Years Resolutions to make your yard more lovely in the springBy Bob Dailey

  1. Follow the Integrated Pest Management program promoted by Texas A&M Agrilife Extension. IPM integrates best practices for control of pests and diseases. It includes preventive cultural practices, monitoring, mechanical controls, biological controls, and finally chemical controls if all else fails. For more complete information, call the Montgomery County Master Gardeners Hotline at 936-539-7824.
  2. Water your lawn only when the Weekly Irrigation Recommendation email advises it. Every week, WJPA sends out this eblast to over 21,000 residents of The Woodlands with irrigation recommendations based on evapotranspiration information as well as rainfall. If you’re not on the email list, go to wjpa.org and sign up for email.
  3. Always use organic matter when installing turf or other vegetation. You can accomplish this either by making your own or buying it from a facility that is certified organic. For more information, see findacomposter.com.
  4. Mow winter weeds before they create seed heads instead of using weed and feed products.
  5. Give a gift of landscape design (perhaps to yourself). If you want something less expensive but still of value, purchase a landscaping book. A large number of them, many featuring Texas landscape designs, are on the market.
  6. Mulch flower beds and shrubs. It saves water, helps prevent disease and weeds, and helps keep the soil at a more moderate temperature.
  7. Check your irrigation system. Make sure your sprinkler heads are spraying in the proper direction and not watering sidewalks, driveways and streets. If you haven’t done so already, schedule a free inspection ($75 value) by the W.I.S.E. Guys. Go to the WJPA website to sign up.
  8. If you mow yourself, get your mower tuned up and the blades sharpened.
  9. If you plan to buy topsoil next year, buy carefully. Much topsoil has nutsedge in it. Nutsedge is almost impossible to eradicate. Buy your topsoil from a reputable dealer and ask where it comes from.
  10. Thou shalt not commit “crepe murder” by over-pruning crepe myrtles or any other shrub or tree. Knuckling of crepe myrtles shortens their lives, encourages disease and pest damage, and overall damages the tree.
  11. Do not plant winter rye. Winter rye may be pretty, but this type of turf requires much more water than St. Augustine or Zoysia, and also requires a lot of nutrients from the soil.

Following these practices can give you a headstart on any problems that may arise in your yard. It will also save you money in the long run.

Beware the attack of winter lawn weeds

By Bob Dailey

While winter-dormant St. Augustine lawns have yellowed, something is going on under the soil.

Winter weeds are beginning to germinate. And a lot of weeds do well here. Plantain weed, nutsedge, henbit, spurge, purslane, chickweed, and thistle are a few of the unwanted guests that plague our lawns in late winter and early spring.

Don’t despair. St. Augustine is the best weed-suppressing grass there is, followed only by Zoysia. Both are aggressive plants and, if properly maintained, will keep the weeds to a minimum, if not entirely eliminate them.

Weeds do like compacted, poorly-drained soil, bereft of available minerals, nutrients and organisms.

Residents who apply organic matter to lawns in mid-fall and mid-spring have already established a strong defense against weeds. And although these are ideal times to spread organic matter, anytime is okay.  Aerating the lawn before adding organic matter is another step in the weed war. The organic matter helps soil to drain, and simultaneously holds enough water to establish a strong root system, and is the first and most important step in having a beautiful lawn.

Our love affair with lawns

By Bob Dailey

In Texas, turf is the top crop, with 3,260,000 acres, far surpassing cotton (1,230,000 acres), corn (749,000 acres), sorghum (708,000 acres) and wheat (657,000 acres).

Lawns are the largest “crop” in the United States. Lawns cover 40.5 million acres of land in this country. Compare that to 9.7 million acres of corn, 6.2 million acres of alfalfa, 5.3 million acres of soybeans and 4.1 million acres of orchards, vinyards and nut trees.

The amount of water used on lawns each year is almost 50 million acre feet, or about 2 trillion gallons, more than corn, alfalfa, orchards and rice combined.

There are more lawns in the South than any other area of the country. 88% of Americans have a private lawn and 91% of those lawns are in the South.

About 85% of all water used in American households goes to watering lawns.  In summer, that averages to about 285 gallons per day.

All plants need water. But how much and how often varies from plant to plant.

By Bob Dailey

Although there are various recommendations floating around out there, we prefer to rely on scientifically based advice.

Knowing there can be slight variations based on soil, shade, slope, season and species, we recommend no more than these water applications per the following plant types:

Brown Patch isn’t Brown Patch anymore!

By Bob Dailey

That’s right. The fungal plague that makes big splotches of yellow and brown in your yard is now known as “large patch” – at least here in southeast Texas. Both are caused by the same fungus (Rhizoctonia solani – try saying that quickly three times.) But there are two different strains of the fungus.

One affects cool season grasses – like Kentucky bluegrass, rye grass, fescues – none of which we should have planted in our lawns here in The Woodlands.  This cool season disease is now called “Brown Patch.”

The second strain, “Large Patch”, affects St. Augustine, Bermuda, Zoysia and other warm season grasses. Large Patch usually affects grass in the winter, but most often the damage isn’t visible until spring. Somewhat circular patches that are yellow, tan or straw-brown initially are 2-3 feet in diameter, but they can grow to 10 feet or more in diameter, hence the name “large patch”. Sometimes, several Large Patch infections will grow together, causing an even bigger problem.

Aerate your lawn to keep it healthy and lush

By Bob Dailey

Landscapers know that one of the most crucial elements to having a beautiful lawn is healthy soil. Healthy soil is loose and aerated, a place where roots can spread deeply and organisms thrive.

Compacted soil, which lies underneath most lawns in The Woodlands, actually sets off a chain reaction.  It encourages puddling.  The soil dries out quickly and becomes rock hard. When that happens, air, water and nutrients cannot penetrate the soil. Beneficial organisms that are necessary for healthy soils die and the soil becomes barren.  The consequences don’t stop there.

April Lawn Care

By Bob Dailey

Emerald colors are emerging in The Woodlands and thoughts are turning to soft, cool, green lawns.  

For decades, homeowners have looked at conventional ways to keep lawns healthy and lush. April sees scores of bags of pre-emergent herbicides, fertilizers, soil amendments, humates and myriads of other products strewn on turf.

Many who want lovely lawns are looking at simpler and less costly methods to keep that turf growing.  Here are some helpful tips for keeping grass healthy:

Caring for trees

By Bob Dailey

Trees are attractive. And they’re especially attractive in The Woodlands, because they’re, well, in The Woodlands.  They also have purpose. They help reduce energy costs, filter the air and remove pollutants, as well as providing habitat for wildlife.

First, remember that trees, like all other plants, can suffer as much from overwatering as from under watering. Diseases, such as root rot fungus, are caused by overwatering. With the plentiful rain received in the area recently, there is really no need to water trees (or lawns for that matter).

In fact, even in drought conditions, trees should only be watered once or twice a month. 

"Cycle and Soak" Saves Money, Creates healthier grass

By Bob Dailey

Untold thousands of gallons of drinking water pour onto the Woodlands streets (and into the storm sewers) during lawn irrigation for much of the growing season.

Much of that runoff is caused by running the irrigation zones too long. More water is being placed on the ground than the soil can absorb at any given time.

Using a “cycle and soak” method is a much more efficient way to irrigate lawns. It’s simple, will help save water, and will develop a healthier and more deeply-watered lawn. By getting water deeply into the soil, grass roots will grow longer and deeper, making the plants more resistant to disease, drought and insect damage.

Running each zone for 30 minutes, and then ending the irrigation event, doesn’t get the water down where it needs to be. And much of it runs off into the street. The “wetting front,” which is how far the water goes into the soil, will only be about two inches deep. That’s where the grass roots will stay, because there is no need for them to grow deeper.

Earthworms: Free fertilizer for lawns

By Bob Dailey

“It may be doubted that there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as have these lowly organized creatures.”

-Charles Darwin, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms.  

The best method to judge the health of the soil beneath a lawn is to discover how many earthworms are present.

Earthworms can restore the hard pan of compacted dirt so prevalent in lawns. Their castings are rich in nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, three major elements necessary for plant growth and photosynthesis. Castings also contain magnesium, carbon, calcium – all very important plant nutrients. In just one year, a thousand earthworms (and their descendants) can transform one ton of organic waste into high-yield fertilizer.