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No Irrigation for 11 Months? IMPOSSIBLE!

By Bob Dailey

With proper lawn maintenance, your yard can thrive. Compost and organic fertilizer are critical to achieving a lawn this green.

Located outside the WJPA building on Lake Robbins Drive, this lawn has not received irrigation, except for rainwater for the last 11 months.

How is that possible? Good lawn practices, proper (and inexpensive) care of the soil under the turf and only a small bit of organic fertilizer.

Here’s how it was done:

The lawn receives about an inch of compost per year. Two compost applications (each a one-half inch deep), made in October and early April, add organic material to the soil, as well as adding essential microorganisms that assist grass roots to grow and resist disease. Once a year, again in April, a scattering of organic fertilizer is spread on the lawn (about a tablespoon per square foot).

The lawn is mowed weekly ONLY between April and the first of October.

No large patch, take-all patch, sooty mold or insect problems are present.  Because of that, no herbicides, fungicides or pesticides are used or needed.

Soil with sufficient organic matter can hold three quarts or more of water per cubic foot. Instead of rolling off the surface of the soil when it rains, good soil absorbs much of it. This transforms the soil under the turf into a passive rainwater catchment, which grass roots can access during dryer periods.

Water stored in the soil, and increased permeability of the soil because of the organic matter, allows grass roots to grow, enhancing the turf’s ability to withstand disease and pests.

For more information about lawn care, please visit the blog at wjpa.org.

July Lawn Care

By Bob Dailey

July is one of the best months to find out where grass is doing well and where it isn’t. Areas with deep shade might do better with some type of shade-tolerant ground cover than with turf grass. Conversely, hot spots in the yard where grass seems to die can be a great place for a shrub that loves heat and lots of sunlight.

Mowing can be problematic as well during times of high heat. Set mowers to their highest level. Mulch, don’t bag. The top third of grass blades is rich in nitrogen. Mulching the grass drops the blades back onto the lawn where they compost back into the soil. Contrary to what some believe, mulching does not cause thatch. Overwatering and overfertilizing causes thatch.

It’s important to check sprinkler systems now. Not all yellow patches are caused by fungal infections like take-all patch or large patch, nor are they all caused by chinch bugs or sod-web worms. Some spotting is caused by poor positioning of sprinkler heads.

Control fire ants by using the Texas two-step method recommended by Texas A&M. A treatment with the organic pesticide Spinosad, followed a few days later by drenching the mound with orange oil is particularly effective on fire ants. A third step, sprinkling diatomaceous earth on the mound, will take care of stragglers.

Occasionally, during hot summer months, St. Augustine grass may suffer from iron chlorosis, which means that the plant is not getting enough iron. This is probably because the soil is too alkaline.  Alternating yellow and green streaks running lengthwise along the grass blade is a clear indication of this. Apply an iron chelate to the lawn. Iron does stain concrete, so do not spread it across sidewalks or driveways.

In The Woodlands and in many areas of the state, water utilities employ The W.I.S.E. Guys (Woodlands Irrigation Systems Evaluations) to check their sprinkler systems. It is a free service.

Keep mower blades sharp so they make clean – not ragged- cuts. Ragged cuts damage the individual grass blades and weaken the structure of the lawn.

It’s possible to seed or sod a lawn this month, but remember, the summer heat will create much more watering.

It’s been a long, wet, relatively cold winter in The Woodlands, with three snowfalls. Now, our yards are greening up, flowers are blooming, insects are buzzing and we are all attacked by the same debilitating disorder – spring fever.

As we walk out shoeless on our lawns, blades of St. Augustine tickling our toes, we might want to consider some chores which can extend the life of our lawn and add to its emerald presence.

  1. St. Augustine grass prefers a pH between 5.0 and 7.0. This acidic range allows grass roots to extract phosphorus from the soil. Having your soil tested is a great way to know the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. You can pick up a soil test bag and form at the County Extension Service in
    Conroe or at the WJPA office in The Woodlands. If your soil is too acidic, you can add lime. If the soil is too alkaline, you can add soil sulfur to make it sweeter.
  2. Compost and aerating. Any time of the year is okay, but mid-April is the optimum time. Spread about ½ inch of compost across your entire lawn. If you’d like, you can water it down with a hose, but that’s not necessary. Aerating allows the compost to enter deeper into the soil.
  3. Resodding. Late April and early May are the best times to resod warm season grass.
  4. Fertilize your lawn in late April. Try to use a slow release organic fertilizer.
  5. Begin mowing as soon as your grass needs it. However, remember that any plant needs its green leaves to photosynthesize sunlight. Cutting it too short will weaken turf grass plants. Instead, set your mower to the highest height or make sure you cut only a third of the blade.
  6. Warm season grasses (St. Augustine, Zoysia and Bermuda) need an inch or less of water per week to have a healthy root system. More than that is damaging to the plant. Since the Defined Irrigation Schedule is in effect for all MUDs within the WJPA service area, you could set your controller to put ½ inch on your lawn for each of the two days you can water.
  7. Add a rain sensor to your irrigation controller. If it rains, the rain sensor will communicate with your controller and adjust the amount of irrigation. (WJPA offers 50% rebates up to $150 for purchase and installation costs).
  8. Install a smart controller. Smart controllers take in information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and area et stations and readjust your system to match the weather.
  9. Use the cycle and soak method. If it takes 20 minutes to put ½ inch of water on your lawn, much of that water will be wasted. Instead, run each zone twice for 10 minutes, or even three times for about 7 minutes. The first run will wet the surface of the soil. The second run (and third if you choose) will allow the water to soak into the ground through capillary action.
  10. Enjoy your beautiful spring lawn.

4 18 spring lawn care

By Bob Dailey, WJPA

In 2017, residents of The Woodlands needed to irrigate their lawns only 12 weeks out of the year. Sounds unrealistic? Not with new information and technologies developed by Texas A&M and research conducted by other universities.

Now, A&M turf experts can track needs of turf grass by on the spot testing of various environmental factors which directly affect lawn irrigation. These factors include rainfall, humidity, temperature, solar exposure, soil moisture and wind velocity. A&M currently operates 56 Evapotranspiration Testing locations across the state.

The Woodlands Joint Powers Agency’s (The WJPA) system takes in rainfall information from locations in the county, including some strategically located in The Woodlands.

Using a series of equations, the systems calculate the amount of water needed a geographical area of the state for a variety of turf grasses. Warm season turf grasses, such as St. Augustine, Zoysia and Bermuda, flourish in southeast Texas. Other grasses, such as fescue, buffalo grass, Kentucky bluegrass flourish in the colder parts of the state.

To accurately provide irrigation information to residents, The WJPA maintains rainwater collection devices that communicate daily to an evapotranspiration system managed by the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District.  Using the Texas A&M equations to calculate how much extra water is needed for turf grass in The Woodlands, the system then relays the information back to WJPA. That info is then transmitted, via weekly emails, to residents. (If you aren’t on the email list and wish to be, please access the WJPA home page at http://www.wjpa.org and sign up.

By Bob Dailey

 

Q. What’s the proper height to set your mower?

A. Different types of turf require different heights of mowing.

1. From April through September, St. Augustine should be mowed at the height of 3-4 inches.
2. Bermuda grass – 2 inches.
3. Coarse-bladed Zoysia (japonica) – 1.5 – 2 inches.
4. Fine-Bladed Zoysia (matrella) 1-2.5 inches.

Remember not to let the grass too tall (50% above the recommended cutting height). Too much off the top can stress the turf.

Q. I have trees in my yard, and the grass doesn’t want to grow well under them. What can I do?

A. Remember that grass is a plant too, and requires sunlight to convert energy to food. Of all the turf grasses that are adaptable to southeast Texas, St. Augustine grows best in shaded areas. However, if it can’t get any sunlight at all, it will cease to grow under your trees. If your grass is getting thin in under-tree areas, you might think of hiring an arborist to do some minor pruning on your trees to allow more sunlight in.

Q. Is now the right time to use a “weed and feed” product?

A. NO time is the right time to use weed and feed products. The proper time to apply the pre-emergence herbicide used in this product is before the weeds begin to grow…late February to early March. The proper time to fertilize or “feed” turf is mid-April. Applying them both at the same time is a waste of time and money. Applying “weed and feed” too early, and the fertilizer is dissipated or leached out of the soil by the time the grass needs it. Applying it too late, and the “weed” part has no purpose, because the weeds have already emerged and seeded.

Q. Why is the soil under my lawn rock hard?

A. Too much water, too many salt-based fertilizers and pesticides, too little organic matter in the soil are primary causes of hard soil. It has become compacted, making it harder for grass roots to penetrate. Pull up a handful of grass, roots and all. If the roots are shorter than three inches, your soil is too hard for the roots. Good St. Augustine, for instance, can grow roots as deep as at least six feet.

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: