Best lawn practices

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly...bugs

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly...bugs

By Bob Dailey

If you thought the wildly frigid temperatures of Winter Storm Uri were going to reduce insect populations, think again. Just go outside. They’re everywhere!

Some are nasty bugs, destroying your vegetables and many of your ornamentals. But many more wear white hats (which is a somewhat incongruous idea, if you think about it). There are about 1,000 times as many good bugs as bad bugs.

Some good guys pollinate flowers of many fruit and vegetable crops, while others pollinate ornamental flowers. Some of the good bugs till the soil. Earthworms, though not a bug, and burrowing beetles both eat the organic material in the ground.

And some are predators, eating the pests as quickly as they arrive. These good-guy predators include ladybugs, lacewings, and lacewing larvae. These eat aphids and are beneficial to have around. Praying mantids eat other destructive insects, like grasshoppers. There are even parasitic insects that lay their eggs inside a host. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the host from inside out. (Aliens, anyone?) It’s gruesome but highly effective. One parasitic wasp preys entirely on fire ant colonies. Studies are currently being conducted in South Texas by Texas A&M on these wasp parasites.

Then there are the bees. Yes, there are honeybees, and they are highly beneficial. But there are at least 4,000 species of native bees in North American. Etymologists have identified over 800 of these species in Texas.

And some insects provide food for other wildlife. Take tent caterpillars, for instance. Although they’re unsightly, they cause no significant damage to the trees. However, these tent caterpillars provide essential food for the many migrating birds heading to Latin America for the winter.

A hard spray from a hose or a gentle spurt from a spray bottle filled with warm water and a little dishwashing liquid will dislodge aphids and other pests. Chinch bugs are tough to destroy. They love to infest lawns along curbs and driveways - mainly because they like the heat and dryness of those areas. Many times our sprinkler systems overshoot those little niches. Use a hose and spray around the curbs, driveways, and sidewalks once a week to discourage those pests.

Avoiding harmful pesticides is less expensive and healthier. Some pesticides remain in the soil, some leach out into storm sewers, streams, and waterways. Use your judgment, but only use harmful pesticides as a last-ditch effort.

Water Stewardship in The Woodlands

Water Stewardship in The Woodlands

By Bob Dailey

Single-family water usage in The Woodlands for 2020 was approximately 3.5 billion gallons, a far cry from the 2011 usage of 5.7 billion gallons – a decrease of over two billion gallons.

Of course, 2011 was a drought year. But even with that consideration, the reduction is significant. The decrease from 2009 – which was not a drought year – is equally as telling.

The number of single-family homes has increased about two percent a year, which means, of course, that the population has also increased. Lower per capita water usage, plus a two percent population growth, is impressive.

Interested observers note that residents of The Woodlands have significantly reduced their water usage. Lower residential water consumption is not the only water-related item that has impacted the community. Community-minded stewardship has also expanded.

For instance, The Woodlands Township has significantly reduced water consumption in its parks and public places, saving about 9 million gallons per year. The township’s Environmental Services Department has been highly active in promoting the water conservation message.

Other groups have expanded their support of stewardship here. The Woodlands Green, the author of the recycling initiative in The Woodlands, has also become involved, outreaching to the public, students, and others about stewardship importance. The group sponsors monthly talks, many of them about water-related topics.

The Village Associations are also involved in stewardship, welcoming speakers at their monthly meetings on water conservation topics and other water-related items.

Interfaith of The Woodlands, through their water conservation efforts at their community gardens and elsewhere, Boy and Girl Scouts, National Charity League and their cohorts, National League of Young Men, as well as the Woodlands Green Student Ambassadors and other organizations, have embraced water stewardship.

The Adopt-A-Path movement, Earth Day Greenup, and many other activities do much to reduce the pollution of our streams, lakes, and waterways.

In short, significant numbers of The Woodlands residents are actively involved with water conservation and stewardship at large -with an uncommon awareness of the importance water plays in our lives.

Woodlands Water will continue to urge water conservation through the Defined Irrigation Schedule, an inclining rate structure the Monday Waterworks email, rebates on water-saving devices and native, drought-tolerant plants, our W.I.S.E. Guys program, and various continuing education programs.

Creating a self-sufficient lawn

Creating a self-sufficient lawn

By Bob Dailey

Every year about this time, residents began calling to report their grass is dying. Their beautiful, green, lush St. Augustine has turned a pale brownish-yellow. They worry that it’s not getting enough water, so they water profusely. They think that some disease or insects may be attacking their lawn, so they pile on pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers.

St Augustine is a warm-season grass. This turfgrass is supposed to look brown and dead in the winter. When the soil temperature drops below 55 degrees, the grass goes dormant.

Homeowners shouldn’t panic, nor should they use the myriad of panaceas offered on the market.

Watering during the winter

Winter watering is not a recommended practice. Fungal infections are particularly damaging to turf grass in southeast Texas. And what causes fungal diseases? Well, fungi love humidity and wetness. Watering lawns during the winter is the primary cause of fungal infections. Infections begin when the grass is dormant, so damage is not visible then. Come spring and early summer, though, and fungi presence is evident from the great yellowing patches of turf. By then, the damage has already occurred. Instead of spending bucks on fungicides, stop watering. We get enough rain in the winter to provide what little water that dormant St. Augustine might require.

Planning for Spring

Now is the time to get ready for springtime. A soil test might be a good idea. Texas A&M offers a great soil test for about $15. Use your computer search engine to browse for Texas A&M Soil, Water, and Forage Testing lab. The site provides explicit instructions on how to take a soil sample, how to fill out an application, and how to send the whole package to the lab. St. Augustine turf does best in soil with a pH of around 6.5. The test will provide empirical data that will help maintain a healthy and green lawn in spring, summer, and fall.

Residents can obtain text bags from the Montgomery County Office of Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service, 9024 Airport Road, Conroe.

Chinch Bugs - A Bane to Woodlands Lawns

Chinch Bugs - A Bane to Woodlands Lawns

By Bob Dailey

Chinch bugs are tiny creatures - barely visible to the naked eye, but their damage to lawns belies their size. They destroy grass by penetrating grass blades with razor-sharp beaks and then sucking out the juices. The grass then dehydrates and dies.

Chinch bugs love hot areas and begin their journey across a yard by starting at the edge of a driveway or sidewalk – where the ground is absorbing heat. Once they have destroyed the grass along the edge of those hot areas, they progress outward. The damage they do becomes evident in August and September.

Look for dead or dying brown grass alongside your driveway or sidewalk. Take a coffee can, cut out the bottom of it, and insert it into the ground a couple of inches where dead grass and live grass meet. Fill it with water. The chinch bugs will float to the top.

There are several ways to get rid of chinch bugs.

Organic methods

Products that contain Beauvaria bassonia, a fungus, are highly effective against chinch bugs and a long list of other insect pests. Scientists consider the fungus to be harmless to beneficial insects, although they recommend not spraying in areas where honeybees are foraging. The bees themselves won’t become contaminated, but they may carry spores back and infect the brood.

Another organic method contains terpene - entirely harmless to mammals, birds, and fish but deadly to chinch bugs.

Synthetic method

Bifenthrin is a neurotoxin (synthetic Pyrethrin) that attacks the nervous system and is highly effective against chinch bugs. This poison exists in nature also - marigolds are a source of natural Pyrethrin. This insecticide, whether synthetic or organisms, control a large number of insect species. It is highly toxic to fish. When used around children or animals, make sure you follow the label instructions carefully. Use with care, according to instructions. Applications include liquid and granular.

Other helpful methods.

Using best lawn care practices is also helpful in chinch bug control. Water by hose once a week along the edges of driveways and sidewalks. Keeping those areas wetter will discourage chinch bugs. Use slow-release fertilizer and compost to keep the soil and lawn healthy and strong.

Hot, Dry and Frustrating

Hot, Dry and Frustrating

By Bob Dailey

It’s hot and your lawn might be looking a little peaked. The first response is to turn on the irrigation system and soak that turf with water.

Remember though, good soil can only hold so much water (about three quarts per cubic yard). Once the soil is saturated, any excess runs off into the street, then the storm drain, out into Lake Woodlands, Spring Creek, the San Jacinto River and finally to the Gulf of Mexico.

If the soil under the grass is compacted and devoid of organic material, then any water is just going to run off into the street and go the way of all excess water in The Woodlands – that is, the Gulf. You’ve just spent a whole lot of dollars adding fresh water to Galveston Bay.

Of course, there is always the option not to water at all. The lawn in front of the Water Resources building (2455 Lake Robbins Drive) has not been irrigated with anything but rainwater for the last two years, and it’s lush and thriving. The reason is the soil underneath the grass is rich in organic matter, added there once or twice a year, which allows the soil to soak up excess water and store it within the top 12 inches. That helps the grass to develop deep root systems.

Here’s another way to help your lawn look great and save you money at the same time. To visualize this, find an area with dry, hard, compacted soil. Pour a glass of water onto it. What happens? The water rolls off the soil and away from the dry spot. Now, very slowly pour the water in droplets onto the soil? See what happens? The water begins to soak into the soil. The water is soaking into the soil by capillary action. If you’re running your sprinkler system for 10 minutes each zone, drop it down to five minutes each zone, run the entire cycle, and then run it again for another five minutes. You’ll be surprised at how well this works.

Finally, remember that the Defined Irrigation Schedule, begun in June 2013, is still in effect. Lawns irrigated by sprinkler systems can be watered no more than two nights per week – never during the day without a variance. Addresses ending in even numbers can only water on Wednesday and Saturday nights, and odd numbers can only water on Tuesday and Friday nights, from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following morning. There are no plans to halt the Defined Irrigation Schedule. Hand-held hoses or hose-end sprinklers and drip irrigation are allowed anytime.

There’s Plenty of Water Everywhere – Just not Here and There

There’s Plenty of Water Everywhere – Just not Here and There

By Bob Dailey

There’s plenty of water in the world…just not where we want and need it. The massive Oglala Aquifer, the largest in North America, furnishes water to our nation’s breadbasket, irrigating millions of acres of corn, wheat and other foods. That aquifer is currently 50% depleted – and this has happened in the last 50 years. What will happen in the next 50?

Our own aquifers have seen major drawdowns as well – so much so that there has been land subsidence in the southern part of Montgomery County. Harris County to our south has fared less well. Some places in Harris County have subsided 15-plus feet…a direct result of aquifer drawdown. In fact, Harris and Galveston Counties have been concerned enough to form the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District, to monitor any further subsidence in the area.

The subsidence here is not serious …yet. But there are areas near The Woodlands which have fallen a foot or more in the last two or three decades. Not the 15-feet drops we see in Houston, but worthy of concern, nevertheless.

Harris County solved their problem by setting up a treatment plant on Lake Houston. A master plan is already in progress to pump treated lake water to most residents in Harris – no mean feat.

In Montgomery County, far-sighted officials have already built out a water treatment plant at Lake Conroe, and lake water is available to all municipalities. This water is helping the aquifers to recover their supply of water, and to help halt subsidence in the county.

The availability of lake water takes care of needs now, but elected officials are not only responsible for current populations, but future populations. While there are additional options for new water sources – desalination, it will be costly and only available for those areas and individuals who can afford it. And new reservoirs are also a possibility (except for the constant “NIMBY” which means,” yes of course I want new reservoirs, but Not In My Back Yard. “

The best solution is conservation. And residents here are accomplishing that. We have become an example for the rest of the state to follow.

The Woodlands Water Agency

The Woodlands Water Agency

2455 Lake Robbins Dr
The Woodlands TX 77380


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