Best lawn practices

4-18 Spring Lawn Care

4-18 Spring Lawn Care

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 Woodlands Water 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 Woodlands Water 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. (Woodlands Water 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.
Irrigation less a necessity – more of a habit

Irrigation less a necessity – more of a habit

By Bob Dailey, Woodlands Water

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.

Woodlands Water 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, Woodlands Water 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 Woodlands Water. 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 Woodlands Water home page at http://www.woodlandswater.org and sign up.

Full-blown ET systems are expensive. One thing residents don’t know, though, is that they can install a “mini-ET station,” also known as a “smart controller” set up to receive all the evapotranspiration information, link it to their irrigation system and stop worrying about how much they should irrigate their lawns.

These smart controllers automatically receive data from the Texas A&M ET stations, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other ET stations, convert the information into your specific turf irrigation needs, and automatically set your irrigation system accordingly. These can even be set to operate your irrigation system on your designated watering day.

The new stations are inexpensive, can be operated remotely from PCs, laptops and even smart phones and can save substantially on water costs. One perk that residents in The Woodlands served by Woodlands Water is that they can receive a 50% rebate on the purchase and installation of one of these systems (up to $150). The rebate can be substantial. With many home ET stations costing less than $300, a 50% rebate would pay for half the cost.  The rebates are deducted from the resident’s water bill.

Rebates are available on a wide variety of water saving devices. In-home ET stations, smart controllers, rain water harvesting systems, and drip irrigation are also available to residents.  For more information, call Woodlands Water at 281-367-1271.

Questions residents have about lawn care

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.

Q. What can I do to fix this?

A. Aerate your yard. Then add a half-inch of organic material (compost) across the top of your lawn. The compost will enter the soil and the aeration will help water and air to penetrate it (roots need air and water too).

Q. When is the best time to sod my lawn?

A. Springtime (April and May) or early fall (October) are the best times to lay sod. So, now’s a good time to resod. Remember to add organic material when you do resod.

Q. How often should I water my lawn in late spring and summer?

A. In The Woodlands served by Woodlands Water, residents can only water twice a week according to whether they have an odd or even address. However, that doesn’t mean you NEED to water twice a week. For 2017, experts and empirical data have indicated that, because of rain and high humidity, we needed to irrigate lawns only 12 weeks out of the entire year. And about half of that time, we didn’t need to irrigate more than one time during the week. The best way to gauge how much to irrigate is to have a rain sensor installed (they’re very inexpensive – about $20.) or install a Smart controller. Remember that Woodlands Water offers rebates for either of those.

Turfgrass Characteristics for The Woodlands

CharacteristicsSt. AugustineBermudaZoysia
Shade tolerance High Very low Low-medium
Water requirements Medium Low-medium Medium
Drought tolerance Good Very good Very good
Traffic tolerance Low High High
Cold tolerance Low High High
Disease tolerance High Low-medium High
Fertilizer needs Medium High Low-medium
New Years Resolutions to make your yard more lovely in the spring

New Years Resolutions to make your yard more lovely in the spring

By 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, Woodlands Water 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 www.woodlandswater.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 Woodlands Water 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

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.

Winter weeds start poking their heads up when the first string of warm days come in January or February. The best method to get rid of them is to simply pull them up and dispose of them in your green waste. Mowing them down before they seed also gets rid of them, but a grass catcher is necessary to keep the weeds from falling back onto the ground.

But weeds are ornery and persistent. Even in the most well-cared-for lawn, it’s probable that a few plantains and thistles are going to pop up. While “manufactured” herbicides may not be the best choice, there are a few products available to the environmentally conscious homeowner.

Agricultural vinegar is available at many garden stores. It is tried and tested and will destroy even the most persistent weeds. It even works on that super weed – nutsedge. Just be careful. Agricultural vinegar is much stronger than the normal white vinegar that most people keep in their kitchens. Wear gloves (preferably rubber gloves) when applying.

One application of agricultural vinegar eliminated a sizeable stand of nutsedge growing in the Alden Bridge Community Garden recently.  Ammoniated soap of fatty acid or potassium soap of fatty acid are also effective herbicidal treatments for weeds, though more effective on plantain, wood sorrel, and spurge.

Whether using vinegar or soap of fatty acid, it’s not necessary to spray a whole area. Simply spot spray each weed.  A spray bottle works well.

While corn gluten has been touted as a great pre-emergent herbicide, but there seems to be some disagreement as to its ability to suppress weeds. It’s also extremely expensive.

Whatever method residents use, creating a healthy lawn is an ongoing process, not an isolated event.

The Woodlands Water Agency

The Woodlands Water Agency

2455 Lake Robbins Dr
The Woodlands TX 77380
281-367-1271

Information

For billing, customer service, new service and service disconnections:
billingdepartment@woodlandswater.org

For all other inquires:
information@woodlandswater.org

Hours of Operation:
8:00am to 5:00pm Mon-Fri

For Emergency call
281-367-1271

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11 IMPORTANT NOTICES (Updated 7/8/2021, 11:19am) - View