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:
St. Augustine and Bermuda grass need an inch or less of water per week to thrive. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the grass needs to be watered every week. The average April rainfall for The Woodlands is 3.52 inches. Assuming the grass needs 4 inches of water per month, the grass only requires .48 of an inch from the irrigation system for the entire month. Since the grass is just coming out of dormancy, it probably doesn’t even need that extra half inch.
Incidentally, the averages for May is 4.54 inches; June, 5.55; July, 4.71; August, 4.35 and September, 5.26. With that kind of rainfall, the lawn actually needs no additional water from an irrigation system. A recent study from Frisco, Texas, indicated that there were only two weeks out of the year (late August) in which turf grass actually needed 1 inch of added water.
Healthy soil makes for healthy lawns
Soil beneath the grass should be full of living organisms: bacteria, beneficial fungi, nematodes, protozoa, earthworms and insects that aerate and convert nutrients for plants. Spreading ½ - ¾ inch of organic compost throughout the lawn in mid-April (and mid-October) encourages the proliferation of these organisms, increases the water-holding capacity of the soil, and helps create strong root systems. It will also discourage weeds and undesirable insects. Of course, adding compost to the lawn can take place anytime, but the best times are spring and fall.
Aerating the lawn before adding compost helps get the organic materials down into the soil. Hand-held aerators, pitchforks, larger, gasoline-powered machines or aeration services are all available.
Now’s also the time to fertilize. Add a balanced, preferably organic fertilizer. Be careful to use no more than the recommended amount. Spread it evenly according to directions. Many residents do not use fertilizers and depend on compost alone.
Well-cared-for St. Augustine grass never needs dethatching. In fact, dethatching can severely damage it.
Grass, just like every other plant, needs its leaves to photosynthesize food. This helps grass roots grow deep and strong, and more resistant to disease and pests. Cutting grass too short inhibits the plant from making food, shortens the root system, and may affect the life of the lawn. Raising the mower to the highest possible height keeps more of each blade on the plant. Dull mower blades shred the tops of the grass leaf, making it difficult for it to thrive and opens the plant to possible infections. A sharpened mower blade clips the grass cleanly, and allows it to heal much more quickly.