Best lawn practices

Our love affair with lawns

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.

More than 80 million pounds of pesticides , herbicides  and chemical fertilizers are sprayed on grass in the U.S. annually.

The typical homeowner in The Woodlands spends about $363 per year on their lawn and gardens. That amounts to about $12,000,000 per year – a sizeable sum. The amount spent on lawns in the U.S. exceeds $50 billion making lawn care a significant industry.

Gas mowers emit just as much pollution per hour as 11 cars.

A single healthy grass plant has almost 400 miles of roots. That’s about the distance from The Woodlands to San Antonio and back.

A typical lawn will have about six grass plants per square inch. Some lawns may have millions of grass plants.

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

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:

  • Lawns— One half-inch of water once a week is sufficient for lawn survival and modest growth.
  • Groundcover, perennials and shrubs— Plants like jasmine, ivy, salvias, lantana, roses, yaupons and hollies do well with twice a month watering in the absence of rain. The amount is never to exceed ¾ inch (or ½ gallon) per square foot, per watering event.
  • Trees— established native and adapted non-native trees rarely need any supplemental irrigation. If a month significantly lacks normal rainfall then the recommendation is 1 ¼ inch per square foot, or about 1 gallon per square foot, once a month.
  • Palms— Established palms only need water twice a year at most.

The purpose of appropriate watering schedules and amounts is to produce healthy plants and low water bills. Plants need both water and oxygen to thrive and grow. Too much of either results in poor performance.

Brown Patch isn’t Brown Patch anymore!

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.

Large Patch will infect the grass in the fall and winter when soil temperatures go below 70°F, but it usually doesn’t become evident until things warm up again in the spring.

This disease is caused by excess nitrogen (too much fertilizer), poor soil drainage (compacted soil), closely mown grass and, of course, over-irrigation. Taking care of these four problems will go a long way toward preventing Large Patch.

If you do recognize Large Patch in the lawn before spring, it’s probably best to do nothing until the grass starts to green up. If remedying the situations above haven’t worked, there are organic methods to slowing and eliminating most of the infection. Copper bonide, and several bacteriologic strains may help.

However, remember that Large Patch is forever present in the soil. Improper soil and lawn practices -  cutting grass too short, overirrigating the lawn, applying too much fertilizers and poor soil drainage are prime reasons for fungal attacks on the lawn. Planting winter rye is another reason. Warm season grasses need one inch or less of water per week to thrive. If it rains, then it needs even less. And warm season grasses are dormant and turn yellow in the winter, so they usually don’t need to be watered at all.

If you do suspect you have Large Patch, the best thing to do it to have it identified by an expert. Michael Potter, the Montgomery County horticulture agent for the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service (9020 Airport Road, Conroe) is a turf grass specialist and can diagnose the problem.

Aerate your lawn to keep it healthy and lush

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.

Lifeless Soil

Insects, disease and weeds thrive on barren soil. Fungus infections, chinch bugs and other pests attack shallow-rooted grass. Roots struggle to penetrate the compacted soil. They become weak and thin. The beneficial organisms which help process nutrients for the turf and decompose organic material cannot survive in such an environment. 

Instead of growing lushly, turf will focus energy on simply surviving. Without moisture, air flow and organisms, it eventually loses the battle. Then the homeowner is forced to resod.


The best practice to combat compacted soil is to aerate followed by a top dressing of organic matter. This allows oxygen, nutrients, micro-organisms and moisture to penetrate the soil. Aeration involves removing plugs of soil at intervals. Top dressing with organic matter (compost) and water or rake it in. This will help the compost to filter down into the holes.

How to aerate

It’s much better to remove the plugs of soil than to simply spike the soil. Spiking simply compacts the sides of the holes. Aerators come in different configurations. Several are simply hand tools resembling garden forks. However, instead of solid tines, they have small cylinders which remove plugs of soil. Some come with hose attachments. These add water to the hole at the same time they are taking plugs out. There are push aerators, which resemble reel lawnmowers, and larger ones with gasoline engines that power themselves. There are also professional landscaping companies which have large industrial aerators. Some outlets rent aerators.

Organic matter and fertilizer

After aeration, add organic matter. Simply spread ½ inch of compost over the turf and either rake or water it in. A 1,000 square-foot lawn needs about 1.5 cubic yards of compost.

Fertilize lightly. Too much fertilizer, or fertilizer with too much nitrogen, can actually harm turf grass by attracting insects that feed on the grass, or damaging the lawn with high levels of mineral salts It will also cause a high flush of growth that can lead to fungal diseases.

Weed and feed products also stresses turf, especially St. Augustine. These can also damage tree roots.  It’s also a waste of money. Herbicides need to be applied in late winter, while fertilizer should be applied in late spring. Using them both at the same time wastes one or the other.

April Lawn Care

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:

Irrigating Turf

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.

Caring for trees

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.

Apply water slowly and infrequently. Sprinkler watering not only loses significant amounts of water through evaporation, but wets bark at the base of the tree, increasing possible damage from disease and pests.

Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation instead of sprinklers.  Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems allow water to penetrate slowly into the ground, getting the maximum amount of water to the tree roots where they are needed and minimizing waste.

How much to water.  Insert a soil moisture meter into the soil about halfway between the trunk and the drip line. If the meter reads “moist” or “wet,” then stop watering.  These meters are inexpensive and can be purchased at nurseries, online and big box stores. Alternately, use a six-inch screwdriver. Insert the screwdriver into the soil at the same place as you would the moisture meter. If it goes in up to the handle,  the tree needs no water.

How to water. Run a drip or soaker hose around the tree, starting at the drip line of the tree (at the end of the farthest branches).  Stop at four to five feet from the trunk.

Organic mulch. Organic mulch helps keep moisture in the soil, and helps protect the roots from high temperatures. Spread it three inches deep but keep the mulch at least a foot from the base of the tree.

For more information, see the Texas Forestry Service article on tree irrigation.

The Woodlands Water Agency

The Woodlands Water Agency

2455 Lake Robbins Dr
The Woodlands TX 77380


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