Best lawn practices

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.

Aeration

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.

Fertilizing

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.

Dethatching

Well-cared-for St. Augustine grass never needs dethatching.  In fact, dethatching can severely damage it.

Mowing

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.

"Cycle and Soak" Saves Money, Creates healthier grass

"Cycle and Soak" Saves Money, Creates healthier grass

By Bob Dailey

Untold thousands of gallons of drinking water pour onto the Woodlands streets (and into the storm sewers) during lawn irrigation for much of the growing season.

Much of that runoff is caused by running the irrigation zones too long. More water is being placed on the ground than the soil can absorb at any given time.

Using a “cycle and soak” method is a much more efficient way to irrigate lawns. It’s simple, will help save water, and will develop a healthier and more deeply-watered lawn. By getting water deeply into the soil, grass roots will grow longer and deeper, making the plants more resistant to disease, drought and insect damage.

Running each zone for 30 minutes, and then ending the irrigation event, doesn’t get the water down where it needs to be. And much of it runs off into the street. The “wetting front,” which is how far the water goes into the soil, will only be about two inches deep. That’s where the grass roots will stay, because there is no need for them to grow deeper.

To grow deeper roots and to keep the water on the lawn instead of on the street, reduce each zone to 7 minutes and run the cycle three times.  During each soaking, capillary action in the soil will extend the “wetting front” down to where it’s needed.

If there is a rain event, there may be no need to irrigate. In fact, installing a rain sensor will adjust your system to take into account the amount of rainfall – another easy way to save money and build a healthier lawn. Woodlands Water offers a 50% rebate (up to $150) for rain sensors and other water saving devices.

Residents are reminded that the Odd/Even Defined Irrigation Schedule is in effect.  Lawns need only an inch of water a week, and even less if it rains.

Earthworms: Free fertilizer for lawns

Earthworms: Free fertilizer for lawns

By Bob Dailey

“It may be doubted that there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as have these lowly organized creatures.”

-Charles Darwin, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms.  

The best method to judge the health of the soil beneath a lawn is to discover how many earthworms are present.

Earthworms can restore the hard pan of compacted dirt so prevalent in lawns. Their castings are rich in nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, three major elements necessary for plant growth and photosynthesis. Castings also contain magnesium, carbon, calcium – all very important plant nutrients. In just one year, a thousand earthworms (and their descendants) can transform one ton of organic waste into high-yield fertilizer.

Some important ways earthworms help transform the soil:

  • They tunnel through the soil, aerating it as they go.
  • Their channels also allow water to enter and penetrate the soil more quickly.
  • Grass roots can also grow better in soil loosened by earthworms, resulting in a deeper root system and healthier lawns.
  • Earthworms neutralize the soil, either lowering the alkalinity or raising the acidity. Turf grass likes soil nearer to the middle between acidic and alkaline.
  • Earthworms consume organic material (like thatch).
  • Worms can compost four times quicker than a well-managed composting bin.
  • A large population of earthworms helps control pests. Many soil-borne diseases are reduced significantly when earthworms are present.

How to attract earthworms:

  • Spread ¾ inch of organic material twice a year onto the lawn (mid-October and mid-April are the best times).   
  • Use a mulching lawnmower and let the clippings drop back onto the lawn. Earthworms will bring much of this material below ground to eat and digest.
  • Don’t use pesticides or use them in extreme moderation. Choose organic pesticides if necessary. Pesticides are indiscriminate and kill earthworms and other beneficial organisms.
  • Don’t use man-made chemical fertilizers. “Chemical” fertilizers contain sulfuric and hydrochloric acids which are deadly to earthworms. Few worms exist in soils treated with chemicals. Use organic fertilizers instead.

There is no need to add earthworms to your lawn. There are earthworms in the area and will be attracted to chemical-free, organic ally rich soil. And the turf grass will be well on its way to being healthy and green.

Use your lawn to harvest water

Use your lawn to harvest water

By Bob Dailey

With water prices rising, and the conservation of drinking water encouraged, new findings have discovered ways to save water, cut water bills, and save money on lawn care. How?  Make the lawn its own water harvesting device.

According to studies completed by Texas A&M, Michigan State University and Rodale Institute, adding organic matter to soil significantly increases its water-holding capacity. Scientists report that for every one percent of organic matter, a cubic foot of soil can hold roughly 1.5 quarts of water. A two percent increase allows that same soil to increase the volume of water to three quarts.  

The math is easy. If soil is made up of two percent organic matter, a 4,000 square foot lawn (about the average lawn size in The Woodlands) can hold at least 3,000 gallons of water. Residents and commercial establishments alike can use a simple and relatively inexpensive method to increase the water-holding capacity of the soil in turf grass areas.

The easiest and most inexpensive way of adding organic material to your lawn is simply to spread compost on it. Half to three-quarters of an inch of compost added on top of turf twice a year will work itself down into the soil.

In addition to providing abundant storage of water, organic material aids in preventing soil erosion, enhances drainage and irrigation and helps grass extract nutrients from the soil. Organic material also supplies additional nutrients to the soil as it decays, stabilizes the pH of the soil, and acts as a food source for beneficial microorganisms in the soil.

Finally, good water holding capacity of soil helps grass roots to grow deeply into the soil, keeping them healthy and strong and resistant to diseases. Strong healthy plants help minimize weeds and in many cases, eliminate them altogether, negating the use of herbicides.

For information on where to obtain good organic compost locally, residents can visit the following website: Organic composters in the Houston area or attend a composting class sponsored by The Woodlands Township and the Montgomery County Master Gardeners Association.

Good soil makes for good plants

Good soil makes for good plants

By Bob Dailey

A productive soil looks, well, healthy. It’s crumbly when you squeeze it in your hand. It will smell sweet – some say good soil smells like chocolate. It’s dark, full of organic matter. And healthy soil means healthy lawns.

Healthy soil will have a half million microbes in every gram. These microbes include bacteria, algae, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, microscopic insects and mites.

Microorganisms are essential to soil health. As they go through their life cycles, they help decompose organic compounds. They also help plants obtain nutrients by binding minerals in the soil and making them available to plants. These tiny organisms help improve soil structure, fight plant disease and insects, and, in the end, contribute their bodies to the overall organic matter in the soil. In fact, in an acre foot of soil, there may be 10,000 to 50,000 pounds of beneficial microbes.

In addition to microbes, there may be 10 or more earthworms in every square foot. In fact, earthworms are a good barometer of good, productive soil. Earthworms turn the soil, and convert organic material into nutrients for plants. A healthy earthworm population in an acre of soil can turn over eight tons of soil in a year. That’s a lot of work.

Good soil with five percent organic matter can hold almost two gallons of water per cubic foot of soil. A yard size of 1,000 square feet with that amount of organic matter can hold almost 2,000 gallons of water. This helps create longer root systems in grass plants and makes them more resistant to disease.

Using organic fertilizers and minimizing the application of chemical fertilizers can go a long way toward maintaining a healthy population of microbes and earthworms. Good, healthy soil is the secret to a good healthy lawn and garden.

The Woodlands Water Agency

The Woodlands Water Agency

2455 Lake Robbins Dr
The Woodlands TX 77380
855-H2o-SAVE (855-426-7283)

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For billing, customer service, new service & service disconnections:
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