Best lawn practices

"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.

How much water are you putting on your lawn?

How much water are you putting on your lawn?

By Bob Dailey

You understand the reason for water awareness and conservation. You’re diligently following the Defined Irrigation Schedule mandated in 2013 for the 10 MUDs served by Woodlands Water. You receive the Woodlands Water’s weekly irrigation recommendations, and you want to follow those too.  (If you don’t receive the weekly email, you can sign up at

But the question remains: how long should I water to put 1” of water on my lawn? How long will it take to put ½ inch? After all, water pressure may vary, different types of sprinkler and rotor heads put out different volumes of water, and other factors may contribute to variations from household to household.

There are some sophisticated logarithms available, but unless you’re an engineer, you might have trouble applying them.

Don’t despair…there is an easy way to find out how much you are watering.

  1. Evenly space six or more straight-sided food containers (tuna cans, cat food cans, even small rain gauges) across a zone.
  2. Run your sprinkler system for 15 minutes.
  3. Measure the water in each can with a ruler.
  4. Add up all the measurements and divide that number by the number of cans. This will give you an average amount of water the system is putting out for 15 minutes.
  5. Multiply the average by 2 (15 minutes X 2 = 30 minutes). Round the final number out to the nearest ½ inch.
  6. This will give you an idea of how much water your sprinkler system is emitting in a half hour.

How to comply with the recommendations and still have a healthy lawn:

  1. If the recommendation is one inch per week, then water one-half inch on each of your Defined Irrigation Days.
  2. If the recommendation is ½ inch, water ¼ inch on each of your DIS days.
  3. If you have a programmable controller, then water each zone twice (cycle and soak method) each prescribed day for the same amount of time as shown in the chart.
People, pets and lawn chemicals

People, pets and lawn chemicals

By Bob Dailey

Most people in The Woodlands want a beautiful lawn and are willing to pay big bucks insuring lawns are lush and green.

In the endless process of having emerald expanses in front of homes, residents here spend millions on lawn beauty products -  pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers -  to achieve that special look.

With the rise in sales of lawn products, lawn problems also appear to be increasing. Many residents are mistakenly diagnosing lawn damage as disease, when misuse and overapplication of chemicals is the cause. And lawn care products can damage more than grass. Children, pets, and gardeners themselves can be poisoned by chemical misapplication. Here are some questions and answers about lawn care products:

  1. Are these products safe for humans and pets?

In the U.S., fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other toxins are only required to report the active ingredients in the product. They are not required to describe inert ingredients, which may include arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium and other metals. If kids and pets (and adults) spend a lot of time rolling around in the grass, they’re going to be exposed to these toxins. If you must use these products, do so in moderation and follow the labels explicitly. And do not allow pets and children onto the lawn until the material has been watered down thoroughly and at least 24 hours have passed.

  1. Are chemical products safe to apply?

Children should not take part in the application of either fertilizers or pesticides, and neither should pets. Adults should wear proper protection (gloves, long-sleeved shirts, hats, safety glasses, long trousers) when applying a chemical.

  1. Follow IPM practices.

IPM stands for Integrated Pest Management. Used and promoted by most agricultural universities in this country, IPM focuses on long-term prevention of pests and diseases. Using biological controls, best practices of soil and plant management, use of resistant varieties and changing of cultural practices. Pesticides and herbicides are used only as a last resort.

The Woodlands Water Agency

The Woodlands Water Agency

2455 Lake Robbins Dr
The Woodlands TX 77380


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