by Bob Dailey
October is one of the best months to prepare your yard for winter. It’s also one of the best times to prevent diseases.
Most of the lawns in The Woodlands are sodded over compacted soil. St. Augustine and other warm season grasses thrive in soil that is alive – full of active organisms that create a soil food web, which is necessary for deep root systems and healthy, disease-resistant plants. A good way to discover whether or not soil is compacted is to drive a six-inch screwdriver into the soil. If it cannot penetrate more than a few inches, the soil is compacted. If it goes up to the hilt, the soil is healthier.
Take-all patch is a fungal infection that has destroyed or seriously damaged many yards in The Woodlands. Take-all fungus attacks grass in the cool winter months, but doesn’t show itself until spring or summer. Indications are yellowing patches in the lawn, which grow bigger and then turn light brown as the summer wears on. By the time it is noticed, the damage has already been done. Take-all patch fungus exists in the soil here. It may also be present in new sod, and can be carried from yard to year by lawn maintenance companies. Irrigating for too long with too much water, compacted soil and soil that has a higher pH gives fungi like take-all patch an opportunity to flourish. Take-all flourishes when the soil pH is above 6.5
Aerate in Mid-October
Plant roots and the organisms that support them need air and water to survive. If the soil is hard and compacted, air and water cannot penetrate, and root systems become short and stunted. Feeble roots cannot fight off diseases like take-all patch or brown patch or insects like chinch bugs. A number of aeration devices exist, from power aerators to hand-operated ones.
Add Organic material in Mid-October
Apply immediately after aerating. Organic material offers a plethora of benefits to the soil. Also known as compost, it suppresses lawn diseases like take-all patch, helps the soil retain nutrients, decomposes toxins that may exist in the soil, builds soil structure and greatly increase the soil’s water retention capabilities- thus requiring less irrigation water.
Checking the pH of the Soil
Everyone should have their soil tested. There are a number of soil test laboratories available, including the Texas A&M Soil, Water and Forage Testing Laboratory at Texas A&M. Take-all patch and other fungal diseases become active when the soil pH reaches 6.5 or above. Sulfur will help lower the pH of the soil, inhibiting fungal disease outbreaks. October is also a great time to put down sulfur. It’s available in pellet or powder form and is very inexpensive. Follow the instructions on the package.
October is a good time to fertilize. Use an organic, slow release fertilizer instead of a non-organic one with high salts. Salts kill beneficial soil organisms and increase alkalinity of soil.
Planting Winter Rye
Unless a love for higher water bills and a desire to damage St. Augustine lawns drives someone to planting winter rye, homeowner’s should shy away from this option for a number of reasons. First, winter rye requires an awful amount of water. Besides indicating a cavalier attitude about water conservation, sowing winter rye actually helps increase a homeowner’s monthly sewer bill. Since that bill is calculated on an average of winter month usage (the MUDs assume those are the lowest water use months), using more water in the winter pushes up sewer bills for the entire year. Additionally, St. Augustine requires a winter dormancy. Watering while the grass is dormant creates a great deal of problems.
Remember that the Odd/Even Defined Irrigation Schedule is still in effect. Water no more than an inch a week and less if it rains.