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Colder Weather Dampens Need to Irrigate Lawns

Colder weather dampens need to irrigate lawns

Most lawns in The Woodlands consist of St. Augustine grass – a warm-season grass that goes dormant in the fall and winter. The grass starts to turn a little yellow and the intuitive thing to do is to add more water. In fact, irrigation during the fall and winter has the potential to do more harm than good.

In colder months, therefore, St. Augustine requires little or no watering. Soil-borne diseases, such as take-all patch, brown patch and others generally take hold in overwatered lawns during the winter, although the damage is not usually seen until late spring or summer. Additionally, dollar weed and sedges thrive in wet soil during winter, only to create an unsightly mess when they emerge in the spring.

Here are some guidelines that residents can use to assure strong healthy lawns:

Irrigation

Beginning in October through March, add no or very little water to your lawn. St. Augustine is dormant during the fall and winter. Begin watering every two weeks in April. From May to September, water twice a week in compliance with the Defined Irrigation Schedule now in effect.

Mowing

Set mower heights to the highest setting. Mow only once or twice a month during the winter months. In April, mow twice, and then mow every five to seven days through September. Some residents only mow twice a month during the summer months to encourage grass to produce more food for a stronger root system.

Aerate

Just before you add compost, aerate the lawn.

Compost

Add 1/2 to 3/4 inch of compost to your lawn every April and October. This will increase the organic material in your soil, promote beneficial microorganisms, and help grass grow deeper roots.

Fertilize

Fertilize in spring with a well-balanced fertilizer.

Sodding

Best times to sod are March through June. Worst times are August and September, which are historically the hottest and the driest months. Optimal growing time for St. Augustine (and therefore the optimal time to resod) is spring through early summer.

Dethatching

Well- maintained St. Augustine does not need dethatching, regardless what anyone tells you. A high microbic and macrobiotic presence in good soil will solve that problem. If you feel you absolutely must dethatch, do so only from the middle of April through the middle of June. St. Augustine grass grows horizontally and has a lot of horizontal aboveground stems. These stems are necessary to the plant’s health. Many people confuse this with “thatch,” and actually do more harm than good when they “dethatch,” which actually damages horizontal stems, stresses the plants and weakens the root systems.

Preparing your lawn for winter

Preparing your lawn for winter

10 reasons not to plant a winter lawn

As St. Augustine grass goes dormant in the fall, many homeowners over seed their lawns with winter rye. While winter rye does add a lush greenness to an otherwise dull lawn, homeowners may want to rethink this habit.

  1. Save water. Winer rye needs watering three times a day for the seed to germinate. Once established, ryegrass needs watering every three to four days. Dormant St. Augustine needs little or no water.
  2. Save money. In The Woodlands areas served by Woodlands Water, annual sewer rates are determined by the amount of water used during the winter months of December, January and February. This is typically when the least amount of water is used. The watering requirements for winter rye increases the amount of water used dung that period, thus raising sewer bills for the rest of the year. Additional costs include mowing, labor and cost of seed.
  3. Prevent fungal diseases. Although damage from take-all patch and brown patch becomes evident in late spring and summer, these diseases actually attack St. Augustine in the winter. Other fungal diseases like rust and powdery mildew are common in winter rye. Winter rye seed may be infected with one or more of these fungal diseases. Irrigation during the winter actually encourages these to infect and damage the lawn.
  4. Save on fertilizers. Augustine does not require fertilization in the winter. Winter rye usually does.
  5. Prevent pests from infecting St. Augustine. Rye grass attracts army worms, wireworms and aphids, all of which can wreak havoc with St. Augustine. Many of these insects can overwinter in the topsoil and return in spring to re-infest the lawn.
  6. No need to scalp lawns. Planting winter rye usually means scalping the lawn first. The problem here is that St. Augustine should NEVER be scalped. St. Augustine spreads by above-ground stolons. Scalping severely damages the plant.
  7. Decrease noise pollution. While some enjoy the droning of mowers and blowers, these noises may not be the most welcome sound while sitting in the backyard on a mild winter day.
  8. Preserve the quality of water. We don’t live in a vacuum. Foregoing the planting of winter rye means less fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides will be used. A significant portion of water pollution of our streams and waterways comes from runoff of these products.
  9. Give your St. Augustine a break! over seeding with winter rye can be very stressful for St. Augustine. Scalping the lawn to plant ryegrass stresses it. In spring, rye competes with St. Augustine for water and nutrients, further weakening it.
  10. Save time and frustration. Seed germination problems, diseases, irrigation, fertilizing, noise, stress to the grass and to the homeowner, are additional reasons to forego winter rye.
Watering lawns in fall and winter

Watering lawns in fall and winter

When grass begins to turn yellow or brown in fall and winter, it’s not a sign that it’s dying. Turning color is a sign that the grass is going dormant.

Yes, the roots are still alive. In good soil, those roots will be digging their way deep into the soil to get water and nutrients. But good soil is another story.

In late spring and summer months, local grasses need no more than an inch of water a week. Not so in the fall and winter.

The average rainfall in the cooler months in Montgomery County, Texas ranges from 5.4 inches in October to about 3.18 inches in February, more than enough to supply the minimum amount of water that local grasses need during the dormant season.

The statistics are pretty clear: October receives an average of 5.46 inches per month; November, 4.76; December, 4.09; January, 4.22; February, 3.18, and March, 3.03. That is more than enough water to satisfy the needs of lawns. Even most landscape plants can thrive on that much water, unless they are native to tropical rainforests (which would be most out of place in The Woodlands).

Take October for example, with an average rainfall of 5.4 inches. That’s approximately 1.35 inches per week. That’s much more than St. Augustine requires, especially in the fall. On a 4,000 square foot lawn, that much rainfall equates to 3,370 gallons of water. In a month, that becomes over 13,000 gallons of rain. On a small lawn, that comes to almost $40 in savings on your water bill for one month.

Refraining from sprinkler irrigation in the cooler months can also help lower sewer bills. Many Municipal Utility Districts (and all in The Woodlands) calculate sewer charges based on the average water used by a customer in December, January and February. That average sets the monthly sewer charge. By not irrigating during those months, a resident can save more money.

Of course, it may not rain each and every week. Some residents see that possibility as a problem. Assuming soil has high amount of organic nutrients, much of the rain that falls can be captured in the ground where its use can be extended. That also results in much less runoff, as well.

Learning the Basics of Water-Wise Landscaping

Learning the basics of water-wise landscaping

Water-wise gardening simply means using good common sense. It reduces irrigation needs, lowers water bills, lowers maintenance and provides a much higher quality and worry-free landscape. Here are some general guidelines for establishing one:

  1. Planning and design – Take some time to look at your yard. You may even want to make a drawing of it. What would you like to change? Less lawn and more ornamental beds? More native plants?
  2. Analyze and amend soil – Without good fertile soil, you cannot have an attractive, water-wise landscape. Texas A&M Soil Science Laboratory in College Station will test your soil for a small fee. Contact the local Texas Agrilife Extension Service in Conroe (936-539-7824) to find out how to do this. Then follow the instructions on the subsequent report and amend your soil accordingly.
  3. Efficient irrigation – Use the cycle and soak method to irrigate your landscape. If you have ornamental beds, install drip irrigation in them. It saves an amazing amount of water, creates little or no evaporation, and the water goes directly to the roots of the plants.
  4. Appropriate plant selection – Use native and adapted plants which do well in our area whenever you can. The Woodlands Township’s Environmental Services Department has produced a large number of brochures on plants. Take advantage of this valuable service.
  5. Mulch – Mulch keeps plant roots cool, prevents soil from crusting, minimizes evaporation and reduces weed growth. Apply two to four inches deep on ornamentals and trees
  6. Practical lawn areas – Many homeowners are realizing that they don’t need large expanses of turf grass and are decreasing the sizes of their grassy lawns. Some have switched over to grasses with lower water needs (such as zoysia).
  7. Proper maintenance – Have your irrigation system checked by The Woodlands Water Irrigation System Evaluation team, a free service offered by Woodlands Water. Register for a free inspection at http://www.woodlandswater.org.

Woodlands Landscaping Solutions, slated for Saturday, September 27, is an excellent place to learn about water-wise techniques and innovative landscaping designs. Call 281-210-3800 for more information.

It’s all about stewardship

It’s all about stewardship

Why are we still on water restrictions even though the drought is over?

The Defined Irrigation Schedule, which restricts in–ground irrigation to no more than two days a week, has nothing to do with drought. In fact, it was instituted in 2013, well after the drought was over.

So if it is not about drought, what is it about?

Simply, it’s about being responsible stewards of a vital resource and trying to ensure there is enough water for future generations.

We’ve got plenty of water. The lakes and bayous are full. It’s been raining all the time. Why are the MUDs and Woodlands Water concerned about water conservation?

We currently have approximately 500,000 people in Montgomery County. We have been permitted to pump water from the Jasper and Evangeline aquifers at a rate of about 84,000 acre feet a year. That’s about 30 billion gallons. The combined two aquifers recharge at 64,000 acre feet a year (about 21 billion gallons). That’s a current deficit of about 20,000 acre feet or around 9 billion gallons. And large water volume users in the county (any group using 10 million gallons or more) are under mandate to reduce their usage by 30%. While The Woodlands, the City of Conroe and Oak Ridge North are some of the largest users, there are many more large users within the county.

But aren’t we now taking water from Lake Conroe? Shouldn’t that solve the problem?

Yes. It solves the current problem. But residents still need to look to the future. There are about 500,000 people in the county. By 2035, experts are saying that we will have close to a million here, and that population will continue to grow exponentially after that. Since public water providers are charged by the TCEQ to provide clean drinking water at just and reasonable prices for now and for the future, it’s important to find additional water. Experience from the rest of the country shows that by reducing water consumption by 30%, those billions of gallons can serve future generations. If regions burdened by drought now had the foresight to conserve water decades ago, they may not be having the problems they are having now.

How will restricting lawn irrigation to no more than two days a week help?

Of all the potable water used in The Woodlands (and throughout most of Montgomery County), at least 50% is used to irrigate lawns. In the summer, that can rise to 80% on peak days. Additionally, of all the water used to irrigate lawns, 50% of that is wasted, running off into the street and into storm sewers and ultimately to the Gulf. Lawn irrigation, not toilets or showers, is the largest waster of water by far.

Will this conservation program keep my water rates down?

Water prices will continue to rise across Texas, the nation and the world. We will never again see water prices as low as they are now. And we are still much lower than elsewhere. Cost for the equivalent of 10,000 gallons of water in Britain is about $96. In France, it is $120. Here the cost is approximately half that. Although conservation will help keep water prices from rising as rapidly as they might in other areas, the real value of conservation is to maintain an adequate supply of clean drinking water for our children and future generations.

Is Take-All Patch Ruining Your Lawn?

Is take-all patch ruining your lawn?

Take-all patch is a rampant disease in The Woodlands and can cause serious damage to lawns. Take-all patch forms roundish or irregular patterns of yellow grass, eventually turning to dead, brown grass.

What causes take-all patch?

The disease is caused by a fungus (Gaeumannomyces gramini). This fungus lives in the soil here. It can also arrive in already affected sod, or by landscape and lawn maintenance companies that move mowers from yard to yard without cleaning and sanitizing their equipment. Many people mistake take-all patch for chinch bug damage.

How does it get started?

Take-all patch, and its partner, brown patch, thrive in the following conditions:

  • Soils that tend to be wet and overwatered. In Southeast Texas, because of the high humidity and rainfall, fungus is the number one disease vector in plants.
  • Compacted soils. Try driving a six-inch screwdriver into the soil. If it goes in up to the hilt, the soil is probably not compacted. If it only goes in three inches, you have compacted soil. This is a very common problem in The Woodlands.
  • Low oxygen levels in the soil. Compacted soil that is overwatered drives out oxygen. Plant roots (and the microorganisms that support the roots) need oxygen to survive.
  • Low fertility or out-of-balance fertility. High nitrogen fertilizers can contribute to take-all patch.
  • Low amount of beneficial microbes and earthworms in the soil.
  • A high (above 6.0) pH in soil.

How can I prevent it?

Don’t overwater. Overwatering actually helps increase take-all patch. Water no more than one inch per week. One-half inch for each of the two days you can water under the Defined Irrigation Schedule. Here’s a website that can help you figure out how much you are irrigating now and if you need to cut back or increase: measure your sprinkler's water use watering gauges

Aerate your lawn twice a year. It allows air to flow into the soil, helps beneficial aerobic microbes to flourish, and helps grass roots grow deeper. The best times to aerate is just before you add organic material to your soil.

Add organic material to your lawn twice a year, immediately after aerating. The best time to add compost is in mid-October and early to mid-April. Basically, organic material is decayed organic matter, what some people call compost. Good organic compost can help disease repression, improve nutrient retention, improve soil structure , decompose toxic materials and help tie up and immobilize heavy metals.

Use a balanced, low nitrogen, preferably organic fertilizer on your lawn. Organic fertilizers are very low in salts and do not kill beneficial soil microbes. A slow-release organic fertilizer with a N-P-K ratio of 6-2-4, or 8-4-6 is best.

Use sulphur to lower the pH of the soil. It’s available at most nurseries and gardening centers. It comes in powdered or granulated form. There are also products like Actinovate, sold by a number of distributors . This product contains a bacteria that will kill the Take-All fungus.

The Woodlands Water Agency

The Woodlands Water Agency

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

Information

For billing, customer service, new service and service disconnections:
billingdepartment@woodlandswater.org

For all other inquires:
information@woodlandswater.org

Hours of Operation:
8:00am to 5:00pm Mon-Fri

For Emergency call
855-H2o-SAVE (855-426-7283)

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For billing, customer service, new service & service disconnections:
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8:00am to 5:00pm Mon-Fri

For Emergency call
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