Category Archives: lawn care

Which turf grass is best


There are over 5,000,000 acres of turf grass grown along the Gulf Coast. All are warm-season turf grass, each with its own characteristics and its own pros and cons. Others, like buffalo grass – although considered a warm-season grass – do not do well in Gulf Coast lawns. There are, however, three types of grass which grow reasonably well here. (Lawn statistics for the Gulf Coast)

Bermuda grass

If you’re new to the area, and want to see what Bermuda grass looks like, go to the nearest sports field. Sports fields usually have one of two types of surfaces. One is artificial turf. The other is Bermuda grass. The chief advantage of this turf grass is it has few disease or insect problems and, although it is a warm-season grass, it is more cold tolerant than other warm- season grasses. However, the main requirement for Bermuda grass is that it needs full sun. It is also much more tolerant of traffic than other types.

One disadvantage is that it does not tolerate shade, it turns brown after the first frost. However, just because it turns brown after the first frost, it is still alive but dormant. It will return to green in the early spring. Many gardeners (including myself) despise Bermuda grass because it is aggressive, quickly invades garden beds and is a devil to remove.

Bermuda grass needs about one inch of water a week during the growing season (April-October). That includes rainwater. So, if it rains an inch this week, you don’t have to water it at all – good news on your water bill. In fact, the three warm-season grasses mentioned here go dormant in the winter. Here is an example of a lawn that has not been artificially watered in over 2 years.

St. Augustine grass

St. Augustine is the most commonly used turf grass along the Gulf Coast.It is relatively shade-tolerant and may remain green but dormant throughout most winters here. Like Bermuda grass, it does need a lot of water (about one inch a week). It is the most tolerant of salt water, which can be a boon during hurricane season.

This turf grass is susceptible to disease and insect damage, its two major disadvantages.

Zoysia

Zoysia grass is becoming more and more popular among residents along the Gulf Coast. It’s almost as shade-tolerant as St. Augustine and has few disease or insect problems, Zoysia also requires much less water than either St. Augustine or Bermuda grass and it tends to be more wear-resistant than either of the two other grasses.

A disadvantage is that it is the earliest turf to turn brown at the first frost. It is also the last to green up in the spring.

When to sod

Although theoretically, all three grasses can be sodded anytime, the very best times to sod are late October and early April. Those months are cooler than our hotter late spring and summer and allow the grass roots more time to grow without the stress of extremes of temperature. April is also the best time to aerate your lawn and add compost to it.

Where do those winter weeds come from and how do we control them?


Every winter and early spring along the Upper Gulf Coast, weeds begin appearing in even the best-maintained lawns. Chickweed, henbit, burweed, dandelion and other weeds, carried in by the wind, by birds, or merely lying in the soil for years until sprouting, begin their annual blight across our landscapes.

Whatever way they got there, our main concern is “how do we get rid of them?” Don’t despair. Homeowners have many choices to remove and eradicate these annoying plants.

Mow them down before they seed. Most of the weeds that appear in the lawn in late winter and very early spring can be destroyed completely by simply mowing them down before they form seeds. These weeds are annuals, like corn, tomatoes, begonias, petunias, nasturtiums and others – which means they only live for one year. They propagate their species by making seed and dropping it onto the ground in the spring. But if these plants are mown before they create seed heads, they cannot propagate. This is the least invasive method of getting rid of weeds in your garden.

Add organic material in spring and fall. Most lawns here are varieties of St. Augustine turf. St. Augustine is a very rugged, aggressive and durable warm-season grass. Healthy, strong, disease-free St. Augustine will eventually force out weeds. A quarter inch application of organic material, once in mid-October and another in mid-April will help the St. Augustine grass itself to eliminate the weeds.

Pull the weeds. Work-intensive and probably not the preferred method for homeowners and landscapers alike, this requires a lot of stooping, bending and kneeling. If one seeks a good workout, then this might be an acceptable method.

Pre-emergent herbicides. I do not recommend chemical herbicides. Herbicides containing benefin, trifluralin, isoxaben, pendimethalin and dithiopyr are effective as pre-emergents do work, but residents must be very careful in their use, read and follow instructions to the letter, avoid run-off (they can cause damage to both fresh and salt water marine life, as well as beneficial microbial life in the soil), and ensure that children and pets are not around when applying. Also, avoid tracking the material into the home. Wash clothes worn during application and run the washing machine empty immediately after washing those clothes.  If the above doesn’t scare you or at least get your attention, then you should probably read Rachel Carlson’s book, Silent Spring.

Let the weeds grow. Although neighbors and covenants would probably object, the adage of “one man’s weed is another man’s flower” does have a certain charm.  And, as Emerson said: “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”

Lawns need little care now


With Christmas right around the corner and the National Weather Service predicting a cooler- and wetter-than-average winter for the Gulf Coast region, the next few months might be the perfect time to sit before the fire with a good book and a warm drink.

During the cooler weather, you might have to take some of your more subtropical and tropical potted plants indoors, but you shouldn’t have to worry about your lawn.

Lawn Dormancy

Warm season grass goes dormant during the cooler months.That doesn’t mean it is dead. It does mean that the grass blades turn yellowish or even brown during the winter months. That’s because the grass plants are shifting their growth from above to below the ground. This is when St. Augustine and other warm season turf grasses build their root systems. Good root systems built during the cooler months mean stronger and more disease and pest-resistant plants in the spring.

Good soil practices

Taking care of your lawn is a process. We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t put a $10 plant into a $1 hole.” What that means is that for any plant – turf grass included – the soil must be fertile, full of beneficial microbes, and must provide a nutritious environment for plants to generate new roots and expand existing root systems. To create good soil conditions, homeowners must make sure that the soil beneath their lawn is healthy.

Since increased precipitation is expected, there should be little or no reason to water lawns during the winter and early spring (late February and early March along the Gulf Coast). In fact, last year, our systems indicated that lawns needed no irrigation during the entire winter period.

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.

  • Save water. Winter 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.
  • Save money. In much of the area, 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.
  • 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.
  • Save on fertilizers. St. Augustine does not require fertilization in the winter. Winter rye usually does.
  • Prevent pests from infecting St. Augustine. Rye grass attracts army worms, wire worms 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

No irrigation for 11 months? Impossible!


Take a look at this lawn in the photo. Located outside the WJPA building on Lake Robbins Drive, in The Woodlands, Texas this lawn has not received irrigation – except for rainwater for the last 11 months. The only water this lawn has received is from rain.

How is that possible? Good lawn practices, proper (and inexpensive) care of the soil under the turf, and only a small bit of organic fertilizer.

Here’s how it was done:

The lawn receives about an inch of compost per year. Two compost applications (each a one-half inch deep), made in October and early April, help add organic material to the soil, as well as adding essential microorganisms that assist grass roots to grow and resist disease. Once a year, again in April, a scattering of organic fertilizer is spread on the lawn.

The lawn is mowed weekly between April and the first of October. From the beginning of October, through the end of March, mowing is discontinued.

No large patch, take-all patch, sooty mold or insect problems are present.  Because of that, no herbicides, fungicides or pesticides are used or needed.

According to recent studies, soil with sufficient organic matter (about five percent of the total mass) can three quarts or more of water per cubic foot. Instead of rolling off the surface of the soil when it rains, the soil absorbs much of it. This makes the soil under the turf into a passive rainwater catchment, which grass roots can access during dryer periods.

Water stored in the soil, added to increased permeability of the soil because of the organic matter, allows grass roots to grow deeply and strong, enhancing the turf’s ability to withstand disease and pests.

This healthy lawn signifies what is possible with a small amount of work at low cost, without depending on purchased water or expensive lawn treatments.

Questions residents have about lawn care


Q. I have trees in my yard, and the grass doesn’t want to grow well under them. What can I do?                                                                                                                                   A. Remember that grass is a plant too, and requires sunlight to convert energy to food. Of all the turf grasses that are adaptable to southeast Texas and south Louisiana, St. Augustine grows best in shaded areas. However, if it can’t get any sunlight at all, it will cease to grow under your trees. If your grass is getting thin in under-tree areas, you might think of hiring an arborist to do some minor pruning on your trees to allow more sunlight in.

QIs now the right time to use a “weed and feed” product?                                                  A. NO time is the right time to use weed and feed products. The proper time to apply the pre-emergence herbicide used in this product is before the weeds begin to grow…late February to early March. The proper time to fertilize or “feed” turf is mid-April. Applying them both at the same time is a waste of time and money. Applying “weed and feed” too early, and the fertilizer is dissipated or leached out of the soil by the time the grass needs it. Applying it too late, and the “weed” part has no purpose, because the weeds have already emerged and seeded.

Q.Why is the soil under my lawn rock hard?                                                                              A.Too much water, too many salt-based fertilizers and pesticides, too little organic matter in the soil are primary causes of hard soil. It has become compacted, making it harder for grass roots to penetrate. Pull up a handful of grass, roots and all. If the roots are shorter than three inches, your soil is too hard for the roots. Good St. Augustine, for instance, can grow roots as deep as at least six feet.

Q.What can I do to fix this?                                                                                                          A. Aerate your yard. Then add a half-inch of organic material (compost) across the top of your lawn. The compost will enter the soil and the aeration will help water and air to penetrate it (roots need air and water too).

Q. When is the best time to sod my lawn?                                                                      A.Springtime (April and May) or early fall (October) are the best times to lay sod. So, now’s a good time to resod. Remember to add organic material when you do resod.

Q. How often should I water my lawn in late spring and summer?                                        A. St. Augustine needs only one inch of water weekly, and even less if it rains. However, that doesn’t mean you NEED to water twice a week. For 2017, experts and empirical data have indicated that, because of rain and high humidity, we needed to irrigate lawns only 12 weeks out of the entire year. And about half of that time, we didn’t need to irrigate more than one time during the week. The best way to gauge how much to irrigate is to have a rain sensor installed (they’re very inexpensive – about $20.) or install a Smart controller.

More lawn information


I’m not an enemy of lawns, but I do think there are better, more aesthetic, and responsible landscaping methods that many of us haven’t thought out.

Texas was once part of America’s breadbasket. Farms reflected the epitome of rural life in this nation. But things have changed. And not necessarily for the better.

Here in Texas, lawns far surpass any other crop. There are approximately 3,260,000 acres of lawns here. Running a far second is cotton, which has 1,230,000 acres under cultivation. Corn acreage is estimated at 749,000 acres while sorghum is around 708,000 acres. Lawn acreage exceeds wheat by almost 7 times.

Texas isn’t the only area where lawns exceed food and textile crops.

Based on a study conducted by ScienceLine, a division of New York University, more than 40.5 million acres of green grass carpets in the U.S., far outpacing corn, which stands at about 10 million acres, alfalfa at 6.2 million acres, soybeans at 5.32 million acres and orchards, vineyards and nut trees at 4.1 million acres.

And where we have plants, we need water. Americans use about 59.6 million acre-feet of water every year on our lawns. That’s almost 2 trillion gallons of water. In comparison, water used for all major crops in the U.S. totals 42 million acre feet, or about 134 billion gallons.

In The Woodlands, during peak summer usage, residents can use about 150 million gallons a month, just for lawn irrigation.

There is progress though. Woodlands residents have significantly reduced their overall usage by about 30%. While there are still some recalcitrant homeowners (and businesses), most have heeded the call for water conservation.

To put things in perspective, the average cable television bill in The Woodlands is north of $100, as is the average electric bill. We can live without cable tv (although I have the service), and we could live without electricity (although that would be extremely uncomfortable and inconvenient). However, none of us can live more than two or three days without water. At less than one cent per gallon, it’s still the best bargain in town.

Beware the attack of the winter lawn weeds


While winter-dormant St. Augustine lawns have yellowed, something is going on under the soil.

Winter weeds are beginning to germinate. And a lot of weeds do well here. Plantain weed, nutsedge, henbit, spurge, purslane, chickweed, and thistle are a few of the unwanted guests that plague our lawns in late winter and early spring.

Don’t despair. St. Augustine is the best weed-suppressing grass there is, followed only by Zoysia. Both are aggressive plants and, if properly maintained, will keep the weeds to a minimum, if not entirely eliminate them.

Weeds do like compacted, poorly-drained soil, bereft of available minerals, nutrients and organisms.

Residents who apply organic matter to lawns in mid-fall and mid-spring have already established a strong defense against weeds. And although these are ideal times to spread organic matter, anytime is okay.  Aerating the lawn before adding organic matter is another step in the weed war. The organic matter helps soil to drain, and simultaneously holds enough water to establish a strong root system, and is the first and most important step in having a beautiful lawn.

Winter weeds start poking their heads up when the first string of warm days come in January or February. The best method to get rid of them is to simply pull them up and dispose of them in your green waste. Mowing them down before they seed also gets rid of them, but a grass catcher is necessary to keep the weeds from falling back onto the ground.

But weeds are ornery and persistent. Even in the most well-cared-for lawn, it’s probable that a few plantains and thistles are going to pop up. While “manufactured” herbicides may not be the best choice, there are a few products available to the environmentally conscious homeowner.

Agricultural vinegar is available at many garden stores. It is tried and tested and will destroy even the most persistent weeds. It even works on that super weed – nutsedge. Just be careful. Agricultural vinegar is much stronger than the normal white vinegar that most people keep in their kitchens. Wear gloves (preferably rubber gloves) when applying.

One application of agricultural vinegar eliminated a sizeable stand of nutsedge growing in the Alden Bridge Community Garden recently.  Ammoniated soap of fatty acid or potassium soap of fatty acid are also effective herbicidal treatments for weeds, though more effective on plantain, wood sorrel, and spurge.

Whether using vinegar or soap of fatty acid, it’s not necessary to spray a whole area. Simply spot spray each weed.  A spray bottle works well.

While corn gluten has been touted as a great pre-emergent herbicide, but there seems to be some disagreement as to its ability to suppress weeds. It’s also extremely expensive.

Whatever method residents use, creating a healthy lawn is an ongoing process, not an isolated event.

5 Lawn watering myths debunked!


There’s nothing like sitting in the backyard, cool drink in hand, smelling the sweet aroma of freshly-mowed grass. Through the years, gardeners learn about lawns – how to care for them, how to make them lush and green, and how to keep them healthy. But along with the good information passed on, there might be some incorrect and misleading data.

Here are some myths about good lawn care, and some practices that can improve the health of lawns while lowering overall lawn care costs:

Myth 1: If watering a little is good for lawns, then watering a lot must be better.

Too much water on lawns actually encourages grass to produce shorter and weaker root systems. In turn, weak roots are more susceptible to diseases and insect damage. Too much water will also kill beneficial organisms in the soil. And, since heavy watering can also promote fungal infections, over-irrigation creates a bundle of problems.

Lawns should receive about an inch of water every 7 to 10 days. That includes rainwater. Rain sensors can tell the gardener how much water has fallen in a given period of time. If, for instance it has rained a half an inch in the last week, then grass should receive only a half-inch of water that week through irrigation.

Myth 2: Automatic sprinkler systems save money and time.

Often, automatic sprinkler systems without rain sensors attached actually waste water (and thus money). It’s common in Montgomery County to see water running into the storm sewer from an overactive sprinkler system. And it’s not uncommon to see sprinklers running while rain is falling.

Myth 3: Manually operated sprinkler systems are the only way to go.

If the sprinkler heads are misdirected or damaged, the water may be going to the wrong place anyway. Whether a system is automated or manually operated, it still should be inspected by a licensed irrigator to make sure it is still operating properly. Many MUD districts offer free inspections by licensed irrigators.

Myth 4: Grass will dry out and die if it is not watered every day or every other day.

Grass doesn’t need to be watered every day or every other day. If it starts to curl, or keeps the impression of a footprint, it is time to water. (See Myth 1.)

Myth 5: Watering too much only wastes a tiny bit of water.

Fifty to 75 percent of all drinking water used in municipalities goes to watering lawns and gardens. In dry summer months that can increase to 80 percent or more. The amount wasted can be enormous. As population grows, more and more water is being drawn out of underground aquifers more quickly than the aquifers can recharge. Above ground reservoirs also become stressed.

Irrigating wisely helps create healthy lawns, conserves water, and saves money. Here are some helpful tips for watering.

Here’s what you should do instead

Minimize watering

This forces the grass to grow long, healthy roots, helping the plant with disease resistance. It also helps the grass during periods of drought, because deep root systems can store plant nourishment and water. Stronger roots can also seek water from the soil more easily. Adding too much water may help increase nitrous oxide emissions from lawns. Nitrous oxide is a dangerous greenhouse gas.

Too many people watering too much have a cumulative effect. The more water put onto a lawn requires pumps to work longer, thus increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

Leave grass clippings on the lawn

Grass clippings increase carbon storage in the soil by almost 60 percent. It also adds the nitrogen from the tips of the grass back into the soil. It saves time and money. Additionally, it promotes continuous root growth and decreases need for fertilizers.

Mow high

Don’t “crew cut” a lawn. When grass shoots are taller, they help create a healthy root system. Healthy root systems mean less watering. Grass should be cut at three inches or higher. Keep mower blades sharp so it cuts the grass keenly. This reduces a plant’s water loss and stress.

Water the lawn in the coolest part of the day

This minimizes evaporation and reduces stress.

Following some or all of these tips can lead to a healthier, more disease-resistant lawn, possibly saving money, time and water in the long run.

via New Tab.