By Bob Dailey
It’s hot and your lawn might be looking a little peaked. The first response is to turn on the irrigation system and soak that turf with water.
Remember though, good soil can only hold so much water (about three quarts per cubic yard). Once the soil is saturated, any excess runs off into the street, then the storm drain, out into Lake Woodlands, Spring Creek, the San Jacinto River and finally to the Gulf of Mexico.
If the soil under the grass is compacted and devoid of organic material, then any water is just going to run off into the street and go the way of all excess water in The Woodlands – that is, the Gulf. You’ve just spent a whole lot of dollars adding fresh water to Galveston Bay.
Of course, there is always the option not to water at all. The lawn in front of the Water Resources building (2455 Lake Robbins Drive) has not been irrigated with anything but rainwater for the last two years, and it’s lush and thriving. The reason is the soil underneath the grass is rich in organic matter, added there once or twice a year, which allows the soil to soak up excess water and store it within the top 12 inches. That helps the grass to develop deep root systems.
Here’s another way to help your lawn look great and save you money at the same time. To visualize this, find an area with dry, hard, compacted soil. Pour a glass of water onto it. What happens? The water rolls off the soil and away from the dry spot. Now, very slowly pour the water in droplets onto the soil? See what happens? The water begins to soak into the soil. The water is soaking into the soil by capillary action. If you’re running your sprinkler system for 10 minutes each zone, drop it down to five minutes each zone, run the entire cycle, and then run it again for another five minutes. You’ll be surprised at how well this works.
Finally, remember that the Defined Irrigation Schedule, begun in June 2013, is still in effect. Lawns irrigated by sprinkler systems can be watered no more than two nights per week – never during the day without a variance. Addresses ending in even numbers can only water on Wednesday and Saturday nights, and odd numbers can only water on Tuesday and Friday nights, from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following morning. There are no plans to halt the Defined Irrigation Schedule. Hand-held hoses or hose-end sprinklers and drip irrigation are allowed anytime.
By Bob Dailey
There’s plenty of water in the world…just not where we want and need it. The massive Oglala Aquifer, the largest in North America, furnishes water to our nation’s breadbasket, irrigating millions of acres of corn, wheat and other foods. That aquifer is currently 50% depleted – and this has happened in the last 50 years. What will happen in the next 50?
Our own aquifers have seen major drawdowns as well – so much so that there has been land subsidence in the southern part of Montgomery County. Harris County to our south has fared less well. Some places in Harris County have subsided 15-plus feet…a direct result of aquifer drawdown. In fact, Harris and Galveston Counties have been concerned enough to form the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District, to monitor any further subsidence in the area.
The subsidence here is not serious …yet. But there are areas near The Woodlands which have fallen a foot or more in the last two or three decades. Not the 15-feet drops we see in Houston, but worthy of concern, nevertheless.
Harris County solved their problem by setting up a treatment plant on Lake Houston. A master plan is already in progress to pump treated lake water to most residents in Harris – no mean feat.
In Montgomery County, far-sighted officials have already built out a water treatment plant at Lake Conroe, and lake water is available to all municipalities. This water is helping the aquifers to recover their supply of water, and to help halt subsidence in the county.
The availability of lake water takes care of needs now, but elected officials are not only responsible for current populations, but future populations. While there are additional options for new water sources – desalination, it will be costly and only available for those areas and individuals who can afford it. And new reservoirs are also a possibility (except for the constant “NIMBY” which means,” yes of course I want new reservoirs, but Not In My Back Yard. “
The best solution is conservation. And residents here are accomplishing that. We have become an example for the rest of the state to follow.
By Bob Dailey
Green lawns are attractive. Keeping them attractive is not much of a problem if you follow a few simple rules.
The Don’t Bag It program was developed by the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension back in the late 1980s and proved conclusively that collecting clippings was a waste of time and landfill space. There are, however, more reasons to mulch instead of bagging grass clippings.
The tops of grass blades contain high amounts of nitrogen – an important nutrient for grass. Leaving grass clippings on the ground instead of bagging them adds this nitrogen back into the soil. That process lessens the lawns need for extra fertilizer. This process won’t meet the full requirements of fertilization, but it will significantly reduce the amount of fertilizer you need.
Mulching mowers slice and dice the grass into tiny pieces that fall into the lawn and decompose quickly. They also help conserve soil moisture while they’re decomposing (thus the name “mulch”). Plus, mulching helps the lawn survive drought stress by helping the soil retain water.
Contrary to what some people say, thatch is not a problem for most lawns in The Woodlands (or elsewhere along the upper Gulf Coast. In fact, it is almost impossible for thatch to develop in St. Augustine and Bermuda grasses.
A common problem with all types of lawn grasses in The Woodlands. Increase the mowing height. That increases the surface areas of the grass blades, so they can receive more sunlight. Remember that grass, like any other plant, needs sunlight to produce food, so allowing the blades to grow taller in the shade enables them to gather in more sunlight.
The mowing height has a direct effect on root systems. Set your mower height at the highest level to maintain at least 3 inches of grass. Deep grass roots promote a healthier lawn. Healthy turf can resist disease, insect damage and stress.
By Bob Dailey
There are 4,000,000 acres of turf grass grown in Texas and many species, each with its own characteristics and its own pros and cons. Some are cool-season grasses and they do better in north and northwest Texas. Others, like buffalo grass - although considered a warm-season grass - do not do well in southeast Texas lawns. There are, however, three which grow reasonably well here.
If you’re new to the area, and want to see what Bermudagrass looks like, go to the nearest soccer field. Soccer fields in The Woodlands have two types of surfaces: one is artificial turf. The other is Bermudagrass. The chief advantage of this turf grass is it has few disease or insect problems and it is cold-tolerant. However, the main requirement for Bermudagrass is that it needs full sun.
The disadvantage is that it does not tolerate shade, it turns brown after the first frost and can be a serious nuisance invading flowerbeds and landscape plantings.
Bermudagrass needs about one inch of water a week during the growing season (April-October). That includes rainwater.
St. Augustine is the most commonly used turfgrass in The Woodlands. It is relatively shade-tolerant and may remain green but dormant throughout most winters here. Like Bermudagrass, it does need a lot of water (about one inch a week).
This turfgrass is susceptible to disease and insect damage, its major disadvantage.
Zoysia grass is becoming more and more popular among residents of The Woodlands. 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 Bermudagrass 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.
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.
By Bob Dailey
Customers of The Woodlands Joint Powers Agency have a lifetime $150.00 rebate (50% of $300.00) on a wide variety of water savings devices.
Here are rebate categories available to residents:
A new initiative, begun in 2018, is the rebate program for native plants. WJPA has chosen 100 drought-tolerant plants native to Southeast Texas. Once established, these plants will save money on water bills, because they need less water than most non-natives. The list of acceptable plants, and authorized dealers are described at http://www.wjpa.org/rebates.
The Woodlands receives almost 50 inches of rain a year. However, once that rain falls, it flows out of The Woodlands on its way to the Gulf. Rain barrels are one way to capture some of that water for our use. Rain barrels come in all shapes and sizes and are available at big box outlets, nurseries, and online. One source for rain barrels is a non-profit organization - The Woodlands Green- which offers the barrels at significant discounts. Add the rebate and it’s a great deal. (http://www.thewoodlandsgreen.org).
A burgeoning new water-saving technology has entered the scene – smart controllers. Smart controllers take the place of existing irrigation controllers, connecting to your wi-fi system and controllable on your mobile phone, laptop of desktop – from anywhere in the world. These systems take information from evapotranspiration centers, NOAA and other weather services and adapt your watering needs in relation to rainfall.
Drip irrigation systems work especially well for ornamental plants. No water is wasted. Instead of some water being lost through evaporation, all the water gets down to the roots of the plants, where it’s needed.
Inexpensive but effective, these devices use a simple evaporation process to determine rain amount. They will turn your irrigation system on or off depending on the amount of rainfall received. Of course, the rain sensor rebate is only available if you haven’t already received a rebate for a smart controller.
By Bob Dailey
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. Not a choice recommendation, but it certainly does work. Herbicides containing benefin, trifluralin, isoxaben, pendimethalin and dithiopyr are effective as pre-emergents, 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.
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.”
By Bob Dailey
With proper lawn maintenance, your yard can thrive. Compost and organic fertilizer are critical to achieving a lawn this green.
Located outside the WJPA building on Lake Robbins Drive, this lawn has not received irrigation, except for rainwater for the last 11 months.
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, 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 (about a tablespoon per square foot).
The lawn is mowed weekly ONLY between April and the first of October.
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.
Soil with sufficient organic matter can hold three quarts or more of water per cubic foot. Instead of rolling off the surface of the soil when it rains, good soil absorbs much of it. This transforms the soil under the turf into a passive rainwater catchment, which grass roots can access during dryer periods.
Water stored in the soil, and increased permeability of the soil because of the organic matter, allows grass roots to grow, enhancing the turf’s ability to withstand disease and pests.
For more information about lawn care, please visit the blog at wjpa.org.
By Bob Dailey
July is one of the best months to find out where grass is doing well and where it isn’t. Areas with deep shade might do better with some type of shade-tolerant ground cover than with turf grass. Conversely, hot spots in the yard where grass seems to die can be a great place for a shrub that loves heat and lots of sunlight.
Mowing can be problematic as well during times of high heat. Set mowers to their highest level. Mulch, don’t bag. The top third of grass blades is rich in nitrogen. Mulching the grass drops the blades back onto the lawn where they compost back into the soil. Contrary to what some believe, mulching does not cause thatch. Overwatering and overfertilizing causes thatch.
It’s important to check sprinkler systems now. Not all yellow patches are caused by fungal infections like take-all patch or large patch, nor are they all caused by chinch bugs or sod-web worms. Some spotting is caused by poor positioning of sprinkler heads.
Control fire ants by using the Texas two-step method recommended by Texas A&M. A treatment with the organic pesticide Spinosad, followed a few days later by drenching the mound with orange oil is particularly effective on fire ants. A third step, sprinkling diatomaceous earth on the mound, will take care of stragglers.
Occasionally, during hot summer months, St. Augustine grass may suffer from iron chlorosis, which means that the plant is not getting enough iron. This is probably because the soil is too alkaline. Alternating yellow and green streaks running lengthwise along the grass blade is a clear indication of this. Apply an iron chelate to the lawn. Iron does stain concrete, so do not spread it across sidewalks or driveways.
In The Woodlands and in many areas of the state, water utilities employ The W.I.S.E. Guys (Woodlands Irrigation Systems Evaluations) to check their sprinkler systems. It is a free service.
Keep mower blades sharp so they make clean – not ragged- cuts. Ragged cuts damage the individual grass blades and weaken the structure of the lawn.
It’s possible to seed or sod a lawn this month, but remember, the summer heat will create much more watering.
It’s been a long, wet, relatively cold winter in The Woodlands, with three snowfalls. Now, our yards are greening up, flowers are blooming, insects are buzzing and we are all attacked by the same debilitating disorder – spring fever.
As we walk out shoeless on our lawns, blades of St. Augustine tickling our toes, we might want to consider some chores which can extend the life of our lawn and add to its emerald presence.
By Bob Dailey, WJPA
In 2017, residents of The Woodlands needed to irrigate their lawns only 12 weeks out of the year. Sounds unrealistic? Not with new information and technologies developed by Texas A&M and research conducted by other universities.
Now, A&M turf experts can track needs of turf grass by on the spot testing of various environmental factors which directly affect lawn irrigation. These factors include rainfall, humidity, temperature, solar exposure, soil moisture and wind velocity. A&M currently operates 56 Evapotranspiration Testing locations across the state.
The Woodlands Joint Powers Agency’s (The WJPA) system takes in rainfall information from locations in the county, including some strategically located in The Woodlands.
Using a series of equations, the systems calculate the amount of water needed a geographical area of the state for a variety of turf grasses. Warm season turf grasses, such as St. Augustine, Zoysia and Bermuda, flourish in southeast Texas. Other grasses, such as fescue, buffalo grass, Kentucky bluegrass flourish in the colder parts of the state.
To accurately provide irrigation information to residents, The WJPA maintains rainwater collection devices that communicate daily to an evapotranspiration system managed by the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District. Using the Texas A&M equations to calculate how much extra water is needed for turf grass in The Woodlands, the system then relays the information back to WJPA. That info is then transmitted, via weekly emails, to residents. (If you aren’t on the email list and wish to be, please access the WJPA home page at http://www.wjpa.org and sign up.