Best lawn practices

New Years Resolutions to make your yard more lovely in the spring

New Years Resolutions to make your yard more lovely in the spring

By Bob Dailey

  1. Follow the Integrated Pest Management program promoted by Texas A&M Agrilife Extension. IPM integrates best practices for control of pests and diseases. It includes preventive cultural practices, monitoring, mechanical controls, biological controls, and finally chemical controls if all else fails. For more complete information, call the Montgomery County Master Gardeners Hotline at 936-539-7824.
  2. Water your lawn only when the Weekly Irrigation Recommendation email advises it. Every week, Woodlands Water sends out this eblast to over 21,000 residents of The Woodlands with irrigation recommendations based on evapotranspiration information as well as rainfall. If you’re not on the email list, go to and sign up for email.
  3. Always use organic matter when installing turf or other vegetation. You can accomplish this either by making your own or buying it from a facility that is certified organic. For more information, see
  4. Mow winter weeds before they create seed heads instead of using weed and feed products.
  5. Give a gift of landscape design (perhaps to yourself). If you want something less expensive but still of value, purchase a landscaping book. A large number of them, many featuring Texas landscape designs, are on the market.
  6. Mulch flower beds and shrubs. It saves water, helps prevent disease and weeds, and helps keep the soil at a more moderate temperature.
  7. Check your irrigation system. Make sure your sprinkler heads are spraying in the proper direction and not watering sidewalks, driveways and streets. If you haven’t done so already, schedule a free inspection ($75 value) by the W.I.S.E. Guys. Go to the Woodlands Water website to sign up.
  8. If you mow yourself, get your mower tuned up and the blades sharpened.
  9. If you plan to buy topsoil next year, buy carefully. Much topsoil has nutsedge in it. Nutsedge is almost impossible to eradicate. Buy your topsoil from a reputable dealer and ask where it comes from.
  10. Thou shalt not commit “crepe murder” by over-pruning crepe myrtles or any other shrub or tree. Knuckling of crepe myrtles shortens their lives, encourages disease and pest damage, and overall damages the tree.
  11. Do not plant winter rye. Winter rye may be pretty, but this type of turf requires much more water than St. Augustine or Zoysia, and also requires a lot of nutrients from the soil.

Following these practices can give you a headstart on any problems that may arise in your yard. It will also save you money in the long run.

Beware the attack of winter lawn weeds

Beware the attack of winter lawn weeds

By Bob Dailey

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.

Our love affair with lawns

Our love affair with lawns

By Bob Dailey

In Texas, turf is the top crop, with 3,260,000 acres, far surpassing cotton (1,230,000 acres), corn (749,000 acres), sorghum (708,000 acres) and wheat (657,000 acres).

Lawns are the largest “crop” in the United States. Lawns cover 40.5 million acres of land in this country. Compare that to 9.7 million acres of corn, 6.2 million acres of alfalfa, 5.3 million acres of soybeans and 4.1 million acres of orchards, vinyards and nut trees.

The amount of water used on lawns each year is almost 50 million acre feet, or about 2 trillion gallons, more than corn, alfalfa, orchards and rice combined.

There are more lawns in the South than any other area of the country. 88% of Americans have a private lawn and 91% of those lawns are in the South.

About 85% of all water used in American households goes to watering lawns.  In summer, that averages to about 285 gallons per day.

More than 80 million pounds of pesticides , herbicides  and chemical fertilizers are sprayed on grass in the U.S. annually.

The typical homeowner in The Woodlands spends about $363 per year on their lawn and gardens. That amounts to about $12,000,000 per year – a sizeable sum. The amount spent on lawns in the U.S. exceeds $50 billion making lawn care a significant industry.

Gas mowers emit just as much pollution per hour as 11 cars.

A single healthy grass plant has almost 400 miles of roots. That’s about the distance from The Woodlands to San Antonio and back.

A typical lawn will have about six grass plants per square inch. Some lawns may have millions of grass plants.

All plants need water. But how much and how often varies from plant to plant.

All plants need water. But how much and how often varies from plant to plant.

By Bob Dailey

Although there are various recommendations floating around out there, we prefer to rely on scientifically based advice.

Knowing there can be slight variations based on soil, shade, slope, season and species, we recommend no more than these water applications per the following plant types:

  • Lawns— One half-inch of water once a week is sufficient for lawn survival and modest growth.
  • Groundcover, perennials and shrubs— Plants like jasmine, ivy, salvias, lantana, roses, yaupons and hollies do well with twice a month watering in the absence of rain. The amount is never to exceed ¾ inch (or ½ gallon) per square foot, per watering event.
  • Trees— established native and adapted non-native trees rarely need any supplemental irrigation. If a month significantly lacks normal rainfall then the recommendation is 1 ¼ inch per square foot, or about 1 gallon per square foot, once a month.
  • Palms— Established palms only need water twice a year at most.

The purpose of appropriate watering schedules and amounts is to produce healthy plants and low water bills. Plants need both water and oxygen to thrive and grow. Too much of either results in poor performance.

Brown Patch isn’t Brown Patch anymore!

Brown Patch isn’t Brown Patch anymore!

By Bob Dailey

That’s right. The fungal plague that makes big splotches of yellow and brown in your yard is now known as “large patch” – at least here in southeast Texas. Both are caused by the same fungus (Rhizoctonia solani – try saying that quickly three times.) But there are two different strains of the fungus.

One affects cool season grasses – like Kentucky bluegrass, rye grass, fescues – none of which we should have planted in our lawns here in The Woodlands.  This cool season disease is now called “Brown Patch.”

The second strain, “Large Patch”, affects St. Augustine, Bermuda, Zoysia and other warm season grasses. Large Patch usually affects grass in the winter, but most often the damage isn’t visible until spring. Somewhat circular patches that are yellow, tan or straw-brown initially are 2-3 feet in diameter, but they can grow to 10 feet or more in diameter, hence the name “large patch”. Sometimes, several Large Patch infections will grow together, causing an even bigger problem.

Large Patch will infect the grass in the fall and winter when soil temperatures go below 70°F, but it usually doesn’t become evident until things warm up again in the spring.

This disease is caused by excess nitrogen (too much fertilizer), poor soil drainage (compacted soil), closely mown grass and, of course, over-irrigation. Taking care of these four problems will go a long way toward preventing Large Patch.

If you do recognize Large Patch in the lawn before spring, it’s probably best to do nothing until the grass starts to green up. If remedying the situations above haven’t worked, there are organic methods to slowing and eliminating most of the infection. Copper bonide, and several bacteriologic strains may help.

However, remember that Large Patch is forever present in the soil. Improper soil and lawn practices -  cutting grass too short, overirrigating the lawn, applying too much fertilizers and poor soil drainage are prime reasons for fungal attacks on the lawn. Planting winter rye is another reason. Warm season grasses need one inch or less of water per week to thrive. If it rains, then it needs even less. And warm season grasses are dormant and turn yellow in the winter, so they usually don’t need to be watered at all.

If you do suspect you have Large Patch, the best thing to do it to have it identified by an expert. Michael Potter, the Montgomery County horticulture agent for the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service (9020 Airport Road, Conroe) is a turf grass specialist and can diagnose the problem.

Aerate your lawn to keep it healthy and lush

Aerate your lawn to keep it healthy and lush

By Bob Dailey

Landscapers know that one of the most crucial elements to having a beautiful lawn is healthy soil. Healthy soil is loose and aerated, a place where roots can spread deeply and organisms thrive.

Compacted soil, which lies underneath most lawns in The Woodlands, actually sets off a chain reaction.  It encourages puddling.  The soil dries out quickly and becomes rock hard. When that happens, air, water and nutrients cannot penetrate the soil. Beneficial organisms that are necessary for healthy soils die and the soil becomes barren.  The consequences don’t stop there.

Lifeless Soil

Insects, disease and weeds thrive on barren soil. Fungus infections, chinch bugs and other pests attack shallow-rooted grass. Roots struggle to penetrate the compacted soil. They become weak and thin. The beneficial organisms which help process nutrients for the turf and decompose organic material cannot survive in such an environment. 

Instead of growing lushly, turf will focus energy on simply surviving. Without moisture, air flow and organisms, it eventually loses the battle. Then the homeowner is forced to resod.


The best practice to combat compacted soil is to aerate followed by a top dressing of organic matter. This allows oxygen, nutrients, micro-organisms and moisture to penetrate the soil. Aeration involves removing plugs of soil at intervals. Top dressing with organic matter (compost) and water or rake it in. This will help the compost to filter down into the holes.

How to aerate

It’s much better to remove the plugs of soil than to simply spike the soil. Spiking simply compacts the sides of the holes. Aerators come in different configurations. Several are simply hand tools resembling garden forks. However, instead of solid tines, they have small cylinders which remove plugs of soil. Some come with hose attachments. These add water to the hole at the same time they are taking plugs out. There are push aerators, which resemble reel lawnmowers, and larger ones with gasoline engines that power themselves. There are also professional landscaping companies which have large industrial aerators. Some outlets rent aerators.

Organic matter and fertilizer

After aeration, add organic matter. Simply spread ½ inch of compost over the turf and either rake or water it in. A 1,000 square-foot lawn needs about 1.5 cubic yards of compost.

Fertilize lightly. Too much fertilizer, or fertilizer with too much nitrogen, can actually harm turf grass by attracting insects that feed on the grass, or damaging the lawn with high levels of mineral salts It will also cause a high flush of growth that can lead to fungal diseases.

Weed and feed products also stresses turf, especially St. Augustine. These can also damage tree roots.  It’s also a waste of money. Herbicides need to be applied in late winter, while fertilizer should be applied in late spring. Using them both at the same time wastes one or the other.

The Woodlands Water Agency

The Woodlands Water Agency

2455 Lake Robbins Dr
The Woodlands TX 77380


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