Best lawn practices

No Irrigation for 11 Months? IMPOSSIBLE!

No Irrigation for 11 Months? IMPOSSIBLE!

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 Woodlands Water 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.

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July Lawn Care

July Lawn Care

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.

4-18 Spring Lawn Care

4-18 Spring Lawn Care

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.

  1. St. Augustine grass prefers a pH between 5.0 and 7.0. This acidic range allows grass roots to extract phosphorus from the soil. Having your soil tested is a great way to know the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. You can pick up a soil test bag and form at the County Extension Service in
    Conroe or at the Woodlands Water office in The Woodlands. If your soil is too acidic, you can add lime. If the soil is too alkaline, you can add soil sulfur to make it sweeter.
  2. Compost and aerating. Any time of the year is okay, but mid-April is the optimum time. Spread about ½ inch of compost across your entire lawn. If you’d like, you can water it down with a hose, but that’s not necessary. Aerating allows the compost to enter deeper into the soil.
  3. Resodding. Late April and early May are the best times to resod warm season grass.
  4. Fertilize your lawn in late April. Try to use a slow release organic fertilizer.
  5. Begin mowing as soon as your grass needs it. However, remember that any plant needs its green leaves to photosynthesize sunlight. Cutting it too short will weaken turf grass plants. Instead, set your mower to the highest height or make sure you cut only a third of the blade.
  6. Warm season grasses (St. Augustine, Zoysia and Bermuda) need an inch or less of water per week to have a healthy root system. More than that is damaging to the plant. Since the Defined Irrigation Schedule is in effect for all MUDs within the Woodlands Water service area, you could set your controller to put ½ inch on your lawn for each of the two days you can water.
  7. Add a rain sensor to your irrigation controller. If it rains, the rain sensor will communicate with your controller and adjust the amount of irrigation. (Woodlands Water offers 50% rebates up to $150 for purchase and installation costs).
  8. Install a smart controller. Smart controllers take in information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and area et stations and readjust your system to match the weather.
  9. Use the cycle and soak method. If it takes 20 minutes to put ½ inch of water on your lawn, much of that water will be wasted. Instead, run each zone twice for 10 minutes, or even three times for about 7 minutes. The first run will wet the surface of the soil. The second run (and third if you choose) will allow the water to soak into the ground through capillary action.
  10. Enjoy your beautiful spring lawn.
Irrigation less a necessity – more of a habit

Irrigation less a necessity – more of a habit

By Bob Dailey, Woodlands Water

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.

Woodlands Water 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, Woodlands Water 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 Woodlands Water. 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 Woodlands Water home page at and sign up.

Full-blown ET systems are expensive. One thing residents don’t know, though, is that they can install a “mini-ET station,” also known as a “smart controller” set up to receive all the evapotranspiration information, link it to their irrigation system and stop worrying about how much they should irrigate their lawns.

These smart controllers automatically receive data from the Texas A&M ET stations, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other ET stations, convert the information into your specific turf irrigation needs, and automatically set your irrigation system accordingly. These can even be set to operate your irrigation system on your designated watering day.

The new stations are inexpensive, can be operated remotely from PCs, laptops and even smart phones and can save substantially on water costs. One perk that residents in The Woodlands served by Woodlands Water is that they can receive a 50% rebate on the purchase and installation of one of these systems (up to $150). The rebate can be substantial. With many home ET stations costing less than $300, a 50% rebate would pay for half the cost.  The rebates are deducted from the resident’s water bill.

Rebates are available on a wide variety of water saving devices. In-home ET stations, smart controllers, rain water harvesting systems, and drip irrigation are also available to residents.  For more information, call Woodlands Water at 281-367-1271.

Questions residents have about lawn care

By Bob Dailey

Q. What’s the proper height to set your mower?

A. Different types of turf require different heights of mowing.

1. From April through September, St. Augustine should be mowed at the height of 3-4 inches.
2. Bermuda grass – 2 inches.
3. Coarse-bladed Zoysia (japonica) – 1.5 – 2 inches.
4. Fine-Bladed Zoysia (matrella) 1-2.5 inches.

Remember not to let the grass too tall (50% above the recommended cutting height). Too much off the top can stress the turf.

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, 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.

Q. Is 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. In The Woodlands served by Woodlands Water, residents can only water twice a week according to whether they have an odd or even address. 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. Remember that Woodlands Water offers rebates for either of those.

Turfgrass Characteristics for The Woodlands

CharacteristicsSt. AugustineBermudaZoysia
Shade tolerance High Very low Low-medium
Water requirements Medium Low-medium Medium
Drought tolerance Good Very good Very good
Traffic tolerance Low High High
Cold tolerance Low High High
Disease tolerance High Low-medium High
Fertilizer needs Medium High Low-medium

The Woodlands Water Agency

The Woodlands Water Agency

2455 Lake Robbins Dr
The Woodlands TX 77380


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