Soil quality and quantity important when sodding a lawn

Soil quality and quantity important when sodding a lawn

By Bob Dailey

The old adage “it’s better to put a $1 plant into a $10 hole than it is to put a $10 plant into a $1 hole” also holds true for lawns.

The amount of soil that lies beneath many lawns in the area is woefully inadequate. Sample plugs taken show that some sod has less than a half inch of soil beneath them. Beneath that, more often than not, lies an impermeable layer of clay. Grass roots have a difficult time penetrating that clay barrier. It also causes irrigation water and rain to sheet off into the streets, making watering more expensive and wasteful. In some places, sod was laid directly over clay or even gravel, with no soil added. Be wary of contractors who leave behind a thin layer of soil under the sod.

As the adage above alludes to, soil is the most important component when installing a new lawn. The soil under the lawn should cost more than the lawn. The first and most important thing a homeowner can do is to have their soil tested. Texas A&M’s Soil, Water and Forage Testing Laboratory provides homeowners with analysis of soil. For more information on soil tests, residents can call the Montgomery Master Gardeners Hotline at 936-539-7824. Test results will indicate the pH of the soil, any deficits in macro-nutrients (like nitrogen, potassium and phosphates), and organic content. For instance, if the soil is low in nitrogen, blood meal or other organics can remedy that problem. It’s good to test any new soil brought in as well.

Don’t be stingy when it comes to soil Lawn experts agree that the ideal soil depth should be at least four inches for a healthy, long-lived lawn. If affordable, experts recommend more than that. Adding enough soil is not cheap. Adding four inches of soil to a 5,000 square foot lawn requires about 62 cubic yards of soil. While sod for that much area will cost about $700, adding four inches of soil could cost upwards of $1,000. Believe it or not, in time this will pay for itself, through increased health of the lawn, less watering, fertilizing and weeding, and, of course, a considerably improved appearance.

AreaDepth (in inches)
100 sq. ft. 1/3 2/3 1 1 1/4 1 2/3 2 1/6
500 sq. ft. 1 1/2 3 4 2/3 6 1/4 7 1/2 9
1,000 sq. ft. 3 6 9 1/4 12 1/3 15 18
2,500 sq. ft. 7 3/4 15 1/2 23 1/4 31 37 3/4 45
5,000 sq. ft. 15 1/2 31 46 1/3 61 3/4 77 1/2 93

Amount of soil needed (in cubic yeards)

Simple, low-cost ways to win the battle against lawn fungal diseases

Simple, low-cost ways to win the battle against lawn fungal diseases

By Bob Dailey

Fungal problems are a fact of life in Southeast Texas, where fungus is the main disease vector in plants. Actually, most soils here are full of fungal spores. Some are beneficial. Some, harmless. And some, like the fungi that cause take-all patch, brown spot or dollar spot, are problematic. Given the right circumstances, unwanted fungus can explode into a serious situation.

The most common “right circumstances” are:

Improper mowing

Improper mowing, specifically mowing too low. The leaves of any plant are how it makes food. Crew-cutting lawns takes away most of the food-producing grass blades, allows the ground to dry out, and allows too much heat (or cold) to penetrate into the soil, killing beneficial organisms.

Solution: set your lawn mower to the highest mowing level, or ask your lawn service to do it.

Compacted soil

Soil begins to compact when deprived of organic material, micro-organisms, earthworms and other beneficial organisms. Compacted soil exists throughout The Woodlands. Solution: Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and fertilizers disrupt the soil’s ecosystem, and kill the organisms necessary for good soil.

Solution: Apply organic material at least twice a year (mid-April and mid-October are the best times). Spread it about 1/2 to 3/4 inch deep and rake it in with a leaf rake. Use a mulching lawnmower. Since most of the grass’s nutrients are in its blades, mulching it back into the soil re-introduces nitrogen, and other materials into the soil. Finally, if not planning to compost leaves, mulch them into the lawn as well.


Too much fertilizer can cause fungal diseases to activate. It can also kill beneficial organisms. Too much fertilizer will green up a lawn quickly, but will not protect it from fungus.

Solution: Use an organic, slow-release fertilizer on your lawn. And avoid using too much. Follow the instructions on the package exactly.


Watering lawns every day, or giving a lawn more than an inch of water per week is a sure way to encourage fungal diseases.

Solution: For in-ground sprinkler users, put a rain gauge in each zone (or move it around). If each zone measures an inch, then the irrigation system is set correctly. If the lawn receives more than an inch, reset the controller. It may seem counterintuitive, but using an inch of water (or less if it rains) will actually create a deeper root system and stronger, more disease resistant plants. Woodlands Water offers a rebate of 50% on the purchase and installation of water saving devices, such as rain sensors and ET controllers (with a cap of $150).

Earthworms: Free fertilizer for lawns

Earthworms: Free fertilizer for lawns

By Bob Dailey

"It may be doubted that there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as have these lowly organized creatures."

-Charles Darwin, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms.

The best method to judge the health of the soil beneath a lawn is to discover how many earthworms are present.

Earthworms can restore the hard pan of compacted dirt so prevalent in lawns. Their castings are rich in nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, three major elements necessary for plant growth and photosynthesis. Castings also contain magnesium, carbon, calcium – all very important plant nutrients. In just one year, a thousand earthworms (and their descendants) can transform one ton of organic waste into high-yield fertilizer.

Some important ways earthworms help transform the soil:

  • They tunnel through the soil, aerating it as they go.
  • Their channels also allow water to enter and penetrate the soil more quickly.
  • Grass roots can also grow better in soil loosened by earthworms, resulting in a deeper root system and healthier lawns.
  • Earthworms neutralize the soil, either lowering the alkalinity or raising the acidity. Turf grass likes soil nearer to the middle between acidic and alkaline.
  • Earthworms consume organic material (like thatch).
  • Worms can compost four times quicker than a well-managed composting bin.
  • A large population of earthworms helps control pests. Many soil-borne diseases are reduced significantly when earthworms are present.

How to attract earthworms:

  • Spread 3/4 inch of organic material twice a year onto the lawn (mid-October and mid-April are the best times).
  • Use a mulching lawnmower and let the clippings drop back onto the lawn. Earthworms will bring much of this material below ground to eat and digest.
  • Don’t use pesticides or use them in extreme moderation. Choose organic pesticides if necessary. Pesticides are indiscriminate and kill earthworms and other beneficial organisms.
  • Don’t use man-made chemical fertilizers. “Chemical” fertilizers contain sulfuric and hydrochloric acids which are deadly to earthworms. Few worms exist in soils treated with chemicals. Use organic fertilizers instead.

There is no need to add earthworms to your lawn. There are earthworms in the area and will be attracted to chemical-free, organic ally rich soil. And the turf grass will be well on its way to being healthy and green.

Save money and water

Save money and water

Get the W.I.S.E. Guys to check your irrigation system

By Bob Dailey

Saving money on water bills and conserving water resources are real issues now that water rates have been rising for several years., infrastructures need repairing and resources are dwindling. Broken and clogged nozzles, unaligned heads, nozzles with too high or too low pressure settings, leaking valves, obstructions, overspraying and runoff are all problems of an inefficient and wasteful irrigation system. Discovering these problems can be time-consuming and expensive. The free Woodlands Irrigation System Evaluation program does an inspection of a residential system and provides a detailed report of problems.

Broken and clogged nozzles

A broken nozzle alters the spray pattern of a sprinkler. A clogged nozzle doesn’t allow the spray pattern to complete its full spray pattern. Both of these problems can cause brown spot and take-all patch around the sprinkler.

Unalligned heads

Sprinkler systems are designed to water vegetation. If they are watering patios, driveways, sidewalks, streets and perhaps the side of a house, they have become unaligned.

Too much or too little pressure

All irrigation systems operate under low pressure conditions. Water pressure that is too high can pop off sprinkler heads, blow out drip emitters, and can cause overspray or misting.

If the pressure in the system is too low, maye faulty pressure regulator, an irrigation valve that is partially closed, a bad solenoid or a broken pipe could be the cause. Reduced pressure results in dry spots in the yard because the irrigation system doesn’t have enough power to emit the correct stream of water.

Leaking valves

Sometimes it’s hardly noticeable but sprinkler heads do leak even after the system is off. Likely, the problem is a leaky control valve. Continued leaking causes moss and algae growth on non-pervious areas like driveways, patios and sidewalks. They also create puddles which contribute to mosquito growth.


What may have been a tiny plant when set in the ground has now become a large one that is now interfering with the sprinkler pattern of the original design of the system. The result: too much water in some areas, too little in others.


Sprinklers overspray when they go outside the area intended. This results in runoff and water waste and ultimately higher water costs to the resident.

Visit W.I.S.E. Guys page to register. In a few days, a licensed and vetted irrigator will contact you and set up an appointment. The evaluation is free, paid for by Woodlands Water and the 11 MUDs it serves. To date about 3,000 residents of The Woodlands have taken advantage of this program.

The Woodlands Water Agency

The Woodlands Water Agency

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


For billing, customer service, new service and service disconnections:

For all other inquires:

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

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

Receive important updates

SSL site seal - click to verify

1 IMPORTANT NOTICE (Updated 1/22/2020, 2:32pm) - View

For billing, customer service, new service & service disconnections:
Billing Department Email

For all other inquires:
Woodlands Water Email

8:00am to 5:00pm Mon-Fri

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