“I fought the lawn and the lawn won…”
Sound familiar these days? With temperatures hovering at or near the 100-degree mark for the last several months, homeowners may have given up hope of ever seeing a lush, green lawn again. Many may be considering starting from scratch and re-sodding. There’s no doubt summers in Texas can be frustrating in terms of keeping the grass alive, but before you start major excavation, consider these pointers.
Moderation is the key, according to the City of Austin’s “Grow Green” program. Too much water, fertilizer and scalping make lawns extremely susceptible to pests, diseases, and shock.
So, it’s important to irrigate efficiently. Only water if you need to, rather than setting your sprinkler system for an automatic routine. Keep in mind, too, that since most of Texas hasn’t received much rain this spring and summer, many cities are now on involuntary – and some voluntary – water conservation programs. Be sure to check with your city to make sure you’re following the right guidelines for conservation.
Manually turn on sprinklers when the lawn is truly in need of water and leave them off during rainy seasons. Many local grass varieties naturally turn brown during low water periods as a survival technique that you don’t need to fight.
For example, St. Augustine lawns will survive periodic droughts, but if you want it to look picture perfect, you will probably need to provide extra water when dry spells last longer than a week.
Austin’s Green Builder Program recommends watering deep into the soil. This causes plants to grow shallow roots that are stressed easily during dry or hot weather. Water less frequently, yet when you do, thoroughly saturate the roots of your plants. Then let the soil dry out again. This encourages a deeper, more substantial root system that tolerates drought better.
The soil should be wet to a depth of four to six inches. Check this amount by collecting water from sprinklers in a tuna can, or use a rain gauge. It takes approximately one-half to one inch of water in the can to wet soil six inches deep.
Adjust irrigation time to suit your soil, and water when soil is almost dry. Clay soils dry out between watering slower than sandy soils, so irrigation time length will vary. Because water is more likely to run off clay soils and sloping lots, irrigate slowly to prevent fertilizers and pesticides from washing into the storm drain. If water starts running off your yard before it soaks in deep enough, try stopping the sprinkler and waiting an hour or two before starting again.
The Green Builder program also has some great tips for mowing to help keep your lawn healthy. First, mow grass at the correct blade height once a week for a dense, beautiful lawn. To measure your blade mowing height, put the mower on a flat concrete surface and measure between the blade and the ground. Mowing heights for local grass types:
• St. Augustine: 2-1Ú2 inches in sun, 3 to 3-1Ú2 inches in shade
• Common Bermuda: 1 to 1-1Ú2 inches
• Monella El Toro Zoyosia: 1 inch or less
• Japonica Zoysia: 1-1Ú2 inches
• Buffalo: Mowing is optional
Experts also recommend cutting the grass a bit higher in the summertime to help turf establish a deeper root system and varying your mowing pattern to prevent compaction. Leave the grass clippings on the lawn and/or use a mulching mower. This will recycle nutrients and moisture back into the lawn and can reduce the amount of fertilizer needed by up to one-third.
Those pesky weeds
As much as it might frustrate you, try to tolerate low levels of weeds. As the turf becomes dense and healthy, most weed problems will go away because they can’t compete with the grass. For the ones you do find, dig them up by hand. If there is a bare spot left after weeding, aerate the soil and plant grass plugs to fill in the area.
Back to mowing: If you mow often at the correct mowing height, weeds hate it. This will also keep flowering weeds like dandelions from being able to spread seeds.
About chemicals: Don’t apply herbicides automatically. If you must treat chemically, start with the least toxic products. There are many weed killing and prevention products, but they all treat different kinds of weeds and are applied in different ways. They’re also applied at different times of the year. Be sure to get advice from a garden store so you’re not wasting time and money. The same advice goes for weed and feed products, because this is also done during different times of the year.
Purchase a moisture meter and soil analysis for your landscape. A moisture meter is a tool with a soil probe and a dial that indicates the wetness and dryness of your soil. Moisture meters cost about $15 and are available at many local hardware and garden supply centers. Use yours frequently to determine not only if there is soil moisture present, but also how deep it is.
An analysis of your soil will yield information about its texture and chemistry, and the lab can recommend soil amendments that are important to the health of your lawn and plants. Contact the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, which has an agent in every Texas county, for information, instructions and a soil collection bag, or call 409/845-4816. Costs vary from $10 to $30, depending on the level of analysis.
Awareness means a healthier environment
Become more aware of your own lawn and you’ll also be protecting the environment around you. To learn more about drought protection techniques, check with local landscape professionals.
For services, contact RE/MAX Genesis at830-833-2000 or lightfoot.com.