10 reasons not to plant a winter lawn


As St. Augustine grass goes dormant in the fall, many homeowners over seed their lawns with winter rye. While winter rye does add a lush greenness to an otherwise dull lawn, homeowners may want to rethink this habit.

  1. Save water. Winer rye needs watering three times a day for the seed to germinate. Once established, ryegrass needs watering every three to four days. Dormant St. Augustine needs little or no water.
  2. Save money. In much of the area, annual sewer rates are determined by the amount of water used during the winter months of December, January and February. This is typically when the least amount of water is used. The watering requirements for winter rye increases the amount of water used dung that period, thus raising sewer bills for the rest of the year. Additional costs include mowing, labor and cost of seed.
  3. Prevent fungal diseases. Although damage from take-all patch and brown patch becomes evident in late spring and summer, these diseases actually attack St. Augustine in the winter. Other fungal diseases like rust and powdery mildew are common in winter rye. Winter rye seed may be infected with one or more of these fungal diseases. Irrigation during the winter actually encourages these to infect and damage the lawn.
  4. Save on fertilizers. Augustine does not require fertilization in the winter. Winter rye usually does.
  5. Prevent pests from infecting St. Augustine. Rye grass attracts army worms, wireworms and aphids, all of which can wreak havoc with St. Augustine. Many of these insects can overwinter in the topsoil and return in spring to re-infest the lawn.
  6. No need to scalp lawns. Planting winter rye usually means scalping the lawn first. The problem here is that St. Augustine should NEVER be scalped. St. Augustine spreads by above-ground stolons. Scalping severely damages the plant.
  7. Decrease noise pollution. While some enjoy the droning of mowers and blowers, these noises may not be the most welcome sound while sitting in the backyard on a mild winter day.
  8. Preserve the quality of water. We don’t live in a vacuum. Foregoing the planting of winter rye means less fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides will be used. A significant portion of water pollution of our streams and waterways comes from runoff of these products.
  9. Give your St. Augustine a break! over seeding with winter rye can be very stressful for St. Augustine. Scalping the lawn to plant ryegrass stresses it. In spring, rye competes with St. Augustine for water and nutrients, further weakening it.
  10. Save time and frustration. Seed germination problems, diseases, irrigation, fertilizing, noise, stress to the grass and to the homeowner, are additional reasons to forego winter rye.
Advertisements

Watering lawns in fall and winter


When  grass begins to turn yellow or brown in fall and winter, it’s not a sign that it’s dying. Turning color is a sign that the grass is going dormant.

Yes, the roots are still alive. In good soil, those roots will be digging their way deep into the soil to get water and nutrients. But good soil is another story.

In late spring and summer months, local grasses need no more than an inch of water a week. Not so in the fall and winter.

The average rainfall in the cooler months in Montgomery County, Texas ranges from 5.4 inches in October to about 3.18 inches in February, more than enough to supply the minimum amount of water that local grasses need during the dormant season.

The statistics are pretty clear: October receives an average of 5.46 inches per month; November, 4.76; December, 4.09; January, 4.22; February, 3.18, and March, 3.03. That is more than enough water to satisfy the needs of lawns. Even most landscape plants can thrive on that much water, unless they are native to tropical rainforests (which would be most out of place in The Woodlands).

Take October for example, with an average rainfall of 5.4 inches. That’s approximately 1.35 inches per week. That’s much more than St. Augustine requires, especially in the fall. On a 4,000 square foot lawn, that much rainfall equates to 3,370 gallons of water. In a month, that becomes over 13,000 gallons of rain.  On a small lawn, that comes to almost $40 in savings on your water bill for one month.

Refraining from sprinkler irrigation in the cooler months can also help lower sewer bills. Many Municipal Utility Districts (and all in The Woodlands) calculate sewer charges based on the average water used by a customer in December, January and February. That average sets the monthly sewer charge. By not irrigating during those months, a resident can save more money.

Of course, it may not rain each and every week. Some residents see that possibility as a problem. Assuming soil has high amounts  of organic nutrients, much of the rain that falls can be captured in the ground where its use can be extended. That also results in much less runoff, as well.

Making black gold


Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.

~Jim Bishop

Although golden autumn colors are great to behold, those beautiful leaves also possess another type of treasure – black gold, which, when coaxed out, recycle earth’s bounty. “Black gold” is what gardeners call compost, that rich mixture of nutrients and decayed matter that works wonders on all plants.

Leaves contain nutrients that the plants have taken out of the ground through their roots, pumped up their stems and trunks, up to the organs that make food for them…the leaves. The leaves fall and decay. Those nutrients that were trapped in the leaves return back to the earth, where they are reused again by plants.

In a forest, it takes about two years from when the leaf hits the ground to when it becomes part of the soil. A backyard gardener, using a well-managed compost system, can make a fairly large amount of good, rich “black gold” in about three months.

The decaying process is carried out first by microbes. When you see smoke rising from a compost pile in the winter, it’s not because the sun has heated it. The reason is that billions of bacteria are actually dissolving the materials and it is they who are creating the heat. A well-constructed compost pile can heat up to 130 F or more.

Carbon

The microbes feed on the leaves  and other sources of carbon. This could be shredded newspaper, shredded cardboard, old hay, sawdust, small ranches and twigs and pine needles to name a few.

Nitrogen

The microbes need another ingredient – nitrogen –  to grow and reproduce. Nitrogen sources vary: coffee grounds, tea bags, grass clippings, kitchen scraps (but no meat or dairy), aged manure, alfalfa pellets (yes the same used as rabbit food), and cottonseed meal are a few.  Manure from chickens or herbivores is okay to use if it is aged, but carnivore or omnivore manure (pigs, dogs, cats) should be avoided as they may carry pathogens that the composting process will not kill. Weeds should also be avoided, unless they do not have seed heads.

Carbon-Nitrogen Ratios

Although there is a complicated formula to measure the exact  amounts of carbon and nitrogen materials required to start a compost operation, the general rule of thumb is equal weight of carbon and nitrogen. These should be mixed well – a cake mix, not a lasagna.

Water and oxygen

Since all living things need water, add water while mixing the materials. When finished, the compost pile should have the wetness of a wrung-out sponge. Now, it’s ready to start cooking. In two weeks, the compost should be ready to turn. A compost fork is the best way to turn it.

Turning the pile fluffs up the material and adds more oxygen to the mix. To turn, just take forkfuls from one pile and dump them into a second pile. Some gardeners like two or three compost bins to turn one into another. Remember to add water if needed.

After this, turn the pile every week or two. Now, the other, larger organisms will come into your compost pile: earthworms, pill bugs and other detritus-eating animals, further breaking down the materials.

In three months, all these materials will end up as good, organic compost, or black gold.

Types of bins

There are numerous compost bins on the market. Wire bins or bins that are open at the bottom seem to work best because they sit directly on the ground.  That way, earthworms and other organisms can access them. Additionally, open bins allow the air to circulate more freely. Drum bins work, but not as well as open bins.

The benefits of compost:

  • It recycles nutrients back into the soil. One of the things that make plants different from animals is that they make their own food. In order to do this, plants need essential elements like nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium and others.
  • It improves soil structure. Adding compost helps create “aggregates,” or tiny clusters of soil particles. Soil with a large amount of aggregates is full of tiny (some microscopic) channels and pockets, through which air and water can pass or accumulate in small amounts. Compost also helps with silt or clay soils, breaking them up so air and water can penetrate and plant roots can expand.
  • Compost conserves water. It’s a simple fact. Soil which has compost in it holds more moisture. Soil with five % organic matter can hold up to three quarts of water per cubic foot. Composted soil acts like a sponge. The compost helps soak up moisture. A pound of heavily composted soil can hold almost two pounds of water. Compost also inhibits evaporation of moisture in the soil. In drought conditions, composted soil continues to provide moisture to plants.