It’s a jungle down there!


Beneath the cover of your now greening lawn, there exists a teeming jungle of rapacious creatures, eating (usually each other), multiplying and doing all the things that creatures in a jungle do.

Decillions and more single-celled bacteria take in carbon dioxide and convert it to life-giving oxygen to billions of other microscopic organisms. These organisms in turn eat the bacteria. The protozoans, microscopic mites, nematodes and other miniscule creatures are eaten by larger creatures like earthworms and insects. Thousands of miles of symbiotic microscopic fungus, called mycorrhizae, colonize grass roots, providing plants with increased abilities to absorb water and nutrients. In return, the plant provides the fungus with carbohydrates it has formed through photosynthesis.

Your yard is, in fact, a micro-ecosystem, teeming with diverse life. This whole process allows grass roots to grow deeper and stronger, helps turf grasses to fend off diseases like take-all patch, assists in keeping weeds down and pests, like chinch bugs, out. This diversity is what keeps the grass green and lush.

Too much water, fertilizer, herbicides, fungicides and other “cides” adversely affect the life cycles of all these organisms, making turf more susceptible to disease and damage. Too little organic matter can also contribute to short-lived lawns.

Water

According to Texas A&M turf research,  grasses like St. Augustine, Zoysia and Bermuda, need no more than an inch of water a week. In fact, one city in north Texas monitored lawns for a year and discovered that the grass there only required a full inch of water for three weeks during the hottest part of the summer.  That same city recorded that there was a number of weeks in spring and summer when it rained enough that no irrigation was required.

Rain sensors, connected to irrigation controllers will regulate watering in case it rains. There are even more sophisticated gadgets on the market, which take into account rainfall, evapo-transpiration rates, soil temperature, ambient humidity and temperature. Residents of The Woodlands who live within the area served by the WJPA, can get a 50% rebate on the purchase of rain sensors or more sophisticated devices.

Cycle and Soak

Different types of soils have different abilities to soak up water. If the soil is hard and compacted (like most of the lawns in The Woodlands), it will not absorb water quickly. Instead of irrigating for 30 minutes per zone, break up the watering time to three 10 minute cycles per zone. That will give water time to penetrate through compacted surfaces.

Organic Matter

Perhaps the least understood component of maintaining a good lawn is the part organic matter plays. Organic matter inoculates the soil with beneficial organisms and provides nutrients for organisms already there. It helps increase the water-holding capacity of soil (soil with five percent organic matter can hold up to three quarts of water per cubic foot). It helps to fluff up the soil so air and water can better penetrate it, and so grass roots can grow deeper.

Adding a half-inch of organic matter over the lawn twice a year can produce magical results. Mid-April is one of the optimum times to spread it. There are many residents in The Woodlands who put nothing on their lawns except organic matter twice a year. Their lawns are lush, green and free of disease and weeds.

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Published by

Bob Dailey

Bob Dailey is a garden writer, lecturer and gardener living in southeast Texas.

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