Creating a self-sufficient lawn

Every year about this time, residents began calling to report their grass is dying. Their beautiful, green, lush St. Augustine has turned a sickly brownish yellow. They worry that it’s not getting enough water, so they water profusely. They think that some disease or insects may be attacking their lawn, so they pile on pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers.

The fact is that St. Augustine grass is supposed to look brown and dead in the winter. However, St Augustine is a warm season grass. When the soil temperature drops below 55 degrees, the grass goes dormant.

Homeowners shouldn’t panic, nor should they use the myriad of panaceas offered on the market.

Watering during the winter

This is not a recommended practice. Fungal infections are particularly damaging to turf grass. And what causes fungal infections? We don’t see too many fungal infections in the desert. It’s humidity and wetness that fungi like. Watering lawns during the winter is the major cause of fungal infections. The damage is done when the grass is dormant, so the infections are not visible then. Come spring and early summer though, and the presence of fungi is evident from the great yellowing patches of turf. By then, the damage has already been done. Instead of spending bucks on fungicides, just stop watering. We get enough rain in the winter to provide what little water St. Augustine might require.

Planning for Spring

Now is the time to get ready for springtime. A soil test might be a good idea. Both Texas A&M and LSU offer a great soil test for about $15. Use your computer search engine to browse for Texas A&M Soil Testing or LSU Soil Testing. There are explicit instructions on how to take a soil sample, how to fill out an application and how to send the whole package. St. Augustine turf does best in soil with a pH of around 6.5. The test will provide good, empirical data which will help in maintaining a healthy and green lawn in spring, summer and fall.

Places you can obtain a soil testing kit





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.