About Me

My photo
As an Agriculture Extension Agent for Texas AgriLife Extension Service I have had an opportunity to be involved in just about every aspect of agriculture. From the 5,000 cow dairy to the types of trees to use in a home landscape I have had a chance to learn how the different parts of an agriculture systems work together. Seedless watermelons, drip irrigation, pecan orchard management, fruit crop development, dairy nutrient management, environmental issues confronting agriculture, producer tours, field days, research projects and more have been a part of my life for over 30 years as I lived and breathed agriculture. Since 2004 I have been actively involved in consulting internationally working in Honduras, Guatemala, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, India, and China. I have worked with missionaries and other groups dedicated to alleviating poverty among third world farmers. I lived in the Middle East in 2007-2008 working on a project for the Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University. In this project I was the Chief of Party and Team Leader for a $5.7 Million dollar effort to train Iraqi Extension agents and specialists in all aspects of agriculture.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Time to Get Those Lawns in Shape

With all the warm weather lately people are ready to start fixing up their landscapes and I am right there with them. I always start off like a fireball but like everyone else, come July I am ready for winter again!! But since spring is here let’s talk about lawn care, probably the biggest plant you have in your landscape and certainly the one that takes the most time.

First off, now is the time to get your lawn mower running again. Certainly it needs the perennial oil change and maybe a new spark plug and for sure some new gas. Fortunately gas is cheaper now than last summer. Once your mower is ready you should mow your lawn as short as you can get it. Now this may be messy but mowing it short will help warm the soil and probably more importantly take out a lot of those winter weeds or at least set them back. Some people call the procedure scalping but I don’t see many mowers that can be set low enough to actually scalp a lawn. I just call this a spring clean-up.

Next you will need to fertilize but only if you have bermudagrass or St. Augustinegrass. These two are already trying to green up telling us that soil temperatures are getting warmer by the day. Since they are starting to grow they are the ones that will respond to fertilizer the best and no matter what you hear the fertilizer they need is nitrogen. This can be the hard part because very few stores sell just a nitrogen fertilizer, either organic or inorganic. But fertilizers that have a lot of phosphorus or potassium are not really needed in our soils and can even tie up other nutrients our grasses need. What we need is 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. or in fertilizer terms 7 pounds of 15-0-0 or 5 pounds of 21-0-0 which is a common nitrogen fertilizer. Also at this time you can apply an iron product if you have consistently had problems with yellow St Augustinegrass. Iron sulphate or Ironite can work well to help with this problem caused by our high pH soils in Williamson County.

Now those of you with Zoysia grass or buffalograss need to wait until later in April to fertilize your grasses. Both of these are slower to start in the spring and fertilizing now can only feed the weeds and other grasses in your lawn and not the actual grass you are growing.

Another thing you need to do now is water, although I think you probably already knew that! We are in a severe drought and there is no moisture in our soils for grasses or landscape plants to start growing. It is unfortunate that we have to start off the year watering but if you expect your landscape to be ready when it finally does rain you must water now. What we want is about 4 inches of wet soil. So water until you can push a shovel in about 4 inches easily. If it doesn’t soak in fast enough then turn off the sprinkler and come back in one hour. This has been a real lesson for me this year since I moved from an area with sandy soils to one here with heavy clay. The soil is great here, and very rich but it does take time to water thoroughly.

Lastly I am getting lots of complaints about weeds and weedy grasses. Well those weeds are not summer weeds only winter weeds. They have all sprouted as a result of the rains we got the first of February or were sprouted and waiting on those rains. Now they are taking advantage of an open lawn and great weather. Earlier I mentioned mowing and this is one of the best ways to really help “restrain” these weeds. If you still have too many and want to get rid of them then you can use spot treatments with a dilute Roundup solution or with 20% vinegar just “painting them with a foam brush. If that is too slow then you might try any of the weed control products you can mix up in a sprayer. Be careful though and don’t drift over to trees or shrubs since these could also be damaged. I sure don’t recommend a weed and feed product since I have never seen homeowners be that careful to avoid flower beds and sure enough these products control flowers too!!


Nolan said...

Can you give any long term solutions/methods on getting the clay soils in shape for turf grass? I think we need to concentrate on long term soil health in our area. Methods such as aeration and topdressing with composts should be considered. Thanks for the blog.

Bob Whitney said...

Clay soils can be problem to work no doubt about it but once established a turfgrass does quite well. I never see a need for aeration except in high traffic areas or on sports fields. Typically a homeowner never needs to aerate. You are right about composts, they make a great topdressing. I never depend on them as a fertilizer since they contain so little nutrients but I do see a faster growth response and less iron problems.

Randy said...

What is a good grass that is drought resistant to plant or sod in a shady yard with heavy dog activity?