Grass Health Tips – Beating the Summer Heat in Houston

In this episode of the Houston Grass Podcast, Michael talks about grass care in the heat of Houston’s hot summer weather. Call us at 281-431-7441 for answers to your questions and a quick quote for your next grass project.

Grass Health Tips for Houston’s Hot Summer

Summary of Grass Health Tips for Houston’s Hot Summer

Good morning everyone. I’m Michael Romine and this is the Houston Grass Podcast. We are just a few days left in June of 2024 here and it is hot outside as one might imagine. It has gotten really hot, really humid. That’s great for growing grass and at the farm that makes the grass grow back exponentially faster when it gets hot and humid like this.

We’ve been getting regular rains. The rain has been good and frequent and not excessive, at least here in the south part of Houston for this month. So, we’ll see what July holds.

Our Grasses Can Handle the Hot Houston Summers

This morning we want to talk about the heat. Talk about our Texas climate and the hot summers that we have and the effects that that has on taking care of established grass as when you’re planting new grass. We’ll also talk about the importance of picking the right kind of grasses and for the right areas. The grasses that we sell, of course, can handle the heat that we have here. Some may do a little bit better than others with that heat, but we’re not selling cool season grasses or anything like that, that will have an issue.

All the grasses, whether we’re talking about the St. Augustines, the Zoysias or the Bermuda grasses, can handle this heat. Some of them may require a little bit more water than others. Before I get into the topics that I have here though, I would like to talk about a couple of things that may be the two biggest issues for this time of year. These are the issues that we are talking on the phone all day, every day with people who call us and send us pictures.

First, because we were having regular rains, at least up to this point, we’re not talking about chinch bugs. If we get into the more drought situations like last year chinch bugs will feed on that drought stressed grass. So we would be talking about chinch bugs at that point. Right now that is not the issue. 

Hot Weather and Moisture and Nitrogen Equals Gray Leaf Spot

The number one issue that everybody is having right now is gray leaf spot. Gray leaf spot is a fungus that the grass gets this time of year. And like it or not, the healthier your grass is, the more susceptible it is to gray leaf spot, because a gray leaf spot needs a few different things.

One of them is this high heat and high humidity that just comes around this time every year. It’s part of living here. So you’ve got that input. It also comes from excessive moisture. So if you’re watering your grass like you’re supposed to, that’s one of the ingredients that it needs as well as higher nitrogen.

Our grass has a lot of nitrogen in it, because we fertilize a lot to have it be the deepest, thickest, thickest, prettiest green that we can get. That nitrogen in the fertilizer also feeds this fungus, unfortunately. 

So, at our farm we treat with fungicide every 30 days, but we can’t determine how long ago a particular pallet of grass was fertilized. So we are encouraging everybody, especially if you’re planting grass in the shade, to treat with some Heritage G fungicide, within the first week of planting. We encourage you to do this for the Palmetto or the Cobalt which is our other shade tolerant variety of the St. Augustine. If you’re planting grass in the shade, the sun kind of cooks it. If the grass is out in full sunlight, you’re not going to have as big of an issue with gray leaf spot most of the time, because the sun kills that fungus and dries the grass out after you water or after a rain. But in the shade, it can be a bigger issue.

And as a matter of fact, being in that shade, it can actually kill the grass if it’s left untreated. So, you’ve got to be on the lookout for it. It’s easy to identify. It starts out as just little brown specks. You’d see brown dots appearing on your grass, no bigger than the size of the end of your pen There’ll be a brown dot of on the grass, that looks dead on that blade. And then eventually it’ll be a few dots and eventually, not after very long, the whole blade of grass turns brown and just kind of disappears. So, that’s how you identify the start of it. Also if your grass kind of gets that yellowy, sickly color, So that’s identifying it in grass that’s there. 

Gray Leaf Spot
Gray Leaf Spot

Can You Plant Grass in the Hot Houston Summer? Yes, But!

Planting grass this time of year is a challenge. People call us all the time year round and ask what’s the best time of year to plant grass and we’d always say spring, March, April and May are the best times. Second best time is fall. we have a long fall here, September, October, November, shoot, even into December. ideally you want those more moderate temperatures so you’re not having to water as much.

The gray leaf spot is not as big of an issue during those times of the year. But even the middle of winter is a better time for planting grass than summer to plant it. However, if you’ve got to do it during the summer, you’ve got to do it. If you got ugly bare spots, you can still fix them by planting grass sod. You just have to be mindful of some of the things that have to be done. 

Say you do plant grass in the middle of summer. If you’re planting it in full sunlight, I would tell you that the only penalty is a higher water bill because you’re going to have to water it a lot more than you would, say in November or something like that. So, that’s not a problem most of the time in those areas where you do have the full sun. But if you are planting grass in a shadier area and especially if you’re planting where the shade is dense enough to where you’re planting Palmetto in the area, the gray leaf spot can be a real problem.

As a matter of fact, if you call us and order Palmetto, nine times out of 10, we are going to have a conversation with you about how you need to treat with a fungicide. Gray leaf spot is likely to be an issue, so we’ll talk with you about how you need to use a fungicide preventatively. Again, the farm is treating with fungicide once a month, but we never know where we are going to get the grass in that cycle — how long it’s been since they put that fungicide out.

So we are going to encourage everybody who buys a pallet of Palmetto St. Augustine to put out the Heritage G on top of it, within the first couple of days of laying it, to try to prevent that gray leaf spot, because you’re going to have all the ingredients. You’re going to have the higher nitrogen. You’re going to have the higher moisture because you’re going to have to dump water on it just like you do when you plant grass anytime a year for that first day. And then in that first week, you’re going to have to put a lot of water on it. Then when you’ve got that high heat, high humidity. And then you put some shade in there. You’re inviting the gray leaf spot.

So applying a fungicide like the Heritage G is a wise thing to do. It does a fantastic job of preventing it. If you get gray leaf spot, Heritage G is also a great curative, but as they say an ounce of prevention is better. That is the number one topic that I want to touch on with everybody this time of year. You should be mindful of this.

Yes, this is not the ideal time of year to plant grass. You absolutely can. it’s just going to take some more water and you’re going to have to be mindful of not too much. there is such thing as overwatering. Unfortunately, you can invite that gray leaf spot if you overdo it.

So, Just be mindful of that, and planting grass is no problem. Like I said, I apologize in advance for the $300 water bill though that can kind of come along with that if you just have to replace grass this time of year. 

Now let’s talk about some of the other topics that we’re want to touch on here.

Your Best Grass for Planting Depends on Your Shade Situation

Choosing the right type of grass for our area. Our area is kind of misleading. Any of the grasses that we sell work fantastically in our area. However, if you have a shade situation where you’re getting, less than six or seven hours of direct sunlight per day. Then we need to talk about some of the more shade tolerant varieties of grass.

that’s usually one of the first questions that we’re going to ask, When you’re ordering grass, first we’re going to ask you, first we’d like to ask you where you’re located to make sure we can service your area because there’s some places we just can’t. It’s not feasible for us to drive to from the south part of Houston, especially if it’s for a fairly minimal order.

But the next question is going to be how much shade do you have in the area? Because if you call and tell me you want to plant Bermuda grass and, oh, by the way, I’ve got two huge oak trees, we’re going to say, absolutely not. That’s never going to work because Bermuda grass needs 100 percent sunlight.

And, if it doesn’t get that, it will fade away in a big hurry. If you get, six or seven hours of sunlight, you can do any of the other grasses. you can do any of the St. Augustines, you can do any of the Zoysias. when you get into that less than six or seven hours of sunlight, it starts narrowing down the varieties that are available to you quite a bit.

that’s when you get into the Palmetto or the Cobalt St. Augustine’s or the fine bladed Zoysias, like the Emerald or Cavalier Zoysia. so that shade, I guess, is what dictates to us the types of grass, the varieties of grass that are available to most people. 

So, If you’ve got full on sunlight in a wide open lot somewhere, then the sky’s the limit. You can put any grass out there that you want. I did not mention the Palisades Zoysia. As long as you get at least 6 or 7 hours, the Palisades Zoysia is another option. other than the regular St. Augustines, and Palisades is a fantastic choice. Palisades is a beautiful grass and It avoids some of the issues that some of the St. Augustines and the Bermudas have, and it’s really easy to take care of. I think that’s the most beautiful part of it, but again, you do have to get that 6 or 7 hours of direct sunlight, in my mind, for it to thrive. 

So, Let’s see, the benefits of each of those grasses, they all have their strengths and weaknesses, when everybody thinks of the reason a lot of these neighborhoods are starting to require people to put Bermuda grass in their yards is because they have excellent drought tolerance.

However, we discourage most people from putting Bermuda grass out in their yard, unless they’re required to by an HOA or something like that. Because Bermuda grass in most of our yards, even if you have a small house, there is eventually going to be a tree or a fence or a house that creates some shade. That’s going to thin that Bermuda grass out over time. Even on a large lot with a large house where you might have a wide open area. Eventually, there will be a tree or a neighbor’s house creating shade and that will thin the grass out. So shade intolerance is Bermuda’s biggest weakness.

You do have to be sure that you stay on top of your pre-emergent herbicides like Barricade with Bermuda grass, because it’s just not quite as dense as some of these other grasses. It doesn’t do quite as good a job of keeping out the weeds as the St. Augustines and the Palisades Zoysia. I feel like some of those Bermuda grasses are a little bit thinner, so they do allow weed seeds to germinate that are just blowing around out there in Mother Nature. When those seeds find a spot on bare dirt somewhere, they’re going to germinate. If sun can penetrate through to that dirt and germinate that seed, guess what? Weeds are popping up there.

With these thicker, denser grasses like the St. Augustine grasses and Palisades Zoysia, that sun can’t penetrate to that soil. So weeds never gets a chance to get started. A good healthy and thick turf is the best prevention for weeds coming up in your yard. So that’s kind of the strengths and weaknesses of the Bermuda grasses. 

I would say that the biggest strength of the St. Augustine grasses is that everybody in this part of the world has grown up around it. They know what it takes to take care of it. It does do a good job being thick and keeping the weeds out as long as you’re doing your part, which is mowing weekly, fertilizing, three to four times a year and regular watering.

if you’re not doing those things, I would say that you’re neglecting the grass a little bit and you may be asking for some issues. In some cases you may get away with it. In some cases you’re going to eventually pay a penalty of some sort, whether it’s in the form of excessive weeds or dead spots because you’re not cutting it but every two weeks instead of every five to seven days. You’re going to stress the grass out a lot by mowing infrequently, especially when it’s this hot this time of year. So you need to be mindful of that.

Is Drought Tolerance an Important Consideration for Houston?

 If you looked at a chart of Bermuda grasses, St. Augustine, Zoysias, they’re going to rate drought tolerance. I think Bermuda grass would rate towards the top, as far as drought tolerance. St. Augustine is going to be below that a little bit. But when we talk about drought tolerance, we’re usually talking about some studies that take the water totally away from grass for some extended amount of time and then measure which one, when we reapply the water, is going to come back, the thickest or recuperate the fastest.

That is not a homeowner situation. On the side of a road somewhere where there’s nobody watering that’s going to matter a lot more. And nobody I’ve ever talked to says they want to have brown ugly grass.

I think if you live in Austin and San Antonio, they have to tolerate grass going dormant during the summer because of heat and drought and water restrictions.  In Houston everybody wants their grass to be thick and pretty and green. To do that every grass that I sell requires one inch of water per week, whether it’s falling out of the sky or coming out of a hose, when it gets hot and dry like this. 

If the grass is green and growing, and not dormant, it requires one inch of water per week. When the temperatures moderate a little bit, early spring and, and late fall and whatnot, winter, obviously you shouldn’t be watering hardly at all probably. You can probably back off that one inch a little bit, but for the most part, most of the year here, especially when it gets really hot you’ve got to get that one inch of water on all of these grasses to have them thrive.

What Are Drawbacks of Some Grass Varieties for Our Hot Climate?

I would say the issue with St. Augustine is that you can get gray leaf spot in the summer, which you can prevent. I’d say one of the other biggest things that everybody gets is brown patch in the fall, you get the big yellow circles. Heritage G can also prevent that. Or if you see it pop up before you get a chance to prevent it, you can treat it with the Heritage G. so there are issues with St. Augustine, but nothing that can’t be fairly easily dealt with.

The Zoysias, the Palisades Zoysia, there is not many drawbacks to Palisades Zoysia in my mind other than the price tag. Palisades does require more sunlight. It requires more like the regular St. Augustine, the six to seven hours. Whereas the fine bladed Cavalier and Emerald can survive on like more like four or five hours. So it might just be that you don’t have a choice of Zoysias depending on your shade situation.

 I like Palisades because it is just like taking care of St. Augustine. If you grew up taking care of St. Augustine, or that’s what you’ve had before, the Palisades is a perfect grass because you mow it the same, you fertilize the same, you water it the same. you can mow it with a traditional mower and it will look just fine as opposed to the finer bladed Zoysias.

In my mind, the fine bladed Zoysias really need to be mowed with a reel mower. Not many people do that or have a lawn service that does that. also the finer bladed Zoysias, just like those Bermudas that we talked about, in my mind, they’re a little bit thinner, have a tendency to get a few more weeds in them than the Palisades.

The Palisades is very thick and carpet like and, just like the St. Augustine does a better job, in my mind, of naturally keeping those weed seeds out and keeping them from germinating. 

So we talked about the different grasses and their pros and cons throughout the year, but I kind of wanted to touch on all those, and this kind of does just give a brief overview of our grasses.

What’s the Best Grass Watering Schedule for Houston’s Hot Summer?

We have touched on water a little bit here, but let’s talk about what an optimal watering schedule looks like. If we’re getting supplemental help from Mother Nature and it’s raining, that’s better, because rainwater always makes everything grow better than the water coming out of a hose.

We’re going to talk about the watering times that I’m going to give you as if it’s not raining at all and we’re having to do 100 percent supplemental irrigation. If you have a hose and a sprinkler, the only way to make sure that you’re getting this right is to buy a couple of rain gauges, stick them out in the yard or use the old tuna can trick. stick those out in the yard and see how long it takes to put out a half inch or an inch of water. I can tell you that at my house with a hose and a sprinkler, the sprinkler that’s got all the holes in the bar and it kind of goes back and forth slowly, it takes about four hours to put out an inch of water.

It Might Take Four Hours to Get One Inch of Water from this Sprinkler

Most of the time I tell people that, and their jaw kind of drops. It takes four hours in one place — not four hours moving it around here, here and here — four hours in one place to put out an inch of water with that type of sprinkler. 

So ideally what you would do is you would do it twice a week. You would do two hours, on two separate days. I like to always time my watering where it is the morning after I have mowed. So if the grass gets mowed on Tuesday, my irrigation system comes on Wednesday and then it goes off, three to four days later. Kind of split the week up because hitting that grass with water right after you mow helps with the stress of mowing it and helps it jump back up and recuperate.

With an irrigation system, people ask all the time, how long do I need to water? And again, we’re talking about established grass here, we’re not talking about new grass, but with established grass, you need to be watering, two to three days a week, and you need to still that one inch of water, and starting the day after you mow.

The pop up style heads are the ones that pop up out of the ground and just spray in one place for however long the zone is going off. Those need about 12 to 15 minutes, as I have measured it, to put out their half inch of water. The rotor heads, the ones that pop up and move back and forth, slowly across a larger area, because they are covering a larger area, those need like 25 to 30 minutes per zone to put out that half inch of water.

Again, all of these different heads have different settings to where the gallons per minute can be changed. And that is obviously going to affect how much water is being put out. So the only way to truly tell is with that rain gauge. 

So, we also, tell lots of people too, well, how do I know if I’ve watered enough? well, I can tell you what they do at the farm is take a long handle screwdriver and go and stick it in the ground. And if it’s hard to get in the ground and it comes out totally clean, you need to water and you need to water quick and a lot, you push that screwdriver in the ground, it goes in the ground relatively easily, you pull it out, it’s got some mud on it, and some stuff stuck to it, you’re probably okay for another couple of days. So, there is that kind of non scientific way to check as well. So, that’s watering established grass. 

What About Watering Newly Installed Grass?

If we’re talking about watering newly installed grass this time of year, it is a whole different ballgame. No matter where you plant it or what type of grass you plant, you’ve got to absolutely flood it in there the first day.

I use those words with everybody, and, we have people call us occasionally and say I’m having problems with my grass. It’s kind of brown. They send us pictures. We can tell that the grass is just dying of thirst. and we ask them how long have you watered it? They say, “oh yes, I’ve watered it tons”. And well, how long did you water it? Well, I watered it 10 minutes. That’s not enough. We’re talking 8 to 10 hours of water that first day with a hose and a sprinkler. We’re trying to put out two inches of water the first day that you lay that grass. So, however long it takes to put out two inches of water is what you need to do that first day.

And again, the only way to tell is with the rain gauge, but you should be able to walk out on that grass and feel it just squish in the ground, give way under your feet, like after it’s been flooding outside and the ground. The grass sod should just squish, squish, squish under your feet as you walk.

You are taking your grass totally to the point of saturation because what you’re trying to do is seal that piece of grass to the ground. You want the dirt on that block of grass and the dirt on the ground to be in contact. You don’t want there to be any air pockets anywhere between the blocks of newly laid sod and the ground underneath.

If there are air pockets, those new little white roots come out of the bottom of that block of grass and hit that air pocket and they die. So, yes, 10 or 15 minutes of water may freshen the grass and the blades of grass up on top of that block, but it is not sealing that grass to the ground like has to happen. Remember that this grass has been ripped out of the ground, we’ve stacked it on pallets and transported it on an 18 wheeler up here, and it’s been 24 hours by the time it’s been laid in your yard. The grass is very stressed out, so all of that water helps with that situation as well. All these grasses that we’re talking about, Bermuda, St. Augustine or Zoysia, have to be watered the same the first two weeks.

I will say if you’re planting grass in the shade, you’ve got to be a little more mindful. It’s a little bit more of an art. You can overwater but for the most part, it’s a lot harder to overwater when you’re out in the sun because that grass has taken a beating from that sun.

 Your grass needs two inches of water that first day and an inch of water each day after that for the first week. And then we tell people on that second week you can start backing off some but it takes a lot of water in the summer to get grass going.  Please be mindful of the watering and don’t underwater. If you’re in the shade, don’t overwater as well. Call us if you need a few more pointers on how to work your way through that. 

Chinch Bugs Can Appear in Hot Dry Weather

What are some common problems this time of year? We’ve already, talked about the gray leaf spot a lot. I feel like that is the biggest issue. If this was a very, hot, dry, summer, we weren’t getting any rain, we would be talking about chinch bugs as well. Chinch bugs feed on drought stressed grass. We have not had one phone call this year about chinch bugs, though. We’re getting good rains regularly.

That’s not to say if the rain stops and just turns off totally, chinch bugs can absolutely show up in your yard. If that happens, they’re easy to get rid of. The issue is identifying them quickly, You pull in your house after work and you see hot dry spots in the yard. It’s important that you get a lot of water on those dry spots. Instead of being big and open, the leaves of grass kind of fold up. Your grass is trying to protect itself and hold in that moisture. it’s important to get water on the lawn immediately when you see that.

Chinch bugs can be mistaken for drought stress because they are looking for that drought stressed grass. Before you go turn the water on a good idea is to get on your hands and knees and kind of part that grass, look down in there and look to see if you see any of those little bugs, cruising around.

Chinch Bug Damage
Chinch Bug Damage

Usually when they show up, they show up in large numbers. The adults have wings, where their wings fold across their back. Usually the wings have white tips, so they make an X. If you see lots of little bugs crawling around in there, it’d be a good idea to get the water going immediately. But it is also a great idea to go to the store and get something that treats chinch bugs.

We recommend that you use a liquid insecticide. The easiest ones for chinch bugs are the ones that screw on the end of a hose and you just spray them out there. It’s a contact killer and it gets rid of them pretty quickly. You may have to do a couple of treatments. We sell the Cyonara which is the liquid that you screw on the end of the hose and you just spray it out there and it gets rid of them in a big hurry. If you are watering your grass, you probably won’t have a problem with chinch bugs.

I’ve never had chinch bugs in my yard because I’m putting out that inch of water a week. I do have a few trees around, so that probably protects some of the areas. We did have some show up in a little corner up by our office last year. We had to treat two times with Cyonara and watered and the grass came back just fine. You let it go too long. Chinch bugs, when they move in they kill the grass. It’s not that they damage it or eat the tops off of it like a sod webworm or something like that. They kill it.

So if you don’t find them relatively quickly, you’re going to be replacing that grass. Because all that is going to come back there is weeds. Chinch bugs can be tough when it gets hot and dry.

Should I Fertilize My Grass in July?

You should have fertilized with the Superturf in May and June. If you didn’t fertilize in May and June, I’m not sure what I would do when it gets really hot like this. If you don’t follow any fertilization up with a significant amount of water, it can burn the grass.

So this gets to be a dangerous time of year to put out fertilizer. We keep a little bit of Superturf around because it does at least have the slow release nitrogen in it. The nitrogen is what burns your grass when you just put the fertilizer out there and it gets a little water like a little sprinkle of rain or a heavy dew.

That little bit of water is enough to activate a fertilizer, but it’s not enough to water it in thoroughly. That is how grass gets burned. And over application of the fertilizer can burn your grass as well. If you use the Nitro-Phos Superturf 19-4-10, with the slow release nitrogen in it, the fertilizer is a lot more forgiving as long as you water it in thoroughly with the half inch of water right after you put it out.

But again, for future reference, May and early June is when you should put that Superturf out. The next fertilizer we will be talking about is the Fall Special fertilizer, and we will be putting that out probably in September or early October. That’s when you should put out the Fall Special fertilizer.

How Low to Mow Should I Go?

So we’ve touched on fertilizer, water and some of the problems that we’re seeing this time of year. I do want to mention mowing height. If you haven’t raised your mowing height or told the folks that are mowing your yard to do that now is a good time of year to do that.

You definitely want to be mowing at four to four and a half inches as opposed to three inches right now. You’re trying to protect that grass. You’re trying to stress it less by having a longer leaf allows that grass to gather more sunlight. And it also shades that dirt and hold some of that moisture in.

These are the reasons you keep your grass a little taller this time of year. It is definitely a good idea to raise that mowing height this time of year and that’s an important thing to do. So that is all that I can think as far as taking care of grass right now.

Call Us with Your Questions

If you do want to contact us, the best way is to call us here at our office at 281-431-7441. We’re happy to answer your questions and give you a quote for a project. You can also email us using our contact form. Since we are not as crazy busy as we were in the spring, usually we can respond back to you with emails relatively quickly now.

But the best way to get your questions answered is to call us and pick our brains over the phone. We’re more than willing to chat about any issues you might have or questions or anything like that.

We are going to be closed Thursday, the 4th of July. We will be open the rest of the time. We will be open that Friday. And we’re here to answer any questions or fill any needs you have as grass goes. So thank you for listening.