How to Keep a Healthy Lawn in Houston’s Heat and Drought

In Episode 5 of the Houston Grass Podcast, Michael answers a question about watering enough to maintain a healthy lawn during Houston’s current record heat combined with a drought.

If your grass does dry out, you should be looking for signs of chinch bug damage and act quickly if you find them.

Are you thinking of planting grass in the next month or so? Michael’s advice can ensure that your project is a success. Are you looking for grass? If so, you can be sure that the grass you get from Houston Grass comes from irrigated fields.

Call 281-431-7441 for quick quotes for your project and answers to your questions.

Summary of How to Keep a Healthy Lawn in Houston’s Heat

Good morning, everyone. I’m Michael Romine with Houston Grass, and this is the Houston Grass Podcast. We are in the depths of summer. This morning, we want to talk about some of the things that are on everybody’s mind to keep a healthy lawn. We haven’t had significant rain for a while now and we all face a pretty widespread drought across most of Texas.

A few lucky folks got an inch or so last week, but that didn’t even begin to ease the drought. The number one question that’s coming in on a daily basis right now is what’s wrong with my grass. It’s a little off color, is it fungus? That’s what most folks assume, and we normally get them to send a few pictures, but nine out of 10 of them are just not watering enough.

How Much Water for a Healthy Lawn?

So with established grass we tell people to check their watering by taking a long handle screwdriver and sticking it in the ground. If it’s either hard to get in the ground or if you can get it in the ground, but it comes out mostly clean with no mud or dirt on it, you definitely have some drought stress.

 If you can stick it in the ground relatively easily and it comes out with some mud on it then your watering is probably fine. It’s a good time to check.

 I think my sprinkler system is set to start about five o’clock in the morning. The only problem with that is that is that you’re not watching it. You might not be getting the hundred percent coverage that you think you are. So it’s a good idea to kick the irrigation on for a few minutes and walk by all the stations to make sure you’re getting a hundred percent coverage.

If you do see a hot spot in your yard, there are two most likely possibilities. I can pretty much guarantee that you either have some really hard and compacted dirt in the area compared to the rest of the yard or you’re probably not getting real good coverage in that area with your water.

 Drought tends to show us that for sure. So if you’ve got established grass and you’re watering with a hose and a sprinkler, watering an inch of water a week is the rule of thumb for a healthy lawn during Houston’s summer heat.

That that takes about four hours with most sprinklers that I’ve tried. The only way to tell a hundred percent is to stick a rain gauge out on your lawn and see what happens.

Ideally you do your watering with two, two-hour waterings, three or four days apart. You do that so your grass doesn’t go multiple days without water. If you have a large yard and you get kind of lazy and water four hours once a week, you can probably get away with that if you have some pretty decent dirt. Again, you need to make sure that you’re getting a hundred percent coverage.

If you have an irrigation system there are so many different kinds of heads that put out different amounts of water. As a general rule of thumb with the stationary heads — the ones that, that just pop up and don’t move back and forth — I do those for 15 minutes per zone. However with the rotary heads — the ones that pop up and move back and forth over a large area — I run those 25 or 30 minutes.

Check the Sunny Areas of Your Lawn

I do have a fair amount of shade in my yard from trees and houses and fences. So if you have a wide open area, you might increase those times a little bit for each zone.

If you’ve got a part of your lawn that takes that west sun for multiple hours it may need more frequent watering. You come home from work at five o’clock and you see the grass kind of curled up as opposed the grass leaves being nice and open and green looking. You need to increase the amount of water you’re giving your grass.

Again, one inch of water is what you’re going for. The only way to measure is by putting a tuna can or a rain gauge in various areas of your lawn. You need to increase that time you water or increase the frequency of your watering by a day or so. That’s because the second thing that I want to talk about is chinch bugs.

Chinch Bugs Attack Drought-Stressed Grass

Chinch bugs are looking for drought-stressed grass. They’re not moving into a healthy lawn. If you’ve got grass that’s well-maintained and getting plenty of water, they’re going to pass it right on by. And they’re going to look for hotspots in yards. Normally you’re going to see them start where two pieces of concrete intersect, like where the driveway and the sidewalk intersect.

Chinch bugs are attracted to places where that the heat from that concrete really radiates off onto that grass. If somebody’s not watering quite enough, so they’ll start right there and then they’ll move out across your lawn. Again, they’re looking for drought-stressed grass. If you give it to them and you give them the opportunity to kill your grass.

Don’t Assume Grass Is Just Drought-Stressed

When I’m driving back and forth to work I see chinch bug damage. People will assume that it’s just drought-stress — I’m not watering enough. And they don’t think anything more of it. That’s when you get in trouble, because that that area probably has chinch bugs in it. And the way you tell is you to look around the edges of those dry areas.

The chinch bugs move out of the dead area in the center. They’re not going to be there in the center anymore. They move out into the greener grass as they expand that circle. So you look along where the green meets the brown and you just you part that grass with your fingers and you can see the little black bugs. 

During different stages of life they’re a little bit different colors, but when I’m looking at people’s yards and when I’m looking for signs of damage, they’re primarily black bugs. I think that’s the more adult stage. They’re about the size of a big gnat and they’re crawling around and it’s pretty evident.

Common Bermuda Grass and Weeds Replace the Grass Chinch Bugs Kill

The problem with chinch bugs is they kill the grass as they eat. The grass does not come back. St. Augustine grass will not come back from chinch bug damage. What you will see is that common Bermuda and weeds start coming back up in those areas. And those areas will need to be replaced with new St. Augustine grass. So you need to kill the bugs when you identify ’em.

And at that point once you see the bugs you definitely need to be treating with a liquid pesticide of some kind. The most user friendly and best results that we see are the pesticides that screw onto your hose. The chinch bugs are real easy to kill with that liquid.

Cyonara Is Our Recommended Insecticide for Chinch Bugs

You do not want to use a granular insecticide because you don’t get that quick kill with the granular. So you want to put that liquid insecticide out there. We sell and we recommend Cyonara.

You need to apply a liquid insecticide a couple of times. Check the label and make sure that the insecticide you’re using is one that lists chinch bugs as something that it kills. Most of them do.

Spray that out there, and then you need to spray it again. You need to break that cycle. So you need to treat two or three times for sure. And then begin increasing that water in those areas. You need to start watering and you need to start spraying to prevent the spread of them. And then you’re going to have to take that dead grass out and you’re going to have to replace it. Chinch bugs are a pest for sure, especially when it gets really hot and dry. 

Unfortunately there’s not a real great budget friendly way to do this when we’re not getting any help from Mother Nature. So that’s a little bit about chinch bugs and watering — two of the main healthy lawn topics we’re to customers about right now.

Increase Your Mowing Height During the Summer Heat

I’ll say another thing determining whether you have a healthy lawn might be mowing height, I’d like to just mention that. You do need to make sure you’re increasing that mowing height. You definitely need to be all of three and a half or four inches right now which is a lot taller than most people are mowing their grass.

That extra height helps shade the dirt a little bit. And it helps to try to hold as much of that moisture as possible in the ground below. There’s also less stress on the plant when you’re not cutting as much. But it is a good idea to definitely increase that mowing height. Like I said, three and a half to four inches is a lot higher than most folks are cutting their grass. So please be aware of that. 

Can You Plant Grass During Houston’s Hottest Months?

Houston’s summer is not the ideal time of year to plant grass. People call and ask us about the best time of year to plant grass.

My number one choice is spring — March, April and May. My second pick is going to be fall — late September, October, and even most of November here on the Texas Gulf Coast. However if you’ve got a lawn project, you must do now it’s it’s not the end of the world. 

If you’ve got a plant grass right now you need to be aware of the water that your new grass will need. The watering requirements are higher for all grass right now under these kinds of conditions. But when new grass is planted, it’s even more susceptible to the heat.

Your New Grass Must Come Off the Pallet the First Day

So you just have to make sure that you plant that grass the day it shows up. There is no forgiveness for waiting a day or two. If you delay, you’ll end up with a bunch of yellow grass stacked on that pallet. 

It’s really really hot inside the pallet, and the heat is really yellowing off that grass really fast. So you need to get it off that pallet as quickly as possible. And you need to get water and sun on it as quickly as possible. That’s all year round, but even more so right now. There’s just not much forgiveness in doing that.

Your Grass Needs Two Inches of Water the First Day

You need to get two inches of water on it that first day. Again, the best way to be sure you’ve put enough water on the grass is to measure with a rain gauge. I can make some guesses as to how much you need to do with an irrigation system, but I will tell you with a hose in the sprinkler that you’re probably talking about eight or 10 hours that first day.

You can see the edges of each piece of grass as you’re standing out there looking at your lawn. You have to make sure you’re getting that hundred percent coverage because any block of grass that does not get that eight to 10 hours of water on it is not going to make it.

It is very important that you don’t try to hand water. Occasionally folks will stand out there with a hose to get that watering done. That won’t work. You need sprinklers or an irrigation system to slowly apply that water. You don’t want it to run off — you want it slowly sinking into that block of grass and the dirt beneath it. So. It’s important to slowly water that first day. Get that two inches, at least two inches of water out there that first day.

After the first day you’re looking at probably an inch of water each day for at least the next seven to 10 days before you can start backing off that water.

No Mowing for Two to Three Weeks

Definitely no mowing for at least two to three weeks. Keep that mower off of the new grass. It should be so wet for those first couple of weeks that you can’t get a mower out on it because it’s so soft and you’re leaving tire marks.

So it is possible to plant grass in the summertime. We sell a lot of grass in the summertime because projects come up. If it’s me, I’m not going to look at a big area of dirt or have dogs or kids dragging dirt inside the house. I want a healthy lawn instead. So I’m going to go ahead and take care of it.

But you need to go into the project knowing you need to work fast, get that grass off the pallet and get plenty of water on it. We talk to folks every week who way underestimate how much water that grass is going to need that when you first plant it.

Take Precautions to Prevent Gray Leaf Spot in New Lawns

Another thing to to keep in mind is that if you’re planting grass in any type of shade at all, whether it’s the Raleigh St. Augustine or Palmetto St. Augustine it would be a good idea to put some fungicide out.

Gray leaf spot can be an issue a lot of times. When it’s this hot and dry, we’re not talking to hardly anybody right now who are seeing issues with gray leaf spot. Because it is so hot and dry and that hot and dry air dries out that fungus. The gray leaf spot fungus needs moisture. So we’re just not seeing much of it. 

However, if I’m planting grass in the shade that gray leaf spot can really be an issue. So I’m treating the new grass with Heritage G or something like it to keep gray leaf spot from showing up when you dump all that water on it.

It’s really not that big of an issue in the wide open areas, because again, that sun doesn’t let that fungus take off. So but if I’m planting grass in the shade, that’s something to keep in mind as far as summertime planting goes.

Your Grass Is Our Business

We have people call us and ask if we have grass? I get the impression that a lot of the big box stores are not carrying grass right now because they just can’t turn it over fast enough. All we do is sell grass here, so we turn it over. You’re not going to get a bunch of yellow grass that’s been sitting here for three days that looks mediocre. We’re keeping it fresh and we turn it over fast.

For a lot of grass suppliers, the grass is a secondary part of their business. That is what a lot of the big box stores do. Grass isn’t a primary business for some of the mom and pops either. They can’t turn the grass over fast enough in the summer heat, so they either stop carrying it all together. Or they end up with yellow grass on their pallets. 

Our Grass Comes from Our Irrigated Family Farm

When you get into drought conditions like this another thing to keep in mind is a lot of farms don’t have irrigation. So they run out of grass. To be able to harvest grass requires a certain amount of moisture in the ground. And if they don’t get it from rain, a lot of these folks can’t cut the grass.

Our farm that my family runs, where all this grass comes from, is all under automated irrigation. Every square foot of it is getting watered every three or four days. So our grass is staying healthy and staying green, and it’s not stressed. So Houston Grass will always be the folks that have grass. We’re not running out. It’s going to be green and you’re going to like what you see. I just wanted to mention that as far as availability goes. 

So that’s all the topics I have here for today relating to keeping a healthy lawn in the Houston summer weather. I appreciate you listening. We’ll talk again next month.

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