In this episode of the Houston Grass Podcast, Houston Grass Owner Michael Romine talks about how to save your grass during the current drought in the Houston area and the Texas Gulf Coast. Call 281-431-7441 with your questions or a quote for your project.
Summary of How to Save Your Grass During the Current Drought
Good morning, everyone. This is Michael from Houston Grass, and welcome to the Houston Grass Podcast. We’ve been doing this for a little over a year now. It’s interesting to note that we are back to the depths of summer, even though the calendar suggests that it’s almost September.
We are currently in the midst of a really severe drought. I haven’t checked the drought monitor this week, but I looked at it last Thursday and it’s not looking good. Most of the Texas Gulf Coast is in the second worst category that they issue, and only Central Texas is worse. These areas are constantly expanding.
The main thing we want to talk about this morning is drought and issues related to it. We’re in a severe one and I’ve heard that the only thing that might break it could be something of a tropical nature, so we’ll have to see what the future holds.
Florida is battening down the hatches today in preparation for a pretty severe storm. We wish we could get a little bit of that rain, but that’s just not happening. And there are things that you need to do regarding your lawn when these dry times come around, which is inevitable.
Save Your Grass from Chinch Bugs by Watering Enough
One of the main things we want to talk about is probably chinch bugs. The drought stress is one issue. I was at an old neighbor’s house the other day. They installed grass last May, so about three months ago. We haven’t really had any good rain since then. Even if you have established grass, you can have problems during droughts, which a lot of you are probably seeing.
If you just planted grass and it’s still pretty young, what you’re doing, as I tell everybody, is relying solely on your irrigation system without ever using a sprinkler with a hose. Sprinkler systems are good, but depending on who you had install it, there aren’t many of them that are perfect.
People often call and wonder why a particular spot in their yard is drought-stressed or has chinch bugs. Nine times out of ten or even more, it’s due to a lack of water. You might not be getting very wet while standing out there when the irrigation is going off.
There might not be enough overlap there or you’re not running that zone long enough. If you take a screwdriver and stick it in the ground there, chances are you’ll find some really hard, dry dirt underneath. So, watering your lawn properly is key.
I know that it’s getting expensive and everyone’s tired of high water bills, but if you don’t give your grass an inch of water a week, whether it’s from a hose or an irrigation system, your grass will get stressed at the very least. Depending on how far away you are from that inch of water, you might start to see some drought damage.
The problem with drought damage and stress is that chinch bugs move in when this happens. Once they move in, they can be very detrimental as they kill the grass leaving nothing left.
It’s certainly possible to kill St. Augustine grass with just drought and heat and lack of water. But usually chinch bugs will help that process along if you’re not watering.
What Are Signs of a Dying Lawn
Signs of a dying lawn include grass blades closing up to protect themselves. You might notice this when you come home at the end of a hot day. They’re trying to retain that little bit of moisture they have. So, if the grass starts to turn brown and lose its color, you’ve got to get water on it quickly. If it gets to a point where the stems running parallel to the ground are brittle and break easily, your grass is dead, and it’s not coming back.
Usually, once St. Augustine grass dies, you can’t pour enough water back on it to bring it back to life. If chinch bugs get in there, it’s gone. What usually happens is common Bermuda grass or other weeds will take over those areas.
I’m seeing this in many people’s yards. I even have a small spot in my office that’s drought-stressed because it’s not getting enough water. It’s about a three by three-foot area that’s being taken over by common Bermuda grass.
To fix this, the area will have to be sprayed with Roundup or glyphosate of some sort. It will have to be removed down to the dirt and replaced with new grass, or the Bermuda grass will spread over the area. So, keep an eye out for those brown spots in your yard.
To know if you have chinch bugs, get down on your hands and knees at an ugly spot in your yard where the brown grass is, but on the perimeter where it’s still a little bit green. Start spreading that grass out and look for little bugs. The adult ones have white-tipped wings, so where their wings fall over on their back, they make a little white x. That’s really how you identify chinch bugs. When you have enough of them to be doing damage, it’s pretty evident.
Should You Mow and Fertilize Your Grass During Drought?
Someone asked the other day if they should cut the grass during a drought. Absolutely, if you are doing your job and you are watering and fertilizing regularly.
You should continue to fertilize your lawn and keep up with your regular schedule as far as fertilization goes. Especially now that we are having to irrigate so much, you’re flushing through a lot of those nutrients and it’s a good idea to stay on that fertilizer program. However, it is even more critical that you really water that fertilizer in because if you don’t follow up an appropriately measured amount of fertilizer with a good watering, you can burn your grass easily.
If you’re watering and fertilizing as you should, your grass will be growing and you do want to continue to mow it. You want to encourage horizontal growth by mowing high and leaving as much leaf tissue as possible to shade the dirt and hold onto moisture. The rule of thumb is never to take more than a third of the leaf tissue that’s there, which applies doubly now.
Keep your mowing height up during times like these. Mow higher than you’ve mowed before. You can probably raise the deck of a push mower just about all the way to the top and it’d be okay. Mowing frequency should stay the same at about once a week so you’re not cutting too much leaf tissue off at once.
How Do You Know if You’re Not Watering Enough
How do you know if you’re under watering and what does under-watered St. Augustine grass look like? Well, it starts to close up a bit, which is okay. Hit it with water the next day and it’s fine. But when it starts to turn brown and crispy, when you walk across your lawn and it’s kind of prickly because it doesn’t have much give to it, then it’s starting to become a problem.
If you dig down into your lawn and see some green in the stems, the grass is certainly salvageable, and you just need to increase your watering. With potential water restrictions, we may only be able to water one, two, maybe three days a week.
Just like we always say, those deep, infrequent waterings are better anyway. For example, I run the popup heads for 15 minutes per zone twice a week when we’re not in a drought. The popup and the ones that move back and forth, the rotor heads, run for 25 minutes a zone, and I have now bumped that to three days a week. That’s what I’m doing right now, especially in parts of the yard and flower beds that receive more sun than others and get no relief from the sun.
Deep, infrequent waterings make for a stronger, healthier plant. You still don’t want to water in the evenings. Right now, brown patch is not a concern. But in a normal year, brown patch is an issue. Mid-September is the time to normally apply your first round of the Heritage G to prevent brown patch or a fungicide of your choice. The further you move your watering time back in the night, the longer your lawn stays wet and the more likely it is to develop a fungus like brown patch.
How Long Can Grass Go Without Water Until It Dies
The last question I have here is: how long can grass go without water before it dies? Different grasses have different levels of drought tolerance. Bermuda grass usually has the highest drought tolerance, with Zoysia and St. Augustine somewhere behind it. We usually tell everyone that if you want to have pretty green grass, it takes an inch of water a week, no matter what kind of grass you have.
How long can grass actually survive without water or with very little water? Bermuda grass will likely win that race. When we’re experiencing record-breaking numbers of days over a hundred degrees, there’s not a lot of plant material of any kind that can handle that much heat for that long without some water.
Keep Watering to Save Your Grass
I know that running irrigation and getting $300 water bills is no fun. At some point, you might say you’ll just replace your lawn if it dies. But that’s an expensive proposition as well. So try to stay on top of that watering and look for dry spots around your yard.
When applying water to your lawn, it’s best to do so slowly using a sprinkler system. This is particularly true for our hard clay soil so that it’ll take in the water. A sprinkler is the only way to do this properly.
Hopefully, rain will come soon. Maybe not in the form of a category three hurricane, but a little rain would go a long way in solving a lot of these issues. We’ll be back next month to see where we are then. Thanks for listening.