How to Start the New Year with Less Lawn Care

In the video, Houston Grass Owner Michael Romine talks about less lawn care during the winter months. Call 281-431-7441 with your questions or a quote for your project.

How to Start the New Year with Less Lawn Care

The Winter Lawn Guide to Less Lawn Care

Good morning, everyone. I’m Michael Romine, and this is the Houston Grass Podcast. We are a few days before Christmas here, at the end of December. It’s been about a month since we did this, and temperatures have gotten cooler a little more consistently.

We have had a few frosts; some have been heavier than others, so that has started sending the grass more towards dormancy. And when that happens, you also slow down anything having to do with fungus and stuff like that, getting out of the range that it really needs to be in to happen.

We’re supposedly in an El Niño pattern. We have started to get out of the drought a little bit, but it’s still been a little drier, so it certainly hasn’t been real wet. So that’s another thing that’s another input for brown patch—moisture, especially excessive moisture.

And we haven’t seen a lot of that. So it’s not too rampant this year, and that has shown by the sales of our Heritage G fungicide—just not as many people needing it. So, which is a good thing, the soil temperatures have started to drop down pretty consistently.

Less Mowing Means Less Lawn Care

I’m sure you’ve certainly noticed by now your grass is not growing near as much as it was. You’re not having to mow as frequently, and that is fine. There’s no sense in mowing for the fun of it out there. I guess the main things that we normally talk about are fertilization and water and mowing.

Something to think about is mowing frequency. Right now, you’re probably every other week if you’ve got lawn guys or if you’re doing it yourself, you definitely need to go to every other week. They’re not cutting hardly anything, but you do want to keep those leaves off that grass. You don’t want to let them form a matted layer, which can be tough on the grass for lots of reasons. But it still needs sunlight; it needs to breathe. So you want to get those leaves off there.

Mowing frequency goes way down. Once all the leaves are gone off the trees and this grass goes totally dormant after another frost or two, you’re probably every three or four weeks mowing. And again, that’s probably just the weeds that you want everything to look uniform.

No Fertilization Means Less Lawn Care

Fertilizer’s long since passed. You needed to have fertilized in October, early November at the latest. So if you missed it, it’s fine. You just get on the program in springtime. We’ll talk about that a little bit, but no fertilization to do now.

Watching the brown patch—if you see some, Heritage is a fine idea, but as late as it is in the year, dormancy is just around the corner. A couple more frosts and everything’s going to be brown that’s not already brown. And that’ll be a non-issue.

Less Watering Means Less Lawn Care

I can tell you personally, I’ve had my irrigation system off at our office and at my home for probably six or eight weeks pretty easily now. If we go more than two, two and a half weeks without any measurable rain, it would be a good idea to water. There are several reasons for that. The grass does need an nth the amount of water that it needs when it’s growing and when it’s hot outside and stuff like that.

But it does need some water. Moisture irrigation or rain helps keep those roots insulated. So if we do get a hard frost or a freeze, it’ll protect that plant. We have gotten one hard freeze per year pretty much for the last three years.

And which sends everything brown and ugly. But you do want to make sure for your plants’ sake and your grass, you want to keep everything with some water. Don’t just completely neglect all this stuff because that moisture in the ground does insulate those roots and will protect it if we do get a hard frost and one sneaks in on us.

That is something to keep in mind as well. Staying on top of watering—excessive irrigation this time of year is usually a bigger deal than not watering enough. People still running their irrigation systems—I kind of cringe when I’m driving down the road and I see irrigation systems going right now because there is probably not a need to be doing that, and you’re probably doing more harm than good by inviting fungus and whatnot.

So think about that. If we go more than a couple of weeks without at least a half-inch of rain or so, it might be a good idea to kick it on everything—your plants and grass included.

Should You Turn Off Your Irrigation System?

Do be careful with those irrigation systems. Now is a good time of year because we’re turning them off for the most part to go ahead and drain them in case you’re out of town or something and a freeze sneaks in here and breaks those backflow preventers.

There are lots of videos out there that show you how to shut off both handles and then turn the little screws 45 degrees to release the water out of those things and then wrap them up and protect them for the winter. For the most part, you’re pretty safe to do that now since we’re probably not watering.

You Can Plant Grass in the Fall and Winter in the Houston Area

So that is something to keep in mind. Other than that, we are still selling grass now. I think we’re some of the only people selling grass. People who don’t do this year-round move to Christmas trees and other focuses this time of year because it’s kind of an insignificant piece of their business. But we sell grass year-round. So if you need grass, we’ll be selling pieces, pallets, all varieties of grass.

We’re here for you if you need, as people ask. One of the questions everyone calls about this time of year is whether it’s okay to plant grass. Absolutely, you can plant grass. The only time that it would be an issue is if we had just harvested and you just planted it, and we just get a really hard freeze—a multi-day below-freezing event which we haven’t had in years.

Even the one we had three years ago where it was below freezing for a couple of days damaged some of the grass at the farm that had been freshly harvested and the new ribbons exposed to that North wind. But anybody who planted anything—it was a non-issue. So it’s okay to plant grass here on the Gulf Coast year-round—no problem.

As far as planting new grass this time of year, it is a fine time of year to do it, but it’s certainly better than summertime. It’s not as good as springtime because springtime it just hits the ground growing and attaches to the ground real fast. This time of year, you’re going to plant the grass and it’s probably not going to put down roots at all until springtime unless we have some warm days—those days in the high seventies or low eighties—which we haven’t had in a while.

It would try to put down roots on days like that when it’s a little warmer this time of year. But for the most part, you’re going to lay that grass out there, lay the blocks out there just like we normally do. Butt them up tight next to each other, and you are going to water it excessively that first day to get it good and stuck to the ground, get rid of air pockets and whatnot.

But the grass is not going to be putting down roots. So what you have to do is keep any traffic off it, but certainly keep heavy traffic off because basically it’s like—you don’t want to wear out the material on top. If you have a lot of dog traffic or people walking over grass that’s not rooted down, there’s obviously no roots; there’s nothing to replenish it. If you wear that grass down to the dirt, it’s going to be hard for it to come back.

So what you want to do is just lay that grass, let it lay there, and until it greens up in the spring, it’ll start growing and replenishing itself should you wear it down a bit. Getting it out there and then again, watering—you do water it big, just like I would tell you to do in the summer. Maybe not as crazy as you have to in the summer, but an inch and a half, two inches of water that first day. And then you don’t need to water it but just like we’re talking about—if we’re not getting any rain at all, you water it once a week or something like that just to keep those roots moist. You don’t want it to totally dry out, but it doesn’t take near as much water, which is a benefit to doing it this time of year.

So you just have to be a little bit careful with it. It’s certainly better than just leaving sand and dirt out in your front yard or having a construction project and a big mud hole out there. Lay grass over it, keep the dogs off as best you can, and it’ll do fine.

Overseeding with Rye Means More Lawn Care

People also ask about over-seeding or different questions—the same way of asking different questions. What people are doing that have green yards this time of year, they’re over-seeding with rye grass, which you put out like with a fertilizer spreader at a pretty high rate. It will sprout and drop down to the dirt, sprout up, and you get the green until it heats up. Usually, by May, the heat here will kill it, but you’ll start to see it degrade as we get warmer days because it’s a winter grass.

Some farms over-seed with that seed and then harvest the grass and sell it just so they have something green to sell. We do not.

And we also don’t recommend that homeowners over-seed their yard. First, you’re signing up for year-round lawn maintenance. You’re going to have to continue to water, though not as much because of the cooler temperatures. You’re going to have to continue to mow. And the thing that we really don’t like about it is when spring gets here, both that grass and whatever grass you have will be growing until about May.

But by late February, early March here, whatever grass you have, whether it’s Bermuda or St. Augustine or Zoysia, whatever, it’s going to start greening up and needing moisture and nutrients. So the rye grass and whatever grass you have there are going to be fighting for the same moisture and nutrients. And we have found that it can be pretty tough on that plant.

So that’s the main reason we don’t like to do it. It’s not the end of the world. You can do it. We’re not going to ever over-seed at our farm for that reason. But just keep in mind that you’re going to have to get on a good fertilizer program and watch that watering if you decide to do it.

Winter May Be a Good Time for Dethatching and Aeration

We’ll be talking about dethatching the grass in springtime once you’re sure we’re past our last frost, which is probably early to mid-March here. At that point, you want to cut everything off real short for the first time and then rake all that dead material out of there to allow the sun to penetrate through and get the moisture down and allow all that new growth to get going.

This is a fine time of year to aerate. There are better times of year than others to do that, but I know that core aeration—the one where it takes a core out of the ground and deposits it on top—is the best form of aeration as opposed to just the solid spikes that poke a hole in the ground. Anything is better than nothing, but core aeration is good because it breaks up that hard pan and cuts back on compaction some. So that is a fine thing to do once or twice a year.

Less Lawn Care Still Means Some Lawn Care

We talked a little bit about backing off on the watering, maybe using fungicide if it’s an issue, if you’ve got some active brown patch, cutting back on the mowing, and then as we progress into winter, cutting back on those things even more as the grass goes really brown after a couple of hard frosts. Keep the traffic off if you can. There’s no sense in the lawn guys coming weekly or yourself, whoever’s doing the mowing, especially if you’ve got a heavier mower and you’re running in the same tracks. All you’re doing is pounding tracks in there, and that’s rough on the grass—just like brand-new grass; it’ll have a harder time coming out in spring if you wear it out when it’s not growing.

So stay off of it, only water when needed—more than likely, Mother Nature is going to provide enough rain so that you’re not going to have to water much at all.

Now I say that, if we get into a long period with no rain, like I said earlier, you want to give your plants and grass a little drink to insulate those roots. We’ll be back next month; there won’t be a whole lot to talk about—we’ll still be dealing with dormant grass and a lack of things to do.

We get about three or four months out of the year when we don’t have to do a whole lot here on the Texas Gulf Coast, and we’re getting into that season. But spring will be here before we know it, and we can talk about fertilization and first mowings and all of that. Thank you for listening, and we’ll see you next month.