Winter Grass Care Tips & Preparing Your Lawn for Spring

Houston Grass Owner Michael Romine talks about tips for winter grass care and what you can do in a month or so to start preparing your lawn for spring. Call us at 281-431-7441 for answers to your questions and a quote for your project. We are selling grass now.

Summary of Winter Grass Care Tips

Morning. I’m Michael Romine and this is the Houston Grass Podcast. It is mid January and we have just gotten through, hopefully what’s going to be our annual freeze. We had a hard freeze a week ago and everything is brown, including the grass that we’re selling. After that freeze, it also commenced with raining almost every single day and most of us in this part of the world have gotten four, five, six inches of rain so everything is very wet.

We got a fair amount of grass cut before it started raining, so we actually have grass in stock. Luckily this time of year you can do that because the grass is dormant and when we stack the grass on the pallets in these cool temperatures, it can sit for a prolonged period and be just fine.

So everything is brown. It is also wet right now. We are not popular at all and that’s the way January is supposed to be. it’s supposed to be wet, cool season and this is, I would say pretty typical. So this morning I want to talk a bit about that.

The phone calls that we are getting are obviously of interest to folks. I would like to talk a little bit about that. Then I’ve got a short list of questions here that I’ll try to answer as best I can that are relevant to how to care for grass this time of year.

My Grass is Brown — Is it Dead?

 One of the things that I’m probably hearing the most is, “why is the grass so brown”. We will hear this until the grass does green up. “Is it supposed to be that way?” “Is it dead?” The answer is no, it’s not dead. It is dormant. It is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.

The good thing about these hard freezes that we get every year is that most weeds you have are killed. There are a few that that can survive some of the winter weeds. The Poa annua is one of them that a freeze won’t kill. But almost everything else, the winter zaps them, and it also gets rid of some of those pesky bugs that can do damage to the turf like sod web worms.

They’ll try to winter over in the thatch, and when we get as cold as we did, that usually kills a lot of them, so maybe they won’t be as big a deal when it warms up. Mother Nature is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.

The grass isn’t dead, it’s dormant. It all has to do with ground temperature. once we get that ground temperature in the 60s, the grass kind of wakes up. It’s got to get into the 70s, before it really starts growing again. It’s usually March sometime before we consistently do that.

Sometimes it’s as early as late February, but safe to say most times we are March before we’re really getting greened back up. It’s going to take a little bit longer before the grass is 100 percent green in your yard.

The farm is going to push the grass a bit, going to cut it off a little bit sooner and pour on the fertilizer and water sooner than a homeowner should, trying to get the grass as green as they can as fast as they can, because they know that’s what people are looking to buy when it’s springtime. So that time is coming, but we’re probably going to be mid to late March before we have 100 percent green grass that we’re selling here.

Winter Grass Care Is Basically “Don’t”

A lot of people are looking out their windows and seeing brown grass and they’re wondering what they can do to fix it. Don’t. Now is the time of year to leave it alone and just let it be.

Same goes for your plants. I read all of the websites and whatnot. Everybody says resist the temptation to go out there and cut all the dead off your plants.

Same goes for grass. Don’t mow. You certainly don’t need to water right now, even if it wasn’t raining profusely like it has been. The irrigation system should be off.

A lot of people are asking should I fertilize? Absolutely not. Until that ground temperature we talked about gets up some, it’s not going to take up any chemical of any kind, including fertilizer. It’s an absolute waste of money.

You’d just be sprinkling it out there and the plant will not uptake it right now. It’s not growing. So no fertilizer right now. We don’t even think that Nitro-Phos has produced the spring fertilizer. They usually are producing whatever is in season. We might be able to get some right now but certainly do not put it out.

Winter Grass Care Transitions to Spring Grass Care in Late February or Early March

We’re looking at mid February to late February and early March for the usual last frost. You have to make your best guess as to when the last frost is going to be. If you put out fertilizer in mid February because we’re having some 80 degree days, and then we have a frost you’ve kind of wasted your money. You’re going to have to do it again.

One of the questions we’re going to get to here is mowing the grass off short. At some point you want to cut the grass off short, rake all that dead material out of there and, let that new growth come through.

And you don’t want to fertilize or mow the grass short until you’re confident that the last frost has passed. Be mindful of that. A safe bet is probably March. If we’re consistently for a couple of weeks in February getting into those eighties, then you might be able to do it a little earlier. Winter grass care transitions to spring grass care at that point.

What About Barricade Pre-Emergent Herbicide?

One other thing that people are asking about is the Barricade Pre-Emergent. The Barricade is the pre-emergent that we sell from Nitro-Phos. The schedule has that for February. You want to wait till February to get that out.

And then they’re also asking will it kill the existing weeds? No, it will not. Pre-emergent is exactly what it sounds like. It keeps the weeds from emerging. You put it out before the weeds emerge. You’re creating a barrier over that dirt to keep the weed seeds from germinating.

Anything that has already germinated it won’t touch. It’s not its job. The weed and feeds that we’ll talk about when it gets a little bit warmer that’s their job. Fortunately, that hard freeze we had probably took care of most of your weeds.

We’ve Recently Had a Freeze so What Should Homeowners Do Now?

What steps should homeowners take after a freeze to prepare their lawn for the springtime in the Houston area?

Like I said, leave it alone. Now is the time of the year to let it be. No fertilizer, no mowing. You certainly don’t want to put a mower out there when it’s wet and leave ruts. You’re doing more harm than good. Try to keep traffic off dormant grass because you’re wearing it down and it’s not able to regrow.

it’s not growing and you can wear it down so much that you wear it to the dirt and it won’t come back. So keeping the mower traffic and the heavy foot traffic off of it like that is a good thing. “Nothing” is the answer for this time of year.

In a little bit we’ll be talking about the mowing your grass off short and timing of doing that and getting some fertilizer and starting to apply water if we’re not getting consistent rain.

What’s Involved in Winter Grass Care?

In what ways does the winter season affect winter grass care practices in South Texas?

Well, winter is the off switch to Mother Nature. Everything goes into dormancy. Plants, grass and trees, they’re just sitting there. So they’re not uptaking any water. They’re not putting off any growth. So nothing needs to be mowed. it’s not growing.

No fertilizer is going to do any good. Leaving it be is what we do this time of year. If you have a yard with a lot of weeds and we get some warm days you could take your mower out. You don’t want to cut very much of the grass, but to make the yard look nice, it’s not going to hurt anything to run the mower across it once it dries out and cut the weed tops off so you don’t have to look at them 

Steps to Consider When Turning Your Irrigation System Back On

 What factors should homeowners consider before turning on their irrigation system for their lawn after the winter season?

Well, hopefully you, watched some of the videos on how to drain your backflow preventer. If you’re in the city, most folks have to have them. If you didn’t drain it, you’re probably going to be disappointed when you turn your irrigation system back on, you’re going to find out you’ve got a geyser on the side of your house and that backflow preventer is probably cracked.

So hopefully before the freeze, you did turn the valves off. Turn the screws 45 degrees and let the water run out of that thing and covered it up real well. Obviously before you can irrigate the rains got to stop. If we’re getting consistent rain don’t irrigate.

We’re in the time of year that the grass needs an inch of water every two weeks. We got five inches the other night. We’ve been getting at least weekly rains for a while. So there’s nobody watching these videos that needs to irrigate unless you live in Central Texas. They can’t get a drink up there. But you shouldn’t be watering.

A lot of people kind of think of an irrigation system as cruise control. You turn everything on and flip the switch back to on, and walk inside and hope that it does its thing the next morning or whenever you have it set to go off. That is when you should be doing your irrigation in those early morning hours — couple hours before the sun comes up.

So I would say set your irrigation system off during the day. Get the backflow preventer ready, turn the irrigation system on and go through each zone. Run it, and make sure you don’t have broken heads, make sure that none of the pipes froze and you cracked something, That’s not unheard of. And make sure, most importantly, that each head is covering the area that it’s designated for. Check that there’s not something plugged up — some trash in it or something like that where it’s not covering the area that it’s supposed to.

Check Coverage When You Turn Your Irrigation System Back On

A lot of people found out during the drought last summer that their irrigation system was not providing needed coverage. They had it on cruise control. Homeowners might think they’re doing well because they’re running the irrigation system three times a week 

They found out that they weren’t getting a hundred percent coverage and their grass died because we weren’t getting any water in those neglected areas. Mother Nature gave us nothing for months. If you weren’t covering 100 percent of the area with your irrigation system, you lost grass. And we’ve talked to people every day that that’s the story.

So making sure you’re getting a good coverage on the whole yard, and make sure you don’t have any leaks. That’s how I would say to get ready. And of course, don’t just leave it too run on one setting through the year. In the more moderate temperature times of year, you can get away watering less frequently. And then once we get to summer, you might have to bump it up an extra day. The rule of thumb is during the growing season, the grass needs one inch of water per week.

I know how I have mine set. Everybody’s is a little bit different. If you look, a lot of those pop up tips are different colors and that’s a designation for gallons per minute that they’ll put out. So all of them have different gallons per minute that they put out. But sticking some rain gauges out there is the best way to check to make sure that you’re getting the amount of water you expect.

Ideally, I would say in two waterings at most three waterings per week, you’re putting that inch out. The heads that pop up and move back and forth, need about 20 to 25 minutes per zone to put out that half an inch of water.

The stationary ones, put out that water faster. They’re more like 10 or 12 minutes. That is about what I do. A rain gauge is really the only way you’re going to tell that though, that is the surefire way. So getting set up to irrigate, those are the things that I would do, to get ready for that.

Fertilizing Your Grass in Spring

 Another question, what types of fertilizers are recommended for Houston area lawns and how do they vary based on the presence of weeds in the grass and the variety of grass?

Most people think about fertilizing their yard in springtime. If they don’t fertilize any other time of year, they do it in the springtime.

Everything’s greening up, it’s time to get out in your yard, temperatures are moderate, and, everything’s coming alive, So in the spring we will have three different fertilizers available. they will all be the same fertilizer, the Nitro-Phos 15-5-10, those are the mix of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

What is different about the turquoise bag and the purple bag of Nitro-Phos fertilizer? Those are the weed and feeds. The turquoise bag has Trimec in it, which is Bermuda grass and Zoysia grass safe, whereas the purple bag has Atrazine in it.

That is the one for St. Augustine and, it is not safe to put on the Bermuda grasses and other grass varieties. They both go about killing weeds in a little bit different way and are applied a little bit differently. The red bag is Imperial, and that is just fertilizer.

Imperial is the 15-5-10 fertilizer. The other two are the exact same fertilizer. Each of them has a different herbicide to kill the weeds. So if you don’t have a lot of weeds, then you just do the Imperial — that’s what you would want to put out.

That’ll give your grass just what it needs at the right time of year. We’re probably talking about early March doing that. If you do have some weeds, clovers and whatnot, the purple bag, the one with Atrazine in it is a good one.

A lot of people caution against using Atrazine year after year though. That’s a pretty harsh chemical. Using it year after year can start to take its toll on trees. Trimec is not quite as harsh. There’s a little bit of a different way you have to apply it that takes a little bit more effort and a little bit more planning. I guess it’s not that it takes more effort, a little bit more thinking ahead is needed to do that one. But those are the fertilizers that will be available and we highly recommend that you fertilize.

However, hopefully, with the with the cold weather, there’s not going to be many weeds to talk about, and if you put your Barricade pre emergent out, you’ll keep the weed seeds from germinating, and you can give your grass a good kick in the pants with just the Imperial fertilizer and get the grass growing. Hopefully that will be the case this spring. 

What’s the Impact of Barricade on Weed Control?

What is the significance of applying pre emergent Barricade to the lawn in late February and what impact does it have on weed control?

We talked about that earlier in the podcast. I believe it’s three times a year that our Established Grass Tip Sheet schedule calls for. The Randy Lemon schedule follows pretty closely to Nitro Phos’s schedule. And I believe it is three times a year. Yes, I’m looking at the schedule here now. It’s February, May, and the fall, October, November that you put out the Barricade pre emergent.

And like I said, think of it as a weed seed blanket over your grass. It creates an invisible layer over the dirt that keeps any weed seeds that blow in, dropped by birds, or whatever, from germinating. It doesn’t prevent all of them, but if you follow the program and do it three times a year, it prevents a whole lot of them.

Then you’re not calling us and asking about what herbicide will kill this weed or this weed. When you get into that, there’s a real danger — certainly as it warms up — of killing your St. Augustine or Bermuda grass or whatever grass is that you’re trying to grow.

So, staying ahead of those weeds and preventing them is a whole lot better and a whole lot easier and cheaper, and less dangerous than having to treat them when they do come up. Putting that pre emergent out in a timely manner and on the schedule is a good idea. 

What’s the Timing of Grass Maintenance Tasks Relative to the Last Frost?

How does the timing of grass maintenance tasks such as scalping, fertilizing, and applying pre-emergent correlate with the timing of the last frost in Houston? 

These are three things you should do annually. You need to scalp the grass off once it warms up and you need to fertilize and you need to start applying the water and the pre-emergent to keep the weeds from coming up.

We scalp it off once the last freeze has passed, if you do it too early and then a frost comes, all that new tender growth that’s exposed takes it on the nose from that frost. So, you don’t want to do that until you’re confident it’s past last frost. 

What you do is you cut the grass and drop your mower deck down. If your mower is set for three and a half to four inches from last fall, you just want them to drop it down a notch or maybe two. Maybe you drop it down to two and a half or three inches. It’s only one time a year that you do that, but you cut it off real low.

It’s important to rake up or bag to get all that dead material out of there because what you’re trying to do is get rid of thatch. It’s basically less layers of stuff that the new grass has to grow through. You want to expose all that new growth to as much sun and air and fertilizer and everything as possible so getting all that old dead stuff off is important to do after the last frost.

Once you do that, follow it immediately with fertilizer and some water because you always need to water in fertilizer and that will give it a really good start. Like I said, probably early to mid March is the safest time to do that, however, if things really green up and really start growing early, then you want to jump on that. So something to keep in mind.

Why Should I Buy Grass Grass Now?

What are the advantages of purchasing grass during the winter months and how does the winter play a role in the establishment of new grass on a property?

There are several advantages.  People build houses and to close on a new house, you got to have grass. People still have dogs that tear up yards and they want to put something out there to cover up the mud. Lots of reasons to put out grass. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting out grass this time of year.

You’ve got to water it a whole lot less. Just put the grass out there, you water it in real good. With the amount of rain that we’ve been getting, you walk away from it. As long as we’re getting weekly rainfall obviously. If you need installation and pricing, the installer guys are not as busy.

If we have any price increases, the farm usually goes up on their prices March 1st, So if you’re doing it this time of year, before March, you’re paying a little bit less. And the install guys stay pretty busy year round. But once spring gets here, they get absurdly busy 

The gentleman that installs all of our grass, Omar, he gets really busy, really fast. and he’ll get a two to three week lead time pretty quick cause lots of folks are calling in and asking about that. 

So taking care of it right now is a great idea! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the grasses just laying there. It’s not growing. You just keep the foot traffic off of it. It will start to grow and put down roots once we get those those warmer days. When we get in those 70s and 80s, it’ll start to put down roots and start to green up There’s certainly nothing wrong with putting down grass this time of year.

How to Avoid Grass Supply Shortages and Higher Prices

How do external factors such as supply shortages and pricing fluctuations impact the availability of specific grass types?

For several springs now, our farm gets short on a lot of grasses and usually the second half of spring they even get shorter.

They start getting short on our primary grass, which is the St. Augustine. We’ve done that for several years. Unless something is drastically different this year, that’ll be the case again. They have the most acres of the Raleigh St. Augustine. So that’s usually the last one to start running low on, but I’m already hearing whispers of there being short supplies of Bermuda grasses from several people, including our farm. And we just have limited acres of the Zoysias.

 The Zoysias, specifically the Cavalier and Emerald, the fine bladed zoysias, they are a tiny fraction of the amount of acres that they have, so they just run out. We’ve only got so much, so if you’re interested in any of those grasses I recommend that you do it sooner rather than later. Or at least call us and find out where we are.

We’ve gotten to where we only keep the fine bladed Zoysias available in the springtime and once they’re gone, they’re gone. They take a full year to grow back. so you’ve got to stay, stay in contact with us about that. And they’re just harder to find because there’s less acres of them in production out there.

For the Palisades Zoysia, we have a lot more acres of it for a lot of reasons. I’m a big believer in Palisades. I think it’s a fantastic grass and obviously so do a lot of other people. So we’ve got more acres of that. So that one’s a little more plentiful, but, it can run out as well.

With the Bermuda grasses, a lot of the home builders have gone to putting Bermuda grass in people’s yards and new houses where that wasn’t the case 10 years ago. That was unheard of. It is because of its drought tolerance that a lot of home builders are calling for Bermuda grass. Developers are calling for Bermuda grass in yards.

We have not increased our acres of Bermuda, and I don’t think many other people have either. So when you’re needing one or two pallets to replace some grass, or you have another use for Bermuda grass for whatever reason, sometimes it can be harder to get our hands on as well. So, those are just the facts when spring gets here and everybody is thinking about buying grass.

As far as pricing, I’ve already been told that there will be a price increase. The cost of labor they’ve been told is going up fairly significantly at the farm, So I know that we’re going to have what looks like a fairly small price increase. But there will be a grass price increase coming in March. I just don’t know exactly what that’s going to be yet.

 What considerations should homeowners keep in mind when purchasing grass for their property in terms of timing and potential price changes?

Well, that’s just what we talked about. There will be a price increase in 2024 and price increases always happen in March.

You get it done before that. If you have the forethought to go ahead and start getting it knocked out in February, you can save a few dollars a pallet or whatever it’s going to be. So try to get ahead of the crowd is what I would suggest.

How Is Winter Grass Care Impacted by Anticipated Warmer Weather?

How does the anticipation of the spring season’s warmer weather impact the maintenance and care required for Houston area lawns?

We’re in late January now, so I wouldn’t test the irrigation system right now because we could certainly be in for another freeze in February. The big freeze we had three years ago in 2021 was mid-February. So, a hard freeze can be at least as late as that.

So be thinking about getting the fertilizer out and getting your irrigation system ready after the last frost. Either you could look over the irrigation system or have a professional do it. Make sure your irrigation system is ready to go.

Winter grass care is mostly enjoying not having to maintain a yard. March will be here before we know it. and you will be fertilizing, mowing and irrigating.

So, just keep those things in mind and, hopefully we’re going to warm up and dry up a little bit. We’ll be here when y’all are ready for grass. If you have any questions. give us a call. Thanks for listening.