Publications (Paul's Blog)

October 3, 2010

LAWNS LIKE IT HOT

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul Dowlearn @ 3:58 pm

June marks the official beginning of Summer and the time that is most stressful to plants in general. This stress is, of course, due to lack of rainfall, lower humidity, and those dry windy days that suck the moisture out of leaves. Thankfully there are some plants that do quite well in Summer regardless of the hot, dry conditions. Your lawn grass happens to be one of those plants.

Just think about the fact that over the years we have invented various edging tools to keep that grass from spilling over the curb or growing out onto the sidewalk. Now, as children, did we not melt our Crayolas or attempt to fry an egg on that same sidewalk? I remember doing both in our old neighborhood. This is irrefutable proof that our lawns love heat. Left unchecked, that lawn will crawl right over the curb and onto the even hotter asphalt street. The trick is to supply adequate moisture when needed.

Unlike trees and woody shrubs that respond best to occasional deep soakings, grass can benefit from shallow moisture. This is due to the extensive root systems and abundant leaves that can soak up moisture quickly. Those brief afternoon showers may not be enough to revive a wilting tree, but can sustain your lawn for several days, perhaps even a week depending on the grass you have planted. The most drought tolerant lawns are (in order) buffalograss (some folks are planting a mix of buffalo/blue grama), zoysia, bermuda, then St. Augustine. Fescue is no longer recommended in Texas due to high water needs. Buffalo and blue grama grasses can remain green for a month on as little as one inch of rain. Furthermore, all of these grasses are capable of turning completely brown during severe drought then will bounce back quickly once moisture is available.

My point here is that although most folks generally want to plant lawn grasses during the Spring, the better time to plant is actually Summer. For instance, bermuda seed planted in early April may fail to germinate if the soil is still too cool (below 65 degrees), in May bermuda may come up in a week to ten days, but I have seen it come up in only three days at temperatures of 105 degrees. The hotter it is the faster grass will grow, provided adequate moisture is available.

Unfortunately, most people think that Spring is the only time to plant. In truth, there are certain plants that are best suited to planting in Fall or Winter, and yes, even Summer.  Lawn grasses fit into that Summer category. Here in North Texas we say that grass season does not really start until May and we encourage planting through the Summer and into September. In spite of this, we get phone calls from folks wanting to plant grass seed and/or sod as early as February……….no kidding!! It seems that after a few warm days that Spring Fever hits and some folks think that the local nursery should have green grass for sale. Understandable given the fact we are all happy that Winter is almost over but certainly not practical from the standpoint of common sense. Landscaping is generally a seasonal business but there is work to be done in all seasons.

If your early attempts at growing grass were not successful, try again. As stated, June is that transition time from Spring into Summer. Most years we can count on adequate rainfall during June to help us get that grass established and perhaps save a bit on the water bill. June is certainly warm enough to count on fast growth and quick establishment. In fact my buddies in the lawn care biz really dread a rainy June because that means they will need to mow their customers twice a week to keep things looking good. By July the heat will turn up and most of us will consider ourselves lucky to catch the occasional pop-up thunderstorm. Still, our lawns will grow as long as we irrigate properly.

Bermuda still remains the first choice among new homeowners even though it is now ranked number three in terms of water use and general maintenance requirements. The main reason for this popularity is that bermuda seed is cheap and this grass grows very fast. In the hot months we can go from seed to a mowable stand of grass in three to four weeks. That is very appealing to a new homeowner facing weeds and/or bare dirt. In addition, because bermuda has been used for so many years in Texas, we are familiar with it. Unfortunately most people are hesitant to try new things.

If you are one of those who are not put off by the unfamiliar, buffalograss is the most tolerant of climate and soil conditions west of I-35. Buffalo has been around for a long time in our undisturbed rangeland. It is a superior grass for livestock and yes, the buffalo did seek it out for forage so Plains Indians and the buffalo hunters of the early pioneer days knew if they could find this grass the buffalo would come to them; hence the name.

Buffalo actually looks like a lighter colored, miniature version of bermuda. The only real drawback to using buffalograss in the suburban lawn is in fact bermuda. Existing bermuda is nearly impossible to totally eradicate. Buffalo, being the shorter grass, simply cannot compete with the aggressive bermuda, so, attempts at switching out your lawn grass will usually fail. In Nature, tall guys shade out short guys and fast growers overtake the slower ones. However, for those building new homes, and especially those of us who live in the country with no close neighbors, should consider buffalograss as the number one choice in low maintenance lawns.

A similar story exists with St. Augustine. This grass has been the popular choice for shady lawns for many years and still gets planted today even though it is not very cold hardy, needs lots of water, and seems to fall prey to every insect and/or disease in the book. Truthfully, St. Augustine should not be planted north of I-20 or west of I-35. Most people just are not aware that there are now better choices.

New varieties of wide bladed zoysia grasses are now being offered for those living in the colder, drier regions of Texas. We prefer the variety called Palisades which is being grown by North Texas sod farms. These guys never were willing to “bet the farm” on St. Augustine which has always been successfully grown in the wetter climate of Southeast Texas. Palisades zoysia is just as shade tolerant as St. Augustine and is very cold hardy plus resistant to most insects or disease common in North Texas. Zoysia is more drought tolerant than bermuda and loves sun as well.

Do some research, consider your options, and plant’em while it’s hot! See ya next month.

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