By Francesca Singer
For a state known for being tough, Texas lawns sure are tender. Most Texans have a soft spot for the luscious, green yards that seems against all odds in this thirsty state. The trick to an enviable lawn is pretty straightforward: You’ve got to treat your lawn with TLC. Here’s the essential guide to Texas lawn care.
Build on a Solid Foundation
If you’re just getting started installing a lawn, you can ensure success from Day 1 by laying the right groundwork. Applying a layer of compost and tilling it into the top few inches of topsoil provides an ideal base for sod. If your established lawn is looking a little patchy, rent a core aerator and poke holes in the sod to help the soil breathe. Then, topdress with a healthy layer of compost. Rake it in well and give it a deep watering and see how fast your lawn thanks you.
Know Your Type
Your turfgrass type will have a lot of bearing on how you mow, so don’t overlook this critical detail. Most Texas lawns are Bermudagrass, Centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass, or Zoysiagrass. St Augustine has a recommended height of 2½ to 4 inches while Bermuda should be cut to 1 to 2 inches. Know which grass type you’re working with and set your mower blade height accordingly.
Mow Like it’s Your Job
The truth is, mowing in Texas can feel like a job, because unlike up north, we have to mow for much more of the year. Texas grass goes brown and dormant during winter — even the mild winters of the Gulf Coast — but those winters are much shorter. Mowing is the key ingredient in a healthy lawn. It helps to control weeds and create the density we want. Never take more than one-third of the total height off at one time. Anything more stresses the grass and can leave it vulnerable to disease.
During midsummer peak growing season, you’ll need to mow at least once a week. In the summertime, raise the mower blade height to cut to the highest recommended length to help the grass survive the long, hot, dry months of summer. Also, take care to keep those mower blades sharp so that they cut, rather than tear the grass.
Watering can be a touchy subject in drought years during watering restrictions. The truth is, most lawns don’t need to be watered as frequently as you might imagine. Your lawn will benefit from a long, deep watering once a week, far more than it will from two short, shallow sessions. The reason is simple: A long watering allows water to penetrate deep into the soil, and the grass roots will grow deep to chase it. The deeper the roots, the healthier the turf.
Most folks program their irrigations systems, but that doesn’t mean you can just forget about them. Do an annual water audit at the beginning of spring to make sure all the sprinkler heads are in good working order, there are no leaks in the line, and that water covers your lawn without wasteful overspraying. If you don’t have an automatic system, wait to water until you see signs of dehydration. If you walk across the lawn and the grass doesn’t immediately spring back, it’s time for a drink. If you’re not sure about watering, the extension office in your county has a daily update on water data for your area to help you calculate your irrigation needs.
Seasonal Care & Feeding
Most lawns in Texas need a little overseeding in the fall or early spring to fill in any sparse patches. Annual aeration can help to spruce up lawns that have had a lot of traffic. A little fertilization at the right time also goes a long way. If you use a 4-1-2 fertilizer, spread it sparingly twice a year. For the organic route, broadcast fine compost instead.
The goal of lawn care should always be the same: to spend less time working on our lawns so we can spend more time enjoying them. Get the lawn you want by sticking to some basic care routines, and then pull up a chair and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Francesca Singer is a former farmer & landscape architect who is passionate about plants, DIY home restoration, and travel. When not writing, she can be found working in the garden, wrangling her toddler, or wielding power tools in Texas or rural France.