Great Gardening – Central Texas: I look forward to living a beautiful lawn

As I looked out the window at breakfast this morning (Valentine’s Day), I saw a herd of cardinals playing in the vines on my fence, looking for leftovers in the damp, cool morning air. What a beautiful and welcome place as it promises spring and is a reminder that this time of year there are tasks to be done to prepare for new plants to grow.

One area that needs attention is our lawns. Lawns have become such an important part of our landscapes. Typically in central Texas we have St. Augustine grass or Bermuda grass, some of us even have weed-only grass. We put her to bed for the winter, but as the weather warms up we see green leaves sprout between the brown winter coat. The only green we can see now is the leaves of winter weeds. How do we prevent these weeds? If no pre-emergent was applied in the fall, the growing weeds now have a head start. We can pull weeds or remove them with a weed control tool, or we can spray them with a weed killer of choice. Just kill weeds. Weedkiller broadcasts are wasteful unless the area is completely covered in weeds.

To prevent weeds in spring and summer, apply it now before emergence, before the seeds start to sprout.

Now is the time to prepare your lawnmower for future work. Scalping the lawn is one of the prudent lawnmasters first tasks, so having the lawnmower ready will help. When the grass leaves turn green in spring, scalp the lawn by mowing close to the ground. Scalping removes much of the thatched roof and develops new growth faster. To properly scale the scalp, set the lawnmower as low as possible. Remove the clippings and put them in the compost heap, preferably not packaged for city landfill.

Heavy traffic can cause the soil to compact and stress the lawn. It is a good idea to aerate the lawn. Use a core aerator when the grass is actively growing. This will make small holes at least 5 cm long in the ground so that the roots of the plants can grow deeper around the holes. This allows water to penetrate the soil right down to the roots. A sign that your lawn needs aerating is when water is draining from the soil instead of entering the soil.

Fertilizer is important. To determine the type of fertilizer you need, your soil needs to be tested. Soil tests are simple and inexpensive. Contact our local County Extension office, Bell County Office, 1605 North Main, Belton, TX 76513, phone: 254-933-5305, or visit

When should we fertilize? Start fertilizing three weeks after the grass has turned green and the chance of a late frost is low. This comes from a paper on the maintenance of St. Augustine grass lawn from the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. How much fertilizer should be applied? Apply one pound of soluble nitrogen to 1,000 square feet of lawn every eight weeks or 1.5 pounds of slow release nitrogen every 10 weeks.

Another publication, “Warm Season Lawn Fertilizing For Texas Grasses” (Google this publication title) provides helpful information on choosing the fertilizer for your lawn from the many choices in this area and exactly how much of the various nitrogen mixtures is needed, phosphate and Use potash per 1.00 square foot. This information will help after you get the results of the soil test you submitted.

Letting the clippings fall back onto the grass will reduce the amount of fertilizer your lawn will need. Overfertilization increases the watering required to maintain your lawn or even to burn your lawn.

The next step is watering your lawn. Deep watering helps develop a comprehensive root system.

Water about half an inch of rainfall and don’t water again until the grass shows stress in about five to ten days. This also allows the roots to grow deeper and feed on the nutrients there and create a healthier lawn.

With proper care, the grass grows beautifully just to create work for us to maintain our lawns. Mow St. Augustine to about two inches high. Mow it when it’s about three inches high. Try to remove only a third of its height. When it is 2 ¼ inches high, mow Bermuda grass to a height of about 1 ½ inches. Let the clippings fall back onto the lawn to provide natural fertilizer.

Today my lawn in St. Augustine is brown, my lawn in Bermuda is brown, and my lawn in grass is light green. Most of the few green leaves that pop open are unwanted weeds, but there are some wanted leaves sticking out. As the weather warms up we will see more of the greenery we want and let the fun begin with lawn maintenance.

Bell County’s Master Gardeners will be holding mini-seminars on vegetable gardening at 10:30 am at the Home and Horticultural Show on Saturday, February 24th. Succulents at noon; Container gardens at 1:30 p.m. and lawn maintenance at 3:00 p.m. On Sunday, February 25th, Bokashi composting will take place at 12:30 p.m. and roses will be composted at 2:00 p.m.

Bring your gardening questions to the Bell County Master Gardener Booth on both days.

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