May 10, 2006

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Drought damage can be reversed in lawns with the use of Spaghum Peat Moss. (Texas Cooperative Extension photo)

  Turfgass specialists offer tips for dealing with drought-damaged lawns

By Janet Gregg
Texas Agricultural Extension

'Tis the season for planting, fertilizing and watering lawns to get them as lush and green as possible, said Dr. Jim McAfee, an Extension turfgrass specialist.

But for many homeowners this year, all the fertilizer and watering in the world won't be enough to keep their St. Augustine and centipede grass lawns from yellowing and thinning, McAfee said.

Unlike previous years, such diseases as take-all root rot, brown patch and grey leaf spot are not the main problem, McAfee said. Instead, homeowners are now experiencing fallout from the prolonged drought. McAfee said 2005 was one of the driest years on record and North Texas is 20 inches behind on rainfall. There is no water in the soil, he said, and lawns are stressed.

"What we're seeing this year is desiccation or root damage due to the drought and people not watering enough," McAfee said. "It's been nine degrees warmer than average for the year. Even though people may have been watering some, with these dry conditions and the winds, it just takes more water.

The high winds and freezes we had in December and March were an added problem. Yards under dry conditions when those freezes occurred were hit the hardest."

A secondary problem caused by drought is that lawns already stressed by environmental conditions are also highly susceptible to such diseases as take-all root rot, McAfee said. Take-all root rot is a fungi which attacks the plant's root system in the fall and the spring when soil temperatures are in the 60 to 65 degree Fahrenheit range.

He said the old advice of applying manure is no longer recommended, because some manures can be alkaline and salty. So what's a homeowner to do? The answer is spaghum peat moss.

"It's an organic product and you can get it anywhere," McAfee said. "Topdress the affected areas of the lawn with two bales of peat moss per 1,000 square feet.

"The theory is that spaghum is an acidic material and holds acidity in the soil, which in alkaline soil helps control the growth of the plant," McAfee said. "That is under research right now in six states thanks to a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency."

McAfee said it is still too early to determine how much of the grass will recover.

"People need to have patience," he said. "Don't try to force it by putting out a lot of water and fertilizer, because that could make matters worse. It tries to force too much top growth when the plant doesn't have a root system to support that growth, which means it puts an additional stress on the plant."

McAfee said homeowners should put 1 inch of water per week on their lawn and mow it at least once each week. For St. Augustine lawns, mow to a height of 2 to 2.5 inches in sun and 3 to 3.5 inches in shade. For centipede lawns, mow to a height of 1 to 2 inches each week.

McAfee said he is hearing landscapers and lawn care companies are being inundated with questions from homeowners because their yards are looking bad.

"I don't want to send the message for everyone to get out there and turn on their sprinklers and run them everyday," McAfee said. "The lakes are dry and it is not necessary. Overwatering is problematic too. We're stressing proper watering and conserving water for the dry summer months."

McAfee said most of North Texas is under stage two water restrictions, but many cities are already expecting to go to stage three by June. He said details of the water restriction levels vary slightly from city to city, but generally stage one is normal water use following proper watering guidelines; stage two is voluntary water restriction; stage three restricts watering to once per week between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and stage four prohibits outside water use for landscapes, washing cars and filling pools.

  Nip plant-digging antics in the bud

Avid gardeners who share their passion with a new puppy wake up to a chilling reality: puppy see, puppy do. When your back is turned, or perhaps while you're knee-deep in dirt, your trusty companion will quickly unearth any previously planted treasures. Discipline only ingrains this habit, according to veteran dog trainer Sarah Hodgson, author of PuppyPerfect (Howell Book House, ISBN: 0-7645-8797-9), particularly when outdoor isolation spells boredom. A puppy will always return to an area of interaction, and chasing a puppy who wanders into a flower bed spells horticultural doom. Racing at a puppy communicates spatial protectiveness, so this kind of attention guarantees a return to the area when you're not looking. Here are some tips to keep your flowers in bloom all summer:

Create a digging area. If your puppy enjoys digging, provide a sandbox or digging area close to your home. Take him there with garden gloves, a trowel, and treats. Bury the treasures and dig right alongside him. Unearth with wild abandon! When going to the area, say, "GO DIG!" Soon your puppy will be going there alone.

Garden alone, never garden in front of a puppy.

Use a long line. If you have a puppy that won't stay out of the flower beds, place him on a long line. A line that's 25 to 50 feet long enables you to run interference from a distance. Make an interruptive noise as you run away from the bed and redirect his energy to another digging area or activity.

Prevent rather than correct. If even the thought of your puppy entering your flower beds is unnerving, consider erecting a small barrier for a year. A 3-inch wire fence can be the entire deterrent you need.

Once his curious puppy stages have passed, the lure of the beds will be far diminished. Most of his adult habits are formed in puppyhood.

Preventing his intrusion for a season will force him to develop other habits that will last into adulthood.

Contemplating drastic measures to eliminate weeds? After carefully considering potential safety hazards, you might try more conventional methods. (Photo by Rebekah Richter)

  Weed Wars: Winning the battle against Bermuda and Nutsedge

By Skip Richter
Texas Gardener Contributing Editor

Some weeds are wimps. Just swat at them with a hoe or cover them with a few leaves and they wither and die in a heartbeat. Others require a little more careful digging or perhaps a squirt of a little herbicide to take them out. Then there's bermudagrass and nutsedge, the weed world's dastardly duo.

If you are putting in a new garden, it is far better to eliminate any persistent perennial weeds before you begin to plant, even if it means delaying planting for a while. If you already have a garden in and these two "weeds from Hell" have invaded, your task is more difficult and your options are more limited. These perennial weeds can turn a pleasant gardening experience into a Sisyphean task as they keep coming back again and again, sentencing you to a summer of hand-to-weed combat.

These two weeds may well be responsible for more sweat, tears, profanity and exasperation than all other weeds combined. If you have been battling these unwelcomed invaders to little avail I have good news. They are not immortal or invincible. They can be controlled, but the battle is not for the faint of heart. Armed with a few tips and a proper mind set you can win this battle.

To read the rest of the article: Weed Wars, continued.

  Upcoming Garden Events

Festival of Flowers will take place Saturday, May 13, 9:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. at the Alzafar Shrine Hall, 901 N. Loop 1604 West (between Stone Oak Parkway & Blanco Road) in San Antonio. The Festival of Flowers is an event to shop for beautiful and unusual plants, quality products and services, landscaping ideas, and expert advice on gardening and outdoor living environments. Admission is $5 for adults; children under 10 are free. For more information, call (210) 930-1100 or visit

Get an exclusive look into some of Austin's most unique garden designs during Gardens On Tour, Saturday, May 13, 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Gardens On Tour 2006 is a self-guided tour of five private gardens, plus the celebrated greenery of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Rain or shine, visitors can enjoy the beauty of six special gardens that showcase native plants and demonstrate good gardening practices. Experts will be on site at each home to answer questions and provide information about each garden. Admission is $25 for a pass for all gardens, or $6 for each individual garden. Children under 5 free. For additional information, visit

A seminar designed for those new to country life is slated for May 13, 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., at the Somervell County Expo Center at 202 Bo Gibbs Blvd. in Glen Rose. 'Living the Country Life' is a one-day seminar hosted by Extension offices in Hood and Somervell counties. The program has been designed for new landowners as well as those who grew up in the country and have recently moved back to the farm to escape the big-city hustle. Program topics, presented by Extension specialists, will include grazing management, brush control, wildlife and agricultural tax exemptions, wildlife management, and services offered to rural landowners by governmental agencies. Registration for the seminar includes lunch and educational materials, is $10 and due by May 5. After May 5, registration will be $25 without guarantee of lunch or a copy of the proceedings. To register or for more information contact the Extension office in Hood County at (817) 579-3280,, or at the Extension office in Somervell County, (254) 897-2809,

Stephen F. Austin Pineywoods Native Plant Center will host the third Lone Star Regional Native Plant Conference, May 24 through 28, Nacogdoches. Enjoy lectures from the stateís finest native plant experts, tour amazing East Texas sites, and participate in one of SFAís wonderful plant sales featuring Texas natives, heat tolerant color and Texas Gardener columnist Greg Grantís newest introductions including Pamís Pink Turkís cap. For more information, call Elyce Rodewald at (936) 468-1832.

The Hunt County Master Gardeners will host a Garden Tour from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, June 3, in Greenville. The tour will feature unique and outstanding local area landscapes. Admission is $5 per person. For more information, call (903) 455-9885.

The San Antonio Daylily Society will hold a plant sale and show from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., June 3, at the San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels.

The Arlington Organic Garden Club will host its 11th Organic Garden Show from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, June 10, at Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center St. at Vandergriff Park, Arlington. The show will feature lots of plants, organic products and information. Admission and parking are free. For more information, call (817) 483-7746.

  Texas Gardening The Natural Way is the complete guide to organic gardening in Texas

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Texas Gardener's Seeds
is published weekly. © Suntex Communications, Inc. 2006. All rights reserved. You may forward this publication to your friends and colleagues if it is sent in its entirety. No individual part of this newsletter may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.

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