Six degrees of separation between your lawn mower and mosquitoes

Many of us are familiar with the party game that challenges us to connect any person in six steps to anyone else in the world. But, it’s more than just a game. Based on a study by social psychologist, Stanley Milgram, the theory that we are just a few people apart from being connected to everyone was proven right! So, if it works time after time for people, can’t we use this theory to connect all things? Let’s put it to the test to see if we can connect a simple household chore, like mowing the lawn, with eliminating mosquitoes. Sorry, Kevin Bacon, this version of six degrees does not involve you.

Step 1: Raise your mower blade

Next time you get the mower out, leave the grass a little longer to shade the soil and help it hold onto precious moisture between rains. By removing only the top 1/3 of the leaf, more grass remains to make sugars that support strong root growth. Check out the Woodlands Water Best Lawn Practices page for other great lawn care tips.

Step 2: Deeper grass roots

Now that your grass is growing taller, you’ve got a deeper and more extensive root system in your yard.  The next step is to apply compost once or twice a year (in the spring and fall). This adds slow-release nutrients and helps break up heavy soils so water can penetrate more deeply. In fact, increasing the carbon in soils by a mere 5% using compost can quadruple the soil’s water-holding capacity.

Step 3: Less frequent watering

When soil holds more water, and longer roots are better able to find it, the result is a lush lawn with less water from the tap. Turf grass needs only an inch of water a week – an amount that can often be met by rainfall alone. For expert guidance on irrigation go to Woodlands Water (formerly WJPA) and check out the watering calendar.

Check out the lush turf at the front of the Woodlands Water office on Lake Robbins Dr. You might not believe it but it has thrived on precipitation alone for years!

Step 4: Reduce run off

Accounting for rainfall in your irrigation schedule will leave more water on your lawn and money in your pocket. When irrigation is needed during a long dry spell, the best technique for our clay soil is the cycle and soak method – dividing the sprinkler run time into two or three cycles which allows water to soak into the soil. The first cycle wets the surface of the soil, breaking surface tension. After a rest, the second cycle of water soaks into the soil more effectively. A third cycle is especially beneficial for sloped lawns. Allowing the soil to soak up the water is not only great for your landscape, it keeps less water from running off into the street.

Check out the City of Frisco’s great explanation of the cycle and soak method and the Colorado Springs YouTube Video below.

Step 5: Sewers stay dry

Less water running into the street means drier storm sewers. Storm sewers are designed to move rainwater through, not hold it; if it’s not raining they should be dry. If they are perpetually full of water from over-irrigation, then they will be full of another thing we definitely don’t want – mosquitoes. These little bloodsuckers don’t need much in order to thrive in the cool protection of a wet storm sewer. Eggs are laid in as little as an inch of water and emerge as flying, biting adults in only 7 days.  

Step 6: Fewer mosquitoes!

So…

If the your nearby sewer stays dry between rains,

because you are sending less water into the street into the street,

because your healthy lawn need less irrigating,

Then, voila! You get fewer mosquitoes!

We did it – six steps connecting your lawn mower to fewer mosquitoes! Take a moment today to raise that mower blade and appreciate fewer bites while enjoying your beautiful green oasis. 

Additional Resources

In this video, Eric Becker, Irrigation Specialist of Colorado Springs Utility will walk you through how to apply the cycle and soak technique to your irrigation system.

Check out A&M Extension’s guide for water efficient lawn care – these methods for  North Texas can be applied to our Southern region too.

Learn more about the connection between water and mosquitoes in this Community Magazine article.

And if you missed it, here is a 2-part series on How to Mosquito Proof Your Yard.

For more information on keeping mosquitoes out of your backyard, check out thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/mosquitoinfo. To report a mosquito problem contact the Environmental Services Department at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or 281-210-3800

Healthier lawns, cleaner streams

One thoughtful action can help promote both: Think before you fertilize. All too often, lawns are fertilized too heavily, at the wrong time, or when they don’t need it at all—thanks to the formidable marketing efforts by fertilizer companies. Instead of automatically reaching for your spreader, consider what your lawn really needs and the consequences of over-fertilization.

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Know what your lawn needs

Timing. The time to fertilize a lawn is when it’s growing more roots than blades; and to know when that is, know the type of grass in the lawn. Grass can be categorized in two ways: warm-season or cool-season. These terms refer to the weather in which the grass has adapted to grow. Turf grasses most common in our area, St. Augustine, Zoysia and Bermuda, are all warm-season grasses and start their growth in spring, making that the best time for fertilization.

Fall is when these grasses go dormant making fertilizers moot. Fertilizing at the wrong time can actually be harmful. Feeding your warm-season turf nitrogen in fall can force new top growth making the lawn susceptible to frost, shock and disease. What’s more is that this takes away energy from root growth, leading to weak, thin lawns.

No matter what, always follow a fertilizer’s instructions exactly when it comes to application.

Test it. Having said all this, don’t assume you need to fertilize every spring. The only way to know what nutrients your soil is lacking is to have your soil tested. Instructions for how to take a soil sample and the form for sending it to Texas A&M for analysis can be found with this link: Soil Test Form.

Go organic. If you find your soil needs supplemental nutrients for turf grass, consider using organic instead of synthetic fertilizers. Unlike synthetic fertilizers, organic fertilizers don’t create high levels of salts which kill beneficial soil organisms—the key to good soil health. And organic fertilizers work slowly, wasting nothing. They also improve soil texture making it easier for air to get to the roots and helping the soil retain water longer.

Organic forms of fertilizers include:

  • Alfalfa meal
  • Bat guano
  • Fish emulsion
  • Cotton seed meal
  • Seaweed
  • Manure
  • Compost

Refer to Best Organic Fertilizers for a full list of organic fertilizers and what they specifically offer.

How does this affect the quality of streams?

When quick-release synthetic fertilizers are over used, the chemicals are washed from our lawns in a downpour. The polluted run-off is channeled into the nearest waterway via storm drains, untreated and unfiltered. This water in turn contaminates our creeks, rivers and groundwater. High concentrations of nitrogen in water can also lead to an algae overgrowth, threatening the health of aquatic life.

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Currently, over 80% of waterways in Texas are listed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as “impaired,” creating poor habitat for aquatic organisms such as fish and turtles. High bacteria levels are another culprit and may lead to restrictions on water-contact recreation, such as  swimming and wading, fishing, and kayaking.

Other ways to help keep our water clean:

  • Pick up pet waste—it’s the number one source of bacteria in our waterways.
  • Maintain cars so they don’t leak oil and other chemicals onto driveways.
  • Compost, compost, compost.
  • Never flush unwanted or out-of-date medicines down the toilet or drain.
  • Minimize areas of turf grass and pavement while increasing areas of native plants
  • Install a rain garden

For more information about lawn care, download Guide to Yard Care, by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

To learn more about water conservation in The Woodlands, visit The Woodlands Township’s Water Conservation webpage.

Water Conservation Yard Sign 3