The question many people are asking is: Do I need to water my lawn during the winter months?  The answer is, yes and no. While the need to water has been greatly reduced by months of rainfall, with the past few weeks being quite dry, watering is not entirely out of the question.

Grass is dormant in the winter, so experts in lawn care and soil management say regular watering is not necessary during the winter months. But in order to keep grass healthy, consistency is needed, and below the surface, the roots are still growing.

Watering tips for winter

Richard H. White, a professor specializing in turfgrass physiology and management, said now is a great time to simply shut sprinkler systems off.

“In general, warm-season grass lawns should not require irrigation between now and May of this year due to adequate rain and cooler temperatures,” he said. “Cold temperatures and frost cause slow growth and even dormancy in warm-season grasses during the winter months. Existing soil moisture is likely currently adequate to prevent desiccation of turfgrass growing points on stolons and rhizomes. These growing points will allow for regeneration of the turfgrass canopy (leaves) when temperatures warm in spring.”

While the grass may not need watering during winter months, it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on the amount of moisture below your lawn’s surface.

One way to monitor your soil is via a moisture meter, which can be purchased online or in many stores. The price of these meters can be as low as $5 to $10 or as high as more than $100.

Soils Alive, a landscaping service operating in the Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin area, notes that there is an even cheaper way to measure the depth of moisture in your yard.

“How do you know if your landscape needs water?” the Soils Alive blog asks. “Try the old-fashioned screwdriver test: Push a screwdriver into the soil to a depth of 5 or 6 inches. If the soil is moist to that depth, you’re good. If it is dry, then you’ll most likely need to water.”

Although purchasing a monitor is an option, White said using a cheaper tool works fine.

“Some inexpensive water meters are available that can provide an indication of soil moisture status, but a screw driver or other device can be used to assess soil moisture status as well,” he said.  “The device can be inserted into the soil and used to create an opening in the turf to obtain a small amount of soil for inspection. Simply touch and observe the soil for moisture.”

“Warm-season grasses will persist during the winter when dormant for long periods as long as soils are slightly moist. Irrigation may be needed to prevent desiccation of St. Augustine grass or newly planted sod if rain has not occurred for three to four weeks, temperatures are in the low to mid 20s and the soil appears or feels very dry. “

There is also a website which White recommends for additional advice on watering your lawn.

“The Texas ET network (TexasET.tamu.edu) can also be a helpful guide to irrigation year round,” he said. “That website uses climatic data as a basis for irrigation recommendations.” 

While the availability of water isn’t a problem, the amount of water present does pose a hazard.

A problem could lurk in the soil

Texans have been able to bask in mild weather and sunshine for at least part of the winter, but that could pose some problems for lawns this spring.

Soils Alive offers this word of warning: “While we are all enjoying the spring-like weather … it could end up causing more problems for your spring lawns. Warmer than normal temperatures combined with future rainfall or your sprinkler system, could cause fungal diseases to get an early start. Your best bet at keeping your lawn healthy this spring is to keep a close eye on it so that potential problems can be caught early.” 

The blog states that disease in particular, Take All Root Rot (TARR) caused plenty of difficulties in 2015 and it is expected to return early this year.

How do you know if TARR is present in your yard?

“You’ll recognize TARR, by discolored leaf blades that start as yellow then fade to brown and eventually die off completely,” Soils Alive states. “Infected areas can range from just a few inches across to several feet across in irregular patterns. St. Augustine and Bermuda lawns tend to be most affected, but TARR can also damage Zoysia, Fescue, Perennial Rye lawns. If left unchecked, the fungal disease can kill off large portions of your lawn in just a season or two. Because of its pattern of yellowing leaf blades in irregular shapes, it is often misdiagnosed as an iron deficiency or chinch bug damage.”

What do you do if TARR is affecting your yard?

“Treating the disease will require commitment and patience,” according to the Soils Alive blog. “Controlling TARR will require a combination of ongoing treatments such as aerating the soil, applying peat moss over your lawn to bring down the pH, applying bio-fungicides and managing water very carefully throughout the year, especially during times of rainfall and high humidity.”

With months of heavy rainfall followed by weeks of dry conditions, it’s especially important to keep an eye on your yard for signs of distress. The earlier a problem is detected and treated, the easier it is to get under control.