Water conservation education series scheduled

The first day of spring is just a couple of months away.

With that in mind, it is time to start thinking about adding water saving practices to your 2019 landscape.

Join Randall County AgriLife Extension Horticulture Agent Erin Jones-Gray and a group of local experts in February as they share water conservation techniques for the Texas Panhandle.

Each session is from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Happy State Bank Academic and Research Building, West Texas A&M University, 600 WTAMU Drive, in Canyon.

The cost is $10 per person. This allows persons to attend one or all six workshops, if desired.

The sessions are as follows:

▪ February 4: “Selecting Plants for the Texas High Plains” with Neal Hinders of Canyon’s Edge Nursery.

▪ February 11: “Rainwater Harvesting” with Katherine Drury of High Plains Underground Water Conservation District.

▪ February 25: “Tree Care in Years of Drought” with Ben Wethington of Wethington Landscape Management.

▪ March 4: “Managing Irrigation Systems” with Roger Gloe, President of the Randall County Master Gardeners. He is a Texas licensed irrigator.

▪ March 18: “Watering Landscapes in the Texas Panhandle” with Larry Bedwell, Grounds/Transportation Manager for West Texas A&M University.

 March 25: “Soil Fertility” with Fred Vocasek of ServiTech.

Additional information is available by calling (806) 468-5543 or emailing erin.jones@ag.tamu.edu.

AgriLife Extension offers water wise tips for turfgrass

COLLEGE STATION – Lawn owners may be second-guessing their regular maintenance practices, especially in the hottest and driest months.

Dr. Becky Grubbs, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service turfgrass specialist in College Station, has published a Water-Wise Checklist for Texas Home Lawns and Other Turfgrass Areas to help with lawn maintenance this summer.

“We know this is the time of year when Texans become particularly concerned about their lawns,” Grubbs said. “As our weather grows hotter and dryer, it’s increasingly important to find a balance with water use.”

She said many lawn owners tend to overwater, which is evidenced by runoff seen accumulating on neighborhood streets and sidewalks. This overwatering can lead to problems, but a few simple management changes can optimize water use and lawn health simultaneously.

Some of the points made on the checklist are:

– Mow at the upper end of the appropriate mowing height range for your species of grass. Taller grass equals deeper roots, which can improve overall infiltration and access to water deeper in the soil. For more information on appropriate mowing heights per grass species, visit the AggieTurf website at https://aggieturf.tamu.edu/.

– Follow the “1/3 Rule.” Mow frequently enough to never remove more than 1/3 of the total grass mowing height at one time. Scalped grass is stressed grass. Stressed grass will be less tolerant to heat and drought, and more vulnerable to other pests or fungal pathogens.

– Water deeply and infrequently. Try to water to a depth of about 6 inches each time you water. Watering this way encourages deeper, denser root growth. Again, this can improve infiltration and access to water deeper in the soil.

– Wait to water until visual wilt is occurring. Water late at night or early in the morning to reduce evaporative losses, improve water-use efficiency and reduce length of overall leaf wetness, which reduces disease potential.

– Use the “Cycle Soak Method.” Because sprinkler precipitation rates usually exceed soil infiltration rates, cycle soaking improves soil water infiltration and reduces runoff by “pulsing” water onto the lawn in small amounts over several hours.

The complete checklist is available at https://tinyurl.com/lawnturfwater.

Grubbs wants to remind homeowners not to panic.

“Grasses that are well-maintained the majority of the year will go into summer dormancy when drought becomes particularly severe,” she said. “It may lose color much like it does in winter dormancy, but it’s important to remember that when water becomes available again, the grass will recover.

“The trick is to give it everything it needs to grow a healthy, vigorous root system when those resources are available and appropriate.”

Grubbs said summer heat and drought stress can invite other issues as well, which are easy to misdiagnose. These issues are also discussed in more depth on the AggieTurf website under Publications.

Also, the local AgriLife Extension county agent can be contacted if a lawn owner is unsure about a problem, she said.

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Horticulturist: Save money & water with irrigation repairs

DALLAS — A Texas A&M AgriLife Research water conservation horticulturist said home and business owners should repair and maintain sprinkler systems to save money and time while reducing wasted water resources.

“A lot of water-saving advice focuses on the indoors, but we know more water, especially in warmer months, can be saved by maintaining irrigation systems outside,” said Patrick Dickinson of Texas A&M AgriLife’s urban water program, known as Water University, in Dallas.

Household leaks account for about 1 trillion gallons of potable water wasted each year, according to the EPA.

“We also know that in the warmer months, as much as 60 percent of all drinkable water used by a household is spent outside on lawns and landscapes,” Dickinson said. “So it’s critical to make sure those systems are free from leaks and running as efficiently as possible.”

He recommended inspecting lawns for unexpected wet spots when the weather is dry.

“Look for water bubbling up from the ground or pooling and running over concrete,” he said. “Repair underground leaks by simply turning off your irrigation system controller, digging around the leaking section of pipe, cutting out the punctured section and joining the remaining ends with a cheap compression coupling from any hardware store.”

A new instructional video featuring Dickinson, Sprinkler Quick Fixes, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9WMPyZetGI, instructs viewers on three sprinkler system repairs for efficient irrigation. Tips include replacing a broken sprinkler head, clearing clogged nozzles that lead to inefficient irrigation and adjusting spray streams to avoid watering sidewalks and other non-plant structures.

Dickinson also recommended ensuring all irrigation pipe and connections remain properly sealed and tightened according to manufacturer recommendations.

“It’s not hard to keep an irrigation system running efficiently,” he said. “But it does require a little time and attention..”

Click the irrigation tab at https://wateruniversity.tamu.edu for more tips on efficient irrigation and “quick fixes” for repairing and maintaining irrigation systems.

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Parts of Texas enter wildfire season earlier than usual

Quail hunter fire danger.jpg

A quail hunter walks through tall, dead grass near Bronte. Grasslands that have not been grazed or managed pose a serious wildfire threat in parts of the state. Texans should take precautions to avoid sparking fires. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Adam Russell)

COLLEGE STATION – Wildfire season has arrived earlier than usual due to high fuel availability, drought and other environmental conditions, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Dr. Andy Vestal, AgriLife Extension director for emergency management at Texas A&M University, College Station, said the Energy Release Component, which measures how hot and long available fuel can burn if sparked, is at critical levels in some areas of the state. Conditions for wildfires are high when coupled with high winds, low relative humidity and other environmental factors. 

Vestal said most of the state west of the Interstate 35 corridor is at a critical point as existing fuel, arid conditions and wind contribute to fire potential and threats.

“Grasslands that have not been regularly grazed or managed have enough fuel to create high ERCs, and that is the threat,” he said. “You add high winds like we’ve been seeing into the equation and you have the threat of a serious fire that could be extremely difficult to control.”

Wildfire season typically starts around March and lasts through spring green-up in April and May, Vestal said, as dead grasses, warm, dry conditions and spring winds increase fire potential. This year, wetter conditions early in 2017 provided conditions for grasses to grow but were followed by drought.

“Be cognizant and aware of the potential threat from welding and cutting metal at work sites,” he said. “Environmental conditions at this point of the winter could make for a long fire season. These conditions arrived about a month ahead of schedule and could mean the wildfire season could extend to 90, possibly 100, days before the typical green-up.”

All it takes is a single spark to cause a wildfire, Vestal said. A fire in 2016 in Hamilton County was traced to a vehicle that was accidentally dragging a chain. The chain sparked fires along the roadside for 2 to 3 miles.

Vestal said it was lucky conditions were not windy when the ignition of that fire occurred.

The National Weather Service issued Red Flag Warnings, which indicate threatening wildfire conditions to more than 60 Texas counties Jan. 30. Vestal said conditions, especially precipitation, are not expected to improve over the next week.

Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, AgriLife Extension state climatologist, College Station, said the U.S. Drought Monitor continues to show worsening drought around Texas as La Nina conditions – which typically bring warmer, drier weather patterns to much of the state – continue.

The drought monitor shows 85.5 percent of the state is “abnormally dry” compared to less than 20 percent three months ago. Almost 20 percent of the state is experiencing severe or extreme drought, especially in the Panhandle and a pocket in Central Texas. 

“The long-term outlook continues to call for below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures,” he said.

Vestal said a recent fire in Motley County burned almost 6,000 acres.

“It’s amazing to think we have a season named after such potentially devastating events, but we have historical data that tells us it happens,” he said. “This year, it’s happening earlier than usual, and our producers and the public need to be mindful about the dangers and take precautions to prevent catastrophe.”

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