Summer Lawn Care Tips
by Dennis Patton, horticulture agent
Summer does not officially arrive until June 21. But our weather patterns can change day-to-day. So spring is the ideal time to plan ahead for the hotter, dryer conditions of summer. This combination of hot and dry can be harmful for the turf. Now is the time to take proactive steps to help the lawn survive summer's onslaught.
First, check your mowing height. Cool season grasses such as bluegrass and tall fescue should be mowed high during warm periods. The recommendation is no lower than 3 inches. Mowing high decreases heat and drought stress by increasing the natural defense mechanism. Longer leaf blades provide a shading of the soil helping to reduce the soil temperature and moisture loss. These conditions favor root growth which is vital for increased summer tolerances.
Mowing higher reduces the amount of water used by the plant, and the grass stays green longer. In fact, if you do not believe this is beneficial, do your own test. Mow a strip at 2 inches and another area at 3 inches. Wait for the first signs of stress to appear and see which wilts first. You will be amazed how this works and it is so easy.
Keep the mower blade sharp
In addition to the proper mowing height, make sure the blade is sharp. A dull blade rips the grass blade resulting in increased moisture loss and excess browning to the grass leaf. A dull cut often leaves the grass with a whitish appearance to the lawn. Sharpen or replace the lawn mower blade on a regular basis as a part of regular overall turf and mower maintenance.
Don't fertilize in summer
Lastly for summer maintenance, avoid the use of fertilizers. Fertilizing cool season grass during the summer greatly increases the lawn’s need for moisture and decreases its adaptability to high temperatures.
The best time to fertilize bluegrass and tall fescue is in the fall months, September and November. In fact, spring applications should be avoided unless the lawn will be well watered during the summer months. Spring fertilization provides little benefit to the grass plant except to make the grass green, often resulting in lush growth. This lush growth increases mowing requirements.
Under regular summer watering schedules an application of slow release fertilizer applied in mid-May is acceptable. Any fertilizer applied after that period only:
- increases water requirements,
- increases drought stress and
- increases the likelihood of disease.
The best way to care for your lawn is by following recommended practices determined by university research. Avoid the temptation to follow the neighborhood crowd, as often they are not the best source for accurate information.