Depending on where you live, summer can be pleasantly warm. Or it can be hot … VERY hot. And just like you need to lather yourself in sunscreen and drink plenty of water when you’re outside in the summer heat, your lawn needs some special care, too. Following a summer lawn care guide can help your lawn stay healthy when it’s hot outside.
Grass Types Matter
Your lawn’s summer needs will depend on the type of grass your lawn has and the climate in your area.
“Know[ing] what kind of grass you have is the first thing,” says Ron Meyer, agronomist and crop production agent with the Colorado State Extension Service in Phillips County. A sturdy grass such as buffalograss is better able to handle the drought and heat, needing less water and care than some thirstier species, such as Kentucky bluegrass.
Generally, most lawns have either warm-season or cool-season grasses, each with its own growing cycle.
Warm-season grasses, such as Zoysia, St. Augustine, centipede, and Bermuda grow best when air temperatures are in the 70s, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. They grow on a simple curve: As temperatures warm up in February and March, warm-season grasses start to grow and peak around June and July. Growth trails off as temperatures drop in late summer.
Cool-season lawns, which may have fescue, bluegrass, or perennial ryegrass, grow best in the 60-degree air-temperature range, Texas A&M says. Their growth peaks twice, once in spring and once in fall. The first growth peak happens as the weather warms in spring, peaking in April. Then they go dormant around July and peak again around October when the days cool off.
When and How to Water
Water is vitally important to your lawn in the summer, and this is the biggest difference between warm- and cool-season grasses. When temperatures reach 85 degrees, Meyer says, warm-season grass types need about 1 inch of water per week, and cool-season grasses double that.
“Water is the big thing,” he says. If cool-season grasses don’t get enough water, they’ll go dormant.
The How-Tos of Watering
When to Water: Early morning between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. is the best time to set the sprinklers. This allows more water to reach the roots, limits evaporation, and gives the grass a chance to dry off. If you can’t do mornings, late afternoon is a good time, too. But avoid evening watering; it increases the chance of fungal diseases.
What if it Rains? Meyer says a good rule of thumb is that if you get an inch of rain, take about five days off from watering. If you get less than that, lay off only for a few days.
What if my Grass Goes Dormant? Leave it alone. “Don’t let your lawn go brown and dormant, then try to ‘water it back to life,’” Texas A&M’s lawn guide says. “If your lawn goes dormant in the summer, it should stay that way until fall — don’t worry, it should recover once the weather changes.”
Should a Drought Hit: A midsummer drought, along with any watering restrictions, is stressful for grass. In warmer climates, lawns can survive prolonged periods of drought if watered only once or twice a week, with only 1/2 to 3/4 inches of water each time.
For cool-season lawns, a half-inch of water every two to four weeks will provide enough water to increase its chances of long-term survival during a summer drought.
While it’s tempting to cut the lawn short, a good rule of thumb is not to cut more than one-third of the length of the grass when you mow your lawn. Grasses don’t have a stem, Meyer says. They’re all leaves. So a higher cut allows the plants to photosynthesize easier and stay healthier. As a bonus, when you mow high, the taller grass stems will use less water.
And when you bring out the lawn mower, make sure the mower blades are nice and sharp for a clean and healthy cut. Dull blades on a lawn mower will rip and tear the grass blades.
Is your lawn dormant? Most cool-season lawns go dormant in the heat of the summer. Avoid mowing (and walking across) a dormant lawn until late summer when growth begins again.
How High Should the Grass Be?
Warm-Season Grasses: Mow these grasses between 2-3 inches high, and if possible, mulch the grass clippings to help keep moisture levels steady.
Cool-Season Grasses: These grasses should also be mowed high during warm months — no shorter than 3 inches.
When Should I Mow?
Generally, once a week should be fine. But it depends on the type of grass you have. Bermuda and other warm-season grasses grow quickly during the summer. Also, remember that a lower cut means more frequent mowing since you’ll want to avoid cutting more than one-third of the blade per mow.
Did you fertilize your warm-season lawn in early summer? Fertilizing any type of grass will encourage growth, which will add to your mowing workload.
Warm-season grasses hit their peak growth in the summer, so that’s when you’ll need to mow more often.
Cool-season grasses hit peak growth in spring and fall, so be prepared to mow more than once a week. However, these grasses go dormant in the summer. So, to avoid damaging the lawn, put the mower away until fall.
Warm weather can bring out certain types of pests. Depending on where you live, those pests could be June beetles, chinch bugs, cutworms, armyworms, and sod webworms.
Grubs are among the most destructive pests. They will eat at the root system of your grass and separate it from the leaves. If you see a brown spot in your lawn, grab the grass and pull. If it separates from the root and comes up easily, you’ve got grubs and you’ll need to apply grub control.
But use caution when battling any type of pest. IFAS suggests spot treatments, as pesticides can damage grass during drought conditions. And always choose the appropriate pesticide and follow treatment instructions.
It’s not a good idea to fertilize grass in midsummer. Otherwise, you run the risk of the fertilizer burning your grass. And any grass growth that it stimulates will struggle in the hot weather. However, you can fertilize warm-season grasses in early summer. Wait to fertilize cool-season grasses until fall, then again in the spring.
If you’re planning to use a post-emergent herbicide, wait until temperatures fall below 85 degrees. If your area is in a drought, or under water restrictions, then hold off. The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences warns that applying herbicide to a lawn already stressed by drought can seriously affect turf health.
One way is to invest in a rain gauge. Or use a straight-sided can — such as a small tuna can — to audit how much water your lawn is getting. Some water utilities also offer free sprinkler audits. Other clues: A water-stressed lawn has a blue-green color with rolled or folded grass blades. Your footprints will be visible when you walk on the grass.
When to Call in the Pros
If grass care or banishing unwanted lawn pests during the summer months is something you’d rather not deal with, consider calling a professional lawn-care provider. A local pro can cut your grass to the proper length and choose the right treatment to take care of weeds or pests.
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