Everyone wants to keep up with the Joneses and there is no situation that holds more true to that axiom than the state of our lawns. Since it looks like we’ll be having a hot summer, here are a few tips and tricks for keeping your grass looking the best in your neighborhood.
- Only mow when your lawn needs it. Keeping to a set schedule may hurt your grass more than help it. Grass growth varies with the weather so plan your landscaping duties accordingly. If it is dry or especially hot outside, the grass will grow more slowly so mowing more frequently than needed can tear up the soil and harm your lawn. When rain is plentiful, the grass will grow quickly so mow more frequently to avoid clogging your mower.
- Don’t cut your grass too short. A good rule of thumb for the summer is to cut cool-season grasses down by an inch when it reaches about 4-5 inches in height and to cut the same amount off of warm-season grasses when it is 3-4 inches long. When the grass is cut too short, sunlight reaches the soil and dries it out, meaning your grass may not be getting the water it needs. Cutting grass too short can damage the growth tissue at the base of the blade, called the meristem of meristematic tissue, which can lead to a lawn of dead grass.
- Make a good watering plan. Sprinkler systems are great, but they don’t help much if you run them during the day in the summer since most of the water will evaporate before the grass can use it. Try watering the grass 3 to 4 times per week in the early morning, being sure to water it heavily and evenly. Your grass needs about 1 inch of water per week in the summer and watering this way will allow most of that amount to soak deeply into the soil, making your grass roots healthier and more draught-resistant. Remember, infrequent long soaks are better than frequent small amounts of watering.
- Use only organic fertilizers in the summer months. Chemical fertilizers are fine to use in the cooler months, but the heat of the summer can activate the chemicals and burn your lawn. Only apply light layers of this natural fertilizer to your yard periodically between May and August. Something equally important is to aerate your lawn in late spring and start spraying for weeds when the high temperatures drop below 85⁰F at the end of the summer, before the fall weed growing season.
- Sharpen your lawnmower blade. Dull blades will rip and pull up grass as you mow. Not only does this cause physical damage and a non-uniform cut, it also opens up your lawn to disease and infestations, which can cause the grass to turn yellow or die. Making sure your blade is sharp is a major key to getting that uniform, green, golf course lawn you want.
- Test your soil to be sure it is hydrated adequately. Factor in the rainfall when determining how much water to give your yard (recall the recommended 1 inch per week) so that the lawn is not over-watered. A good test to use is to push a screwdriver into the ground in a few places around your yard. If it slides in easily, your soil is properly saturated. If you feel a lot of resistance, then you need to water more heavily so that the soil can recharge its moisture supply. If the ground feels too soft underfoot, you may be over-watering the grass and you should reign in your watering.
- Stay hydrated! Hydration starts several days before doing any strenuous activity. If you know that you will have to mow the yard in a few days, start drinking an extra bottle of water at work and have an extra glass with every meal. The humidity in the South can trick your body into sweating out much more water than it would in a dry climate. The last thing you want is to feel light-headed when you are pushing around a machine with a spinning blade.
With these tips, you should have no problem being the envy of all your neighbors when it comes to taking care of your grass in the summer. Also remember that each grass species is different and these are just general guidelines; some types may thrive in hot weather while others may go dormant. A good practice is to take a small, 2 inch square plug of grass with roots and soil to your local plant nursery and get a list of do-s and don’t-s for how to best care for that particular species in your area.