Summertime! Just when we most want our lawns to be thick, lush and green for outdoor activities, Mother Nature has other plans. She hits us with high temperatures, drought conditions, turf diseases, weeds and insects. Grass growth slows and thins, color fades and many lawns go dormant, turning brown and brittle. We try to fight her but it is an uphill battle.
We understand how frustrating it is trying to maintain healthy, green grass over the summer. Especially with all the time, effort and money you have put into your lawn. It is even worse when you see lawns filled with weeds and yet they stay fairly green. Annoyingly, summer weeds flourish in this hot weather, while cool season grasses struggle at this time.
When it comes to turf, Virginia is considered to be in the difficult “transition zone” in the Mid-Atlantic region. That means for part of the year we are too warm for cool season types of grasses and too cool for warm season types of grasses. So, in general, whichever type you choose, it will only grow and thrive for about two seasons of the year.
Most of the lawns in our area are made up of Tall Fescue grass. It is a cool season grass. Lawns with Tall Fescue thrive when daytime temperatures are 60-75 degrees. Above 75 degrees Tall Fescue will struggle. Above 90 degrees the grass may go into dormancy to protect itself. If it is too hot for too long, there may be permanent damage. Over-seeding in the fall might be necessary to repair the damage. There are, however, a few important steps you can take throughout the summer to help your lawn survive the season.
Proper watering is key to prolonging the health and color of your lawn. The problem with watering is that unless you have an irrigation system, most people are unable or unwilling to use the amount of water it takes to water their lawn properly. Watering is a big commitment in both time and money. Tall Fescue requires a significant amount of water during the summer. Your grass needs 1-1.5 inches of water per week. Whatever does not come from natural sources like rain, will need to be made up with supplemental irrigation. For example: a 2,000 square foot yard with average drainage, would need over 1,300 gallons of water per week.
It may be difficult to apply that much water to your grass at one time. Also you run the risk of run off and wasted water. A better option may be to divide your watering into 2 or 3 days during the week, making sure to achieve the total of 1 – 1.5 inches of water per week.
A rain gauge will allow you to see how much water you are putting down. You can use a can to help determine how long you need to water each section of your lawn. Place a clean, empty can near your running sprinkler. Time how long it takes to collect a ½ inch of water in the can. Now you can determine how long you need to run your sprinkler depending on how many watering sessions you will have.
For example: If it takes 15 minutes to collect a ½ inch of water in the can, then you would water each section of your lawn for 15 minutes, 3 times a week.
The best time to water is between 4:00am- 10:00am. Later in the day the sun causes the water to evaporate too quickly. Do not water in the evening or at night as this practice will increase the chances of lawn diseases. Do not over-water or water every day.
Watering your lawn seems like a simple activity. However, many homeowners do it incorrectly. It is very important to water your lawn deeply and infrequently to encourage deep root growth. The deeper the root system the stronger and more vigorous the lawn will be.
If you water your lawn lightly and often, more that 3 days per week, the result will only be wet grass. It is not doing the grass any good and may actually be doing harm by creating a perfect environment for lawn diseases and weeds. When there is a constant supply of moisture near the surface of the lawn the roots never have to grow deeper to seek water. This causes a weak, shallow root system. During hot weather, the surface of your lawn dries out quickly and the shallow roots can not get enough moisture to keep the grass plants healthy. By giving your lawn 1 – 1.5 inches of water per week in fewer watering sessions, you will be watering deeply enough to encourage the roots to go deeper into the soil. Moisture that is 6 – 8 inches deep in your soil, takes much longer to dry out, allowing the grass roots to stay healthier.
Virginia Cooperative Extension – Virginia Tech states that “Deep and infrequent watering that thoroughly soaks the root zone to a 4-inch depth maintains a healthy root system and reduces weed infestation. As opposed to light and frequent irrigation, which promotes shallow roots and germination of weed seeds.”
Can you pass the Screwdriver Test
After watering, stick a long screwdriver into your soil. If you can easily push it in 6 inches deep, you have watered your lawn enough.
Tall Fescue should always be mowed high, no matter the season, between 3- 4 inches tall. The shorter your grass, the more water it needs to remain healthy. Mowing shorter causes damage and stress, thins out the grass and leaves plenty of room for weeds to grow. You have probably seen that yards mowed very short are often very weedy. It is especially important to mow your lawn on its highest setting during the summer. The taller blades shade the soil, protect the roots from the hot sun and help reduce weeds. Always use a sharp blade and never cut off more than 1/3 of the blade at a time.
A healthy lawn is a team effort. Our goal is to be a partner with you as we both meet the different needs of your lawn that these seasonal changes bring.
Wishing you a safe and happy summer.