Ever wonder how your neighbors achieve thick, vibrant lawns year after year, or how they keep their lawns and landscapes healthy as temperatures continue to rise throughout the summer months? The answer is simple: They work at it!
“This is the time of year people are enjoying their outdoor spaces the most, so it’s necessary these areas are in tip-top shape,” says Harold Enger, Certified Turfgrass Professional and Certified Ornamental Landscape Professional. “Keeping lawns healthy now will make preparation for the cooler weather much easier when the time comes.” Here are some tips from Enger to keep lawns and trees looking their best from the beginning of the summer to the end.
1. Address Pests: One single insect can lay thousands of eggs, ensuring a continual attack on your lawn and landscape, but if you know where to look for these pests, their impact can be minimal. For your landscape plants, Enger says to start by looking at the leaves or needles and keeping an eye out for chew marks, feeding trails, or curled leaves, as all can be indicators of insect activity. Insects that bore into the trunk, or develop in the tips of pine trees, however, can be harder to locate. If you see a D-shaped hole in the trunk of a tree, that is an indication of a flat-head borer like the Emerald Ash Borer. The Emerald Ash Borer is responsible for killing tens of thousands of Ash trees in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, putting many other states at risk for sporadic outbreaks. Enger says to contact a lawn care professional, or county extension office, immediately if your Ash is beginning to die at the top, as it could be an indication of Emerald Ash Borer infestation. As for lawns, most surface-feeding insects will hide in the thatch layer during the day so you need to look for signs of their activity versus the actual insects. The most obvious sign of surface-feeding insects in turf is thinning or loss of color. If you notice pencil-sized holes, it’s possible your lawn has Sod Webworm. Enger says lawn care service professionals like those at Spring-Green Lawn Care are trained to inspect and treat lawns for insect damage.
2. Beware the Brown Patch: While Brown Patch can occur with any turf type, Tall Fescue lawns are extremely susceptible to the deadly disease. It is often mistaken for heat or drought stress, but it is quite different. Warning signs include extended periods of hot, humid weather; infected turf areas taking on a purple-green cast; irregular, watersoaked and sometimes brown-rimmed spots on leaves; and areas that look ‘drought-stressed’ or ‘under-watered’. St. Augustine Grass lawns can be susceptible to Brown Patch in the fall in the deep south. Since Brown Patch is a soil-borne disease, it will most likely keep coming back, but to minimize risk and susceptibility, Enger says to water only in the early morning hours and never at night, cut your lawn three inches high to ensure no more than 1/3 of the grass blade is removed, and never apply fertilizer to the affected areas.
3. Watch Your Water: When Mother Nature doesn’t supply enough rainfall, supplemental watering is integral to maintaining a healthy lawn. Enger says to remember too much water can be wasteful and even detrimental to the lawn’s lifespan, too little water can lead to turf that’s more susceptible to disease, insect, and weed infestations. A well-maintained lawn needs one inch of water per week to stay green and growing. Instead of setting your automatic sprinkler system to come up every day to water each zone for 10 minutes, set the system to run only every three to four days for a longer time per zone — a practice which prevents roots from growing closer to the surface. Enger says you can use hoses and a pulsating portable sprinkler, leaving it in one position for 30 to 60 minutes before moving it to another location. Early morning watering is best. Watering in the evening can increase the likelihood of disease development because the lawn will remain cool, dark, and moist for an extended period of time. If you are unable to water due to watering restrictions, your lawn will go dormant- the turf’s natural defense mechanism in which it will shut down all non-essential parts, like top growth, to keep the crown alive. Turf is a remarkable plant and most varieties can survive for four weeks or more without irrigation of any type, says Enger. If the drought is severe enough, some lawn renovation may be necessary once it starts to rain or you are able to water again.
4. Mow, Mow, Mow Your Lawn: Mowing is a simple process, but it has more impact on the health and growth of a lawn than any other regular maintenance activity. Start by determining what type of grass you have. Bermuda Grass and Zoysia Grass, usually only found in the south, can handle shorter cutting heights between 1 ½ and 2 inches. Other southern turfs like St. Augustine Grass and Centipede Grass, along with all northern turfgrasses like Bluegrass, Ryegrass, and Tall Fescue should be cut higher at 2 ½ to 3 ½ inches. Start by setting your mower deck to 2½ to 3½ inches — Enger says a soda can on its side should be able to slide under the mower at this height — and mow your lawn when it needs it as opposed to keeping to a weekly schedule. Understand turfgrass grows slower in the summer and infrequent rainfall can also play a factor in sluggish growth. Running a mower across drought-stressed turf can hurt instead of help. Since mowing opens up the tip of the grass blade, it’s best to mow early in the morning after the dew has dried, or in the evening when temperatures have dropped instead of in the heat of the day when the most moisture can be lost. Lastly, Enger says that because grass is between 80- and 90-percent water, clippings and nutrients can be recycled back into the lawn, providing beneficial organic material for future growth.
5. Fight Back Against Weeds: Different types of weeds germinate in the spring, summer, and fall, so the battle to banish them from your lawn is an ongoing and frustrating process. Enger says the weeds that germinate in the summer are generally the summer annual weeds, which grow rapidly, produce a flower, go to seed, and then die with the onset of fall. Many of these summer annuals can easily be controlled by pulling them out by hand, because they usually cannot re-grow from the remaining roots; spot treating with a commercial weed control product labeled for use on home lawns is also effective. The best overall method of controlling weeds is a thick, well-maintained lawn, as wind-blown weed seeds will have a harder time germinating in the middle of a lush lawn. By mowing properly, watering as needed, and fertilizing to keep your lawn growing, Enger says you will discourage many weeds from ever germinating.
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