Well, the heat is on!
And coupled with hit-and-miss rains, the blistering temperatures are creating problems in many yards, especially those without much organic matter in the soil or those whose owners are not following my schedules.
The heat is also driving a bunch of misinformation, disinformation and misconceptions about lawn care. So, I figured there's no better time than now for a list of rules, protocols and truths about Houston-area summer lawn care.
Frankly, these rules aren't just for the Gulf Coast. They're for nearly anyone with lawn-care issues during the hottest times of the year.
So, how many of them can you check off? The more check marks, the better looking your lawn will be this summer! If you can't check many, you should start making some changes. You don't want the worst-looking lawn on the block, do you? YIKES!!!
□ Refrain from cutting too short, especially if you have St. Augustine grass. The taller the blades, the more shade for the roots, stolons and runners. And the more water you conserve. If a lawn crew does your mowing, tell them to raise the mower deck immediately.
□ Apply the 1/3 Rule when mowing! Or pruning anything, for that matter. Don't remove more than 1/3.
□ Water early! This has a double benefit: First, the yard will have moisture to use during the heat of the day. Second, you'll avoid fungal diseases during August and September. If you're watering at night, change to mornings right now.
□ Mulch mow! If you're bagging your grass clippings, you're missing out on the nutritional benefits (mostly nitrogen) that come from leaving grass clippings where they fall. Plus, you get added protection from the sun when the pulverized grass goes deep down to the root zone as it's supposed to.
□ Compost top-dressing! You can do it almost any time of the year. Those who say you can't do it during the summer are unaware of the benefits. Or they're not using the right kind of compost. For those with new homes, the builder-grade dirt under the grass is likely just clay. But by adding compost year-in and year-out, you will improve the organic enrichment of the soil. And that will lead to a better lawn.
□ Core aeration! If you've never top-dressed with compost, you should do a core aeration first. Many people also apply other soil amendments, like humates, gypsum or expanded shale after a core aeration. New lawns need a core aeration twice a year for the first two or three years, then once every other year for the next five or six years. And, like compost top-dressing, there's really never a bad time to core aerate.
□ You still need to fertilize! If you missed the late-June/early-July application, and if you're using the slow- or controlled-release products recommended in my schedule, you still have to do it. Remember ... it's never too late to do the right thing. Just be sure to water it in immediately after application.
□ Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers! Weed-and-feeds from heinous national companies usually have high nitrogen content, and if you don't provide ample amounts of water after a summer application, the lawn will burn up.
□ You can add iron supplementation! If you've been doing everything according to the rules above but you're seeing a yellowing during late July and August, all the stuff that greens up turfgrass (like iron, nitrogen, sulfur, etc.) has probably been leached out of the lawn. That's why I recommend iron supplements in the summer months. However, it's only necessary if you see yellow grass - not if your yard is otherwise green. And by the way, if you've been watering at night, yellowing could be due to a fungal disease. So, it's important to get it diagnosed properly. Chlorosis is yellowing caused by a lack of iron, not fungal disease or insect problems.
□ Keep an eye out for chinch bugs, sod webworms, cutworms and army worms. I don't normally recommend putting out insecticides just to put out insecticides. If your irrigation is up to par, or we get sufficient rain, you won't likely see chinch bugs. The same can't be said for sod webworms, though. They seem to be making an encore appearance this year. If you really feel a need for protection against them, I will tentatively approve the application of a granular insecticide like bifenthrin. Meanwhile, the right way to treat any insect issue involves breaking the egg cycle with a liquid insecticide approved for turf applied every 5-7 days three to five times.
So, how many check marks do you have? Six or more, and I'll bet your lawn is looking good! If you've checked three or less, I guess I really don't need to ask how bad your lawn looks this summer.