June 21 is the official start of summer. Of course, the summer heat has already been with us for several weeks. And, with our recent lack of serious rain, heat is creating problems in many yards – especially those with little organic matter in the soil or whose owners are not following my lawn care schedules.
And with the heat has come a bunch of misinformation, disinformation and misconceptions about lawn care. So, I figured this would be a good time to reissue a list of summer lawn care tips. And they’re not just for the Gulf Coast - they’re for anyone anywhere with lawn issues during the hottest time of the year. So, share them like crazy!
How many can you put a checkmark next to? The more checks, the better looking your lawn will be this summer. If you can’t check off many, you need to start making some changes, or wind up with the worst looking lawn on the block!
☐ 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 is conserved.If you have a lawn crew doing the mowing, tell them to raise the deck immediately. Cutting Bermuda or thin-bladed Zoysia with reel mowers is best, but you should raise the mowing decks on those, too.
☐ Apply the 1/3 (or less) Rule for mowing. Or pruning anything, for that matter. In other words, when deciding the correct mowing height, are you removing more than 1/3 of its height?
☐ Water early – Doing so allows the yard to have moisture for use during the heat of the day. If you’re watering at night, make the change to mornings right now. Otherwise, you’re inviting fungal diseases that will develop as we get to August and September.
☐ Mulch mow - If you are bagging grass clippings during the summer, you’re missing out on the nutritional benefits (mostly nitrogen) that come from leaving the 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. But you can bag your clippings occasionally if you think you’re developing a thatch buildup.
☐ Compost top-dress - You can compost top-dress at almost any time of the year.Those who think it can’t be done during the summer probably aren’t aware of the benefits or have seen results from the wrong kind of compost. Owners of newly built homes with builder-grade dirt under the grass likely have just a clay base. Adding compost yearly will improve the soil organics for a better lawn.
☐ Core aeration - Yes, this could be combined with compost top-dressing, but then this would just be a Top 9 List. Plus, many people apply soil amendments other than compost … like gypsum or expanded shale … after a core aeration. If you’ve never done a top-dressing, you should core aerate first. New lawns should have it done twice a year for the first two or three years, then once every other year for the next five or six years. And there’s really never a bad time to core aerate. So when was the last time you did one?
☐ You still need to fertilize!– If you’re following my schedule and using slow- or controlled-release products and you missed the April application, do it now! Remember, it’s never too late to do the right thing. Just be sure to water it in immediately. Then mark the calendar to do a second slow-release feeding 75 days in the future.
☐ Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers - Weed-and-feed products usually have the highest nitrogen content. And if you don’t provide ample amounts of water during the summer for a lawn laced with a high-nitrogen fertilizer, it will burn up.
☐ Add iron supplementation - If you’ve been doing everything above but you’re seeing yellowing grass, all the iron, nitrogen, sulfur, etc. that greens things up has probably been leached out. That’s why I recommend iron supplements in the summer months. It happens when our irrigation systems water more than Mother Nature would. Adding iron, however, is only necessary if you see yellowing grass - not if your yard is green. And if you’ve been watering at night, yellow grass could also indicate a fungal disease. So, it’s important to get it diagnosed as chlorosis (yellowing caused by a lack of iron) rather than a fungal disease or insect problems – they’re treated differently.
☐ How’s your irrigation system working? – When was the last time you actually changed your times and days? Have you ever seen the tests you can do and the checkups you can perform to make sure you’re your irrigation system is helping you and not harming you? The North Fort Bend Water Authority’s website can walk you through such checkups and tests.
And here’s some bonus information: Keep an eye out for chinch bugs. I don’t normally recommend applying insecticides without an obvious need. And if your irrigation is sufficient, or we get adequate rain, you probably won’t see chinch bugs. But if you feel a need for protection against them, I can conditionally approve granular insecticides like bifenthrin. If you suspect you already have chinch bugs, please see my long-running tip sheet on the subject, because multiple applications of liquid insecticides will be necessary.
So, how many check marks did you get? Six or more, and I’ll bet you’re looking good! If you have three or fewer, do I really need to ask how your lawn looks going into the summer months?