While you may have received a little rain on Monday, the August heat coupled with a serious lack of precipitation for the past month is creating problems for many yards – especially those whose soil contains little organic matter. And even more so for anyone not following my schedules.
The conditions seem to have also prompted a bunch of misinformation, disinformation and misconceptions about lawn care. So, there may never be a better time to give you a list of rules, protocols and truths about summer lawn care in the Houston area. Frankly, these aren’t just for the Gulf Coast – anyone anywhere with hot-weather lawn care issues can likely use them.
How many of these can you put a check mark next to? The more checks, the better looking your lawn is going to be during the summer. If you don’t get very many, you should start making some changes.
□ 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’ll conserve. If you have a lawn crew doing the mowing, tell them to raise the deck.
□ Apply the 1/3 Rule (or less) when mowing (or pruning anything, for that matter). In selecting the mowing height, are you removing more than 1/3?
□ Water early! This has a double benefit: First, it allows the yard to use the moisture during the heat of the day. If you’re watering at night, change to mornings right now to avoid inviting fungal diseases that come with evening watering in August and September.
□ Mulch mow. If you bag your grass clippings during the summer, you’ll miss out on the nutritional benefits (like nitrogen) from pulverized clippings when left where they fall. Plus, they’ll provide added protection from the sun, as they make their way deep down to the root zone.
□ Compost top-dress! First, know that you can compost top-dress at almost any time of the year. Those who claim you can’t do it during the summer are either unaware of the benefits or are not using the correct compost. At newly built homes, the dirt under the grass is likely just clay, so by adding compost annually, you will organically enrich the soil. That will ultimately lead to a better lawn.
□ Core Aerate - Compost top-dressing and core aeration could be combined, but then this would only be a Top Nine list. Actually, if you’ve never done a compost top-dressing, you should do a core aeration first. Many people opt for different soil amendments after a core aeration … like gypsum or expanded shale. In any case, new lawns should have a core aeration twice annually for the first two to three years, then once every other year for the next five or six. And, as with the compost top-dress, there’s really never a bad time to core aerate.
□ You Still Need to Fertilize! If you missed the late-June or early-July application, and you’re following my schedule using slow- or controlled-release products, you’re still good to fertilize. 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, heinous products mostly available from national brands, usually have the highest ratios of nitrogen. If you don’t provide ample amounts of water after the summer application of a high-nitrogen fertilizer, the lawn will burn up.
□ You can add iron supplementation. If you’ve been following these rules, but you’re seeing a yellowing lawn, all the iron, nitrogen, sulfur, etc. that greens up turfgrass has probably been leached from the soil. That’s why I recommend iron supplements during the summer months. However, it’s only necessary if you see yellowing grass. But note that if you’ve been watering at night and seeing yellowing grass, that could be due to a fungal disease, not chlorosis (yellowing caused by lack of iron).
□ Watch for sod webworms and chinch bugs! I don’t normally recommend applying insecticides as preventatives. If your irrigation is up to par or rainfall has been adequate, you probably won’t see chinch bugs. But if you feel a need to guard against them or sod webworms, I can somewhat approve of applying a granular insecticide like bifenthrin.
So, how many check marks do you have? Six or more, and I’ll bet you’re looking good! If you checked three or less, do I really have to ask how your lawn looks this summer?
PHOTO: Randy Lemmon