Cranky Man’s Lawn Epistles ’12 – Help your lawn beat the heat

When it comes to my little 1/4 acre of turf, I have a few lawn care prejudices.  They are in descending order of irritation:

  • crabgrass
  • large dogs with inconsiderate owners
  • all other weeds
  • lawn mowing contractors
  • small dogs with inconsiderate owners

As you can see, I consider lawn mowing contractors roughly equivalent to “medium-sized dogs with inconsiderate owners”.  It’s not that I “hate” them per se; and I do not begrudge their need to earn a living or the demand for their services by home owners who simply don’t want to be bothered.  The truth is lawn mowing services rarely care about your lawn.  They cut your grass way too short – no matter how hot it is – in order to make it easier on themselves should rainy weather prevent them from making a weekly cutting. 

But I digress …

The point of this post is to provide some uneducated, experience-related tips on how to help your lawn survive the long, hot, dry summer and then thrive once cooler temps return. 

My front lawn absolutely BAKES during the summer.  An east-by-southeast exposure, and the absence of shade or an irrigation system, guarantees that by late August it looks more like a lawn in Afghanistan than it does one in southeast Pennsylvania.  My back yard is exactly the opposite … plenty of shade provided by the house and large neighboring trees.  It still gets dry; but it doesn’t sun-bake nearly as much as the front. 

Differing conditions should influence how much time and care you dedicate to your lawn’s summer survival.  I will water the front yard every other day during hot, dry weather; but I NEVER bother watering the back yard.

Common sense is the recurring theme in my suggestions for helping your lawn beat the heat and survive the summer:

  1. Make sure you fertilize regularly, especially in the spring and fall.
    • Search the Tag cloud or Categories on the menu bar for Lawn Care to read these posts.
  2. Don’t be afraid to let your lawn grow LONGER once it starts getting HOT. (This is where the aforementioned lawn-mowing contractors are so often no friend to your lawn!) 
    • A well-maintained lawn will look fuller and more lush when allowed to grow longer.
    • Longer grass will collect and retain more moisture, even just from morning dew.
    • Long grass also helps shade underlying soil, helps it retain moisture, and protects the plants’ roots.
  3. When it starts getting hot, water regularly those sections of your lawn that tend to dry out first and turn brown.
    • It’s never to late to water; but do not wait until the lawn is already starting to brown to start watering.
    • Pay attention to weather forecasts for anticipated rains and plan accordingly.
    • Water in the evening when moisture has longer to soak the soil and reach plant roots.
  4. Use common sense when it comes to fertilizing during heat waves and dry conditions.  Don’t fertilize a severely dry or burnt lawn.  You’re likely to do more harm than good.
    • This is generally an issue only with anti-grub applications, normally applied around the 4th of July.  In my opinion, you could do more harm than any lawn pest by applying a grub treatment when your lawn is water-starved.
  5. If worse comes to worse and the lawn turns to straw, watering can still help to keep the roots from drying out completely. 

The most important take-away here was best addressed by my Great Grandpappy* who used to say …

If you cut your lawn like a golf course fairway in May, it will look as lush an airport runway in July! *

(* OK, I never really knew my great-grandfather and barely remember one grandfather, but folksy wisdom always sounds more believable when attributed to someone older, wiser and near death.)

None of these suggestions will guarantee your lawn won’t turn brown.  If Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate with an occasional rain, only an irrigation system will keep your lawn green for any extended period of time during hot, dry weather.  So far this year, Mom Nature has been kind.  But like all women, that could change in the time it takes to narfle the garthok

My lawn does not have an irrigation system.  So I TRY to water every other day (which is a practical compromise between wanting to water every day and the cost of doing so).  But even when I am conscientious about watering, without help from Above, my front lawn will stay green only for so long.  There is NEVER a summer where patches – usually the same spots each year – don’t thin out, turn brown, and resemble more closely straw than grass.  These areas get early special attention in an attempt to mitigate the damage.

The MOST IMPORTANT result is that my lawn usually bounces back pretty quickly because – I like to think – I’m sensible about keeping it in as good a shape as I can BEFORE the long, hot, dry summer starts taking its toll!  The secret is to pay attention to your lawn’s condition BEFORE Mother Nature turns on the oven, and to anticipate what needs to be done to protect it!  

Good luck out there!

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