• Summer Turfgrass Blues

    Summertime brings a lot of opportunity for us to get outside and enjoy our landscapes. It can also bring about problems for our lawn. Summer heat, fungus, drought conditions, and insects can take their toll on the beautiful lawn we seem to have had just a few months ago. Luckily their are some simple cultural practices we perform to keep our lawns looking their best throughout the summer months.

  • Heat and Irrigation

    The two biggest factors that can turn a lush green lawn into a brown desert wasteland is an excess of heat and a lack of water. Tall fescue is generally the best choice for our region here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Unfortunately the summer months can take it's toll. When temperatures reach the high 80's and above, growth of tall fescue slows dramatically. Root growth stops completely. Combine this with a long dry spell, and and the turf starts to become more brown than green as it goes into dormancy. Dormancy is not bad for the grass, it is a survival mechanism. 

  • However, tall fescue can only sustain a lack of moisture for a period of approximately 30 days before dormancy turns into death. A number of factors determine how long it will take before this happens, but preventative measures will help avoid costly repairs in the future. Generally, an inch of water per week will keep the turf healthy and (mostly) happy. Measuring this can be done with a rain gauge or a tuna can set out during a rain or in the watering area of the sprinkler you may be using.

  • If you wish to let the turf go dormant, supplying at least a half of an inch of water every two weeks will keep the grass dormant yet alive. This is not a hard and fast rule as areas with poor soil or very good drainage may need much more. Water can be expensive, especially within city limits. However, repairs in the Fall are generally just as expensive or more so, and will also require water to establish the new sod or seed. Other factors that can contribute to poor summer grass health are pressure from grubs, fungus, and over-fertilization.

  • Over-Fertilization and Fungus

    We generally do not apply any heavy fertilizer to lawns after March. Late fertilizer applications encourage rapid top growth. This new top growth is less hardy and more prone to desiccation.  More importantly, this succulent top growth is extremely susceptible to fungus. Brown patch fungus is the usual suspect. Fungus is also encouraged by irrigation (natural or otherwise) in the middle or late in the day. The turf does not have time to dry out and the fungus multiplies throughout the night and through the next morning before the grass dries. Early morning watering is best. I have even read studies that suggest that very early irrigation actually helps the grass dry faster by breaking the surface tension of the morning dew faster. It is possibly to have a very green, lush, fungus free lawn through the summer. However, it often takes a great deal of water and multiple fungicide treatments which can get expensive. We usually try to limit the use of fungicides but there are exceptions depending on the needs of the homeowner or business.

  • Grubs and Other Insect Problems

    Insects can be a problem for the lawn anytime it is growing. From my experience in our area, I find it rare that it comes to the point of needing treatment, except in the case of grubs. Grubs are the larval stage of June bugs and Japanese beetles. During the late part of the summer they can begin to feed extensively on the roots of turf grass. Grub damage looks like drought stress. The difference is that the damaged areas can often be easily pulled up with the hands. Late July and August are the best times to spot and treat grubs. A few grubs are tolerable. But a half dozen or a dozen grubs per square foot can start ruining a lawn very quickly. There are a variety of controls for grubs, many of which work very well. An organic option is called Milky Spore. It costs more, takes longer to work, and requires more treatments, but it may be the best option to use in a children's playground for example. 

    As you can see (I hope I explained this clearly enough), keeping grass healthy during the summer months is not extremely difficult. I believe it has more to do with timing, and frequent observation. It may be as simple as marking your calendar for the key dates for fertilization and grub control etc., or calling a local, certified lawn care professional.