The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and it's time — yet again — to bust out the mower for summer lawn care after a long winter's nap. Though there are plenty of lawn care tasks to keep you busy all season, at the very least, you'll want to mow regularly and make sure that your summer lawn care prevents your house from becoming an eyesore on the street. At best, you'll devise a fertilizing and lawn maintenance routine that will make you the envy of the block.
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The Right Fertilizing Schedule
Fertilizing your lawn can keep it healthy and lush, but it can also burn your grass and cause damage. The key to getting it right is in large part the timing. If you live in the North and grow a cool-season grass, keep the fertilizer away from your lawn in the summer. You may have fertilized in the spring and can do so again in the fall but it's best to leave your grass alone during the heat of the summer months.
If you live in the South and have warm-season grass, however, summer is the time to fertilize. Fertilize your grass early in the summer when the temperature gets to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, only according to soil-test recommendations. Too much fertilizer or fertilizing at the wrong time can burn your grass. To avoid this, choose a lawn fertilizer formulated for summer use and follow the directions carefully. Generally, a granular, slow-release formula is best.
Remember that following the directions on your fertilizer is better for both your lawn and the law. Using fertilizers and other chemicals in any way other than the one outlined on the label is illegal. Even if you don't face legal consequences, misusing fertilizer can cause runoff into waterways or underground wells and can create problems. Always use fertilizer responsibly.
Proper Summer Mowing Techniques
Although few of us enjoy the task, mowing is an important part of your summer lawn care routine. As is true of fertilizing, there is a right way and several wrong ways to mow. One of the most common lawn care mistakes is misadjusting the height of the lawn mower blade.
It's tempting to cut your grass as short as you can so that you can mow less often, but this is bad for the grass. In the summer, as a rule of thumb, you should cut cool-season grasses to a height of 3 or 4 inches and warm-season grasses to a height of 2 to 3 inches. Different turfgrass types have more precise height requirements than this general recommendation, so be sure to consult with your local cooperative extension office to find out what's best for your lawn. Leaving the grass a bit taller helps shade the soil so weeds have trouble taking root. It also helps the soil maintain moisture longer, decreasing the need for irrigation. You should never be removing more than 1/3 of the total grass blade length when mowing.
Mower maintenance is also important for proper summer lawn care. If you're mowing with a dull blade, you're ripping and tearing your grass rather than cutting it. Torn grass suffers a greater injury than cut grass and is more prone to diseases. To keep your lawn mower blade working well, sharpen it after 10 hours of use.
Watering Your Lawn in Summer
If the summer heat is making your lawn look brown instead of lush, it probably needs more water. Between you and Mother Nature, your lawn needs to get about 1 to 2 inches of rain per week depending on your grass type, soil composition, and climate. It's better to water your lawn twice a week and give it more water each time than it is to water a lesser amount but more often.
Your goal is to soak the soil to a depth of about 6 inches. You can use a rain gauge or an empty tuna can to measure the amount of water you give your lawn during the summer. An empty tuna can is about 1 inch tall. Set it in your lawn and when it's full, you're done watering.
When irrigating your lawn, you can save money by adjusting your sprinklers properly so they water your grass only and not your driveway or sidewalk. More advanced sprinkler systems allow you to set a timer for precise watering, and some even monitor the weather and automatically adjust the watering as needed.
Watering at the right time of day matters as well. Most experts recommend watering between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. to avoid rapid evaporation during the hottest part of the day. In some places, like Colorado, for example, windy mornings make it better to water the lawn at night between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m.
Summer Lawn Care for Weeds and Pests
The key to dealing with both pests and weeds is to stop them early. If you see Japanese beetles or other pests or if you know that your neighbor is at war with grubs, treat your lawn with an insecticide early in the summer. Apply a granular insecticide and water it in well so that it reaches the area where grubs and insect larvae spend time.
Make pest treatment part of your early summer lawn care. If you don't stop grubs early in the summer, you'll miss your window. It's harder to treat for them if they're already fattening themselves up on the roots of your lawn.
Early treatment helps with weed control too. Early in the summer, apply a pre-emergent broadleaf herbicide to your lawn to stop weeds before they start. A few may still sneak through. If they do, it's best to pull them by hand if you can, being careful to extract the entire root.
If you prefer, you can spray unwanted weeds with a spot treatment. Choose your herbicide carefully when going this route. You'll want to choose a product that targets weeds without killing your grass. Some products claim they won't kill your grass but still do, so always buy a trusted brand of weed killer for your lawn.
Common Summer Lawn Care Issues
If you notice random brown spots on your lawn, pay attention to your dog or your neighbor's dog as the case may be. Dog urine can cause brown spots in your yard, especially if it's allowed to sit on the grass. Encourage your dog to move around the yard rather than always toileting in one place and flush her favorite pee spots with water regularly.
Pay attention to your people too. Sometimes, brown and yellow spots occur in high-traffic areas. If your lawn can't keep up with your busy family, consider planting a tougher grass variety. Cool-season grasses that do well with foot traffic include tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. For a tough warm-season grass, consider Bermudagrass or zoysia.
Brown spots that aren't caused by your dog or heavy lawn usage could point to a fungal infection or other diseases. Changing your watering or fertilizing schedule sometimes helps, as can aerating your lawn. If you're not sure what's wrong, take a picture of your lawn and a soil sample to your local garden center or extension office. They can help you diagnose the problem so you don't start randomly applying chemicals you may not need to treat problems you may not have.
If your yard has alternating stripes of healthy grass and brown or yellow grass, you're probably not fertilizing evenly. To make sure you cover the entire yard, be sure to walk your lawn both horizontally and vertically when fertilizing to avoid these striped patterns. Using a broadcast spreader instead of a drop spreader also helps prevent a striped lawn.