Lawn care tips for summer

By Pamm Cooper - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
Featured Article - posted Wed., Jun. 5, 2013
- Contributed Photo

Adjusting your lawn mower’s mowing height is an important practice to help prepare lawns for the hotter weather that is coming. Raising the mowing height to 3 inches or more will promote deeper rooting and help prevent soils from drying out as quickly as soils where the grass is cut shorter. Having more leaf tissue allows the grass to cool off during hot weather, and shades the soil surface as well.

As temperatures rise, grass growth slows down, and fertilizing Kentucky bluegrasses, ryegrasses and fescues during the heat of summer is an ill-advised practice. Forcing top growth at this time of year can stress the grass plants, and increases their need of water. Wait until the weather cools down as the days grow shorter after Labor Day, to fertilize with nitrogen again.

Weed control can be accomplished by using an appropriate herbicide at the rates recommended on the label. White clover is in flower now, and that is an ideal time to control it. Of course, many proponents of organic lawn care would encourage you to leave this nitrogen-fixing and pollinator-friendly plant. But if resigned to eradicate this beneficial plant, do be careful when using spray applications of selective herbicides for broadleaf weeds, such as clover. Many products can damage turfgrasses if applied when the weather will be 80 degrees F or higher. Use rates recommended on the label, and don’t mow for a few days after herbicide applications. Some perennial weeds are better controlled in the fall, sometimes with split applications, one in the fall and the second one in the spring. One such weed is ground ivy, which is best controlled by applying the appropriate herbicide after the first frost, and then when flowering the following spring.

During the warmer, drier weather of summer, it is best not to dethatch, aerate, seed or fertilize. A better time for these practices is late August or early September. If supplemental water is not added during periods of heat stress, try to reduce traffic on the lawn, especially if it is wilted or dormant. If supplemental watering is applied, water early in the morning, and apply an inch or an inch and a half of water once a week. Dormant lawns need only one-quarter to one-half an inch of water every two to three weeks to keep the crown alive (where new leaf growth will resume). Fine leaf fescue lawns, once established, may remain green all summer, and tall fescues may also remain green except in extended droughts.

Insect activity can be very damaging to lawns during the summer. Sod webworms and chinch bugs are surface feeding insects that may be hard to detect before severe damage is noticed as the weather gets hotter. Sometimes you may see little light-colored moths flying out of the grass as you walk across the lawn. These are likely sod webworm moths, whose larvae are tiny caterpillars that feed within leaf stems. If damage is bad enough, a surface insect control product can be used, watered in slightly according to label directions. Surface control insecticides usually last 30 days or so. For grubs, which feed on roots, an insecticide that is labeled specifically for them must be used. These are usually applied before grubs are present and are absorbed by the grass plant into its roots, where it remains for several months. The key is to have it in place as the eggs are hatching and the grubs are small. In Connecticut, grub control insecticides are most effective when applied between June 15 and July 10. If biological controls, such as nematodes, are used applications are made when grubs are known to be present. Feel free to call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center for tips on monitoring lawn insect pests. All products used to control grubs must be watered down to the root zone, or they will be ineffective.

If seeding must be done now due to construction or other reasons, make sure the seed is kept moist. This might entail two or three 10-minute waterings each day, depending on the weather. New seedlings should be mowed after they are 3 and a half inches tall, and may need supplemental watering until the weather cools down again. If new grass shows signs of wilting, water it, or it may be lost. If it is not possible to do so, some areas will probably need to be re-seeded in late summer or early fall.

This year has been somewhat wet and cool so far, and most lawns have benefited from nature’s timely rains. But that can all change in a heartbeat. Last year we had a drought the latter half of the summer. This year we are still green, and water is not in short supply. Enjoy it while it lasts!

For questions on lawn care or other home and garden queries, contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center, toll-free, at 877-486-6271, or, or your local County Cooperative Extension office.

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