It’s a problem that we’ve all experienced: our lawns are a nice, healthy green during May and June, but as soon as the heat of the summer comes, it becomes difficult to keep it that way. Did you know there are things you can be doing to help your lawn be able to thrive during the heat of the summer?
Understanding your turf and how it grows is important when trying to achieve a healthy, hardy lawn in the hottest months of the year. The vast majority of turf varieties in Utah, especially northern Utah, are “cool season” varieties. These are your Kentucky Blue, Fescue, and Rye varieties. Cool season grasses like cooler temperatures and try to go dormant when it heats up. That is why your lawn seems to green up with little effort on your part in the spring and fall when the temperatures are ideal.
Often times when we think grass is “dead”, it is actually “dormant” and will recover after a few weeks of adequate watering.
Here are some things you can do to help your lawn be ready to stay green when the heat is on:
1. Wait as long as possible to begin watering.
It’s May and many Utahns have begun watering their lawns. On an average water year, we encourage residents to wait to water until Mother’s Day. This year we have had a wet May and might be able to hold off on watering until June, even if that means letting our lawns stress, just a little bit. What does a little stress do for our lawn? It forces the roots deep into the soil, helping it access deeper water sources which help grass stay greener when the hot months of summer hit.
2. Wait as long as possible between watering.
This may be one you’ve heard before. Many people worry that not watering every day will result in dry spots. This only happens if you’ve been watering every day for a long time and the grass hasn’t had to send its roots deep. Watering every day keeps roots at the surface of the soil which will cause your grass to quickly dry up and stress in the heat.
Do you know what else watering every day causes? Thatch. Thatch is not caused by letting grass clippings fall back into the lawn while mowing as is commonly believed. Thatch is made of tiny, fine roots that stay at the surface of the soil. It eventually gets so thick it becomes a spongy mass that acts as a barrier, keeping water from even entering the soil. Waiting as many days as possible between watering will help roots go deep, keeping thatch at bay.
How will you know when to water? Watch your lawn and it will let you know when it’s thirsty. If you scan your eyes over your lawn you’ll notice different shades of green. A deep green lawn is healthy and well hydrated, a straw color indicates dormancy, and a dark blue-green color indicates it needs water. Another way to tell is to walk across your lawn, if you can see your footprint after a minute it is probably time to water. A lawn that springs back quickly is well hydrated and doesn’t need to be watered. The lawn will recover from the dark blue-green color in a few hours, and it takes a couple of weeks for it to recover after it goes dormant.
3. Cycle and Soak.
This is particularly important if you have a clay, heavy, or compacted soil that doesn’t allow water to percolate quickly into the soil. Irrigating for a long time at once can cause the water to run off if the soil doesn’t have good drainage. One way to fix this is to break up your irrigation time into three different “cycles”, allowing the water to “soak” in after each cycle, thus the “cycle and soak” method.
For examples, if you need to run your irrigation for fifteen minutes to apply a half an inch of water (which is recommended), instead of running your sprinklers for fifteen minutes all at once, break it up into three cycles that are five minutes each. Allow an hour in between each cycle to allow adequate time for the water to soak into your soil.
4. Mow high.
Allowing your lawn to grow two and a half to three inches is recommended for optimum drought tolerance. This allows the leafy portion to sustain a large root system without getting too long and losing water through pores on the leaf. The longer grass will also shade the soil and help water not evaporate as quickly.
5. Check your sprinkler system monthly for even coverage.
This is important to avoid pesky dry spots. If you have a dry spot, the first thing you should do is turn on your sprinkler and make sure you don’t have a broken, sunken, or clogged sprinkler head that is limiting the amount of water reaching that particular area of the lawn. If you have a spot that isn’t getting hit and there’s no way to fix it without redoing your system, consider hand watering that spot once a week rather than increasing the run time for your whole system.
6. Core aeration.
This is particularly important for those who have clay or compacted soils. Aerating helps open up the soil in the lawn to increase water and air movement into the soil. Clay and compacted soils are difficult because water has a hard time moving down into the root zone. This can cause the soil to get waterlogged and the roots to stay in the top few inches of soil, making it likely to go brown when it gets hot and dry. Try aerating once a year, typically in the spring or fall.
Proper lawn maintenance in the spring will help your lawn stay nice and green in the summer. Follow the above suggestions to have the greenest yard in the neighborhood this July!