Whether It’s Hot or Not Turf Care

Coming off of a cooler and wetter than average April, May and June, it’s hard to imagine a hot and dry summer.  However, this is Nebraska, and all you have to do is think back to previous years and Bingo! – there it is – hot and dry.  So, whether it’s hot or not, these are turf care tips for summer:


#1 – Water turf plants in soils that are starting to dry out.  The goal for turf in spring, summer and fall is moist, not soggy, not dry.  So, regardless if the cool, moist weather continues or if it changes to a more traditional spigot shutoff mode, turf plants are healthiest if their roots are moist.  How do we keep them that way?  Simple.  Monitor the soil moisture and when it’s soggy – Don’t Water!  When it’s moist – Don’t Water.  When it turns from moist to dry – soak the entire root system with water.  Simple, eh?  A weekly monitoring with a screwdriver or piece of ree-bar is a good summertime routine.

screwdriver testing moisture content

#2 – Water to the bottom of the roots.  A square nosed shovel aka sod spade is a great tool for helping turf managers, acreage owners, homeowners, sports turf managers, etc. to tell how moist the soil is in the root zone, but it’s also great for estimating how deep the roots are.  Historically, as temperatures rise and the weeks fly by in the summer, the roots of Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and tall fescue gradually become shallower and shallower.  Digging a small hole and popping out a plug of turf and soil helps to confirm it.  After all, any water applied below the root zone is wasted and stopping watering before all the roots are moistened is not enough.  Getting the right amount of water on the lawn is a simple matter of watering for the correct amount of time.


#3 – Don’t be afraid of fertilizer.  We commonly hear from clients that completely avoid summer fertilization, regardless of growth rate, weather and maintenance level.  If the weather is cool and moist, light fertilization is recommended to keep roots growing when we need them the moist.  Likewise, if the lawn has an irrigation system, or at least you have access to a rain train, the roots can be kept moist and be kept going with light fertilizer applications.  How light?  Generally, a fourth pound of nitrogen, or a third as much as a Memorial Day or Labor Day application, in mid- summer can be beneficial to keep the turf humming along.  If, on the other hand, the lawn is not regularly watered, or has been allowed to go dormant for the summer, it’s best to skip summer fertilization and resume after Labor Day.


#4 – Keep sharp.  Keeping the mower blade sharp is definitely a “whether it’s hot or not” practice.  Sharpening it at least monthly will decrease the size of the openings made in the blades during mowing.  Dull mower blades tend to rip and tear the grass blades, which create larger openings, allowing more moisture loss and increase disease entry potential.


#5 – Return clippings.  A light sprinkling of grass clippings made with a mulching mower is good for the lawn, holding in soil moisture and keeping the crowns cooler.  Mowing should be done frequently enough to avoid clumping and trails left by the mower.


#6 – Create hydrozones. Devise a maintenance hierarchy, creating high, medium and low maintenance lawn areas.  Mark off a small area for children to play games on and for entertaining and maintain it with color, density and function in mind.  Medium and low maintenance areas can be cared for according to the need for the return on investment.


#7 – Separate turf from ornamentals. – Regardless of the level of maintenance, trees, shrubs and perennials should be separated from turfgrass areas, as they have different needs.  From a design standpoint, lawn areas should be solid, uninterrupted masses with ornamental plants surrounding them, also in masses.  This allows each to be cared for according to their own needs or lack thereof.

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