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Take action now to keep summer grass green

"There Ain't No Cure for the Summertime Blues." I heard that Eddie Cochran song on an oldies radio station this morning. I was at a suburban four-way stop and glanced over to see some men from a local landscaping service unloading a ride-on mower from the flatbed trailer behind their pickup truck.

I thought to myself, "It's the summertime BROWNS that bother most homeowners... at least when it comes to lawns!"

Every summer, I get calls or e-mails asking me what can be done to "cure" browned-out lawns. The bad news: To paraphrase Eddie, there pretty much "ain't no cure" for a lawn that's browned out from the summer weather conditions. The good news: It's not a disaster!

I'll explain that later in this column, but first let's think about some preventative measures that will keep your lawn from degenerating into a giant sheet of coconut matting. By the way, as this is a subject that comes up quite often, I suggest you visit my web site www.landsteward.org where you will find an archive of these columns under "The Plant Man" heading, as well as several other helpful articles. You can also sign up for my free e-mailed newsletter if you wish.

So what can you do to maintain a healthy lawn until the cooler weather returns?

Mowing height adjustment is probably the most important practice to prepare lawns for hot weather, according to Bruce Spangenberg, Extension Educator at the University of Illinois Extension. He recommends that you mow at heights around three inches or slightly higher. If in doubt, set the mower as high as it will go. Lawns maintained at higher heights usually develop deeper roots and dry out slower than closely mowed turf. Lawn growth will slow as the weather gets drier and hotter. The complete article can be found at http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/hortihints/0106b.html and you can find a direct link to it from this "Plant Man" column at my web site. The commonest lawn grasses in most areas are bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and fine fescue. As an act of self-preservation, these grasses tend to slow down their growth and go dormant during hot weather. If you wish to maintain a green lawn throughout the summer, you must make a commitment now to water throughout the summer!

If you don't believe me, here's some advice from the experts at the Kemper Center for Home Gardening. In particular, they tell us that you will need to follow a regular watering routine before the lawn begins to brown. Why? Because once the lawn goes dormant in mid-summer watering will not generally green it up until fall.

To keep the lawn green requires about 1 inch of rain or irrigation per week, according to the folks at the Kemper Center. A sprinkler used on home lawns usually deliver from one-quarter to one-third inch per hour. It is better to give the lawn a good soaking (a 6 inch depth) once a week than frequent light watering.

You can read the entire text at http://www.mobot.org/gardeninghelp/hortline/messages/3209.shtml and, as always, there is a direct link from this column archived at my web site.

Another reminder: I advise you to water early in the day. For one thing, it's more comfortable for you because it's cooler. But most important, watering early in the day appears to reduce disease occurrence.

But back to my statement at the beginning of this column. Generally speaking, it's not a disaster if your grass goes brown in the dry summer heat. Again, I want to emphasize that the brown color is an indication that the grass has gone dormant. This is nature's way of conserving energy until such times as the grass can renew its growth in the cycle of life. Dormant and dead are not the same thing.

However, as with dead grass, dormant grass cannot be revived and brought back to a lush green state once it has been allowed to reach its dormant state.

Now is the time to decide: Commit to watering your lawn deeply and infrequently, perhaps around once a week. Or accept the fact that, this summer, your lawn might enter a dormant state in the event of particularly hot or dry weather. If you allow your lawn to go brown and then decide to give it a thorough soaking, you are liable create a high degree of stress for the blades of grass and deplete their energy unnecessarily.

Let me know if you are having lawn problems or if you need advice or suggestions about any aspect of landscaping. I try to respond via e-mail within a day or so, and some questions will be featured in future column.

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to steve@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org often.



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