Summer’s heat, wind, and sporadic rain are tough on a lawn, but this article will hopefully give you some simple tips on how to improve your green-space.
Understand that depending on your soil composition (black rick dirt versus dry sand) and percentage of shade (direct sun all day or sun-shade mix) your lawn may show signs of stress to varying degrees (think brown patches, unruly weeds sprouting where once was thick and green). Each lawn is different, and acceptance that it will not look near as fantastic as it did in early May, will keep you from going crazy thinking you have the worst lawn on the block.
If you’re a perfectionist, and try to force it to grow like an emerald carpet be advised those huge water, sewer and fertilizer bills have more costs than on your wallet; and when it still looks just okay, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.
One: Raise your mowing deck. 3 ½” minimum. Most people don’t ever measure, they just eyeball it. Please, this is important, get your glasses and measure your mowing height. How? Take a tape measure of just about any kind, with the lawn mower on a flat surface, and measure the height of the blade at cutting edge from the ground. If less than 3 ½”, raise it to be at least that height.
Often you can get a better angle if you lift the side discharge chute. See, that’s why they pay me the big bucks. If you are unable to measure it this way, raise the deck to the highest setting and mow a strip of your lawn. Then measure the length of the cut blades from the ground. If more than 3 ½” lower it once step and repeat until you reach that sweet spot.
Free tip: When you mow, be smart about it. Change directions instead of mowing in the same circle round and round until it’s done. That way the grass doesn’t develop a memory from being pushed in the same direction every week. Raise the mower deck like I told you. Don’t mow the day before a week of highs in the 90s and no rain. Let the grass blades grow longer to shade the roots during these hot months. I know it will look a little long and shaggy compared to how you usually like it, but your lawn will thank you.
Two: if you like to water your lawn, or maybe even have an underground sprinkler system (smart), that’s great. Have you ever wondered if you’re watering correctly? Good question. Best practice: Water deeply. For example, run the sprinkler for 45 minutes on Saturday and Thursday mornings between 4-4:45am. An inch of rain or water per week is recommended for most lawns.
If you have a rain gauge or an empty ice cream pail, set it under the sprinkler so you can get an accurate idea of how much water you are giving each watering. What you don’t want is to water often, for short periods of time. If a lawn receives shallow watering, the root systems will be less likely to reach down for the water and minerals in the soil. Imagine this: deep roots are happy roots.
Three: Sometime between the last week of June, and the middle of July apply a clean, well balanced fertilizer. Don’t know what to look for? A moderate percentage of Nitrogen fortified with Iron, trace minerals, and Potassium also known as (if you’re old school like me) Potash. What am I talking about? Look for the three numbers on every fertilizer product: for example, 10-10-10 (Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potash). The order is always the same, and the numbers are percentages.
Never go above 20 percent Nitrogen any time of year. But in the summer, look for a product in the 10 to 15 range for that first number. Phosphorous is the middle number, and is not currently allowed on lawns in Minnesota (except when seeding or over-seeding). Potash (third number) can be present but not always. Look closely at the label on the bag or box and look for the active ingredient list to identify which trace minerals and in what percentages are present.
Lastly: you may notice some ugly weeds cropping up starting in July. Quack (like a duck)grass, crabgrass, and a dandelion crop in August are very common. Don’t despair, this too shall pass. Pull, spray, dig and toss everything that doesn’t look like your preferred lawn. Or, if you want to be like the hippies down in California, just let it grow, man! Weeds are nature’s healing herbs indicating there are mineral deficiencies in the soil that nature is trying to heal in its own way.
Hint: white clover is an indication of a Nitrogen-deficiency. So if you see patches of clover, you probably could use another boost of fertilizer (see above).
Keep it simple: Mow longer, water less frequently but for longer periods of time, and fertilize just enough to keep it green and thick. Pull some weeds, but don’t forget to enjoy an ice cold tea with lemon while you sit on your patio marveling at how much better your lawn looks than the guy across the street who just lets his lawn go all summer. And don’t forget who showed you how it’s done! Thanks, Lawn Guy Jared!