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Lawns take a "heat beating" in the summer

Summer is the season when you and your family look forward to relaxing on the lawn. Whether you're playing catch with the kids, working on your tan or simply strolling around barefoot, there's something special about the feel of lush green grass tickling your toes.

However, summer is also the time when your lawn is most likely to suffer at the hands of mother nature. Not so much "lush green grass;" more "dry brown straw."

Several readers sent me e-mails asking about summer lawn care, and one reader wrote to thank me for a helpful lawn care column that ran here about a year ago. Much of what follows is adapted from that earlier column because it is just as relevant today as it was then!

Let's think about some preventative measures that will keep your lawn from degenerating into a giant sheet of coconut matting. 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 delivers 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.

As I've said before, 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.

Much as we all enjoy a lush, green lawn, 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