A hot, dry summer is a lawn’s most punishing time, especially for cool-season bluegrass/ryegrass/fescue lawns that commonly grow throughout the northern half of the United States.
These lawns survive cold winters and grow well in spring and fall, but they often struggle when temperatures top the 90-degree mark in summer and when rain doesn’t happen. During the worst spells, cool-season lawns turn brown and go dormant in an effort to conserve energy and survive. They’ll usually “green up” after a good rain – unless drought drags on for more than a month of summer dormancy. In that case, give the lawn a quarter-inch of water once a week. That’s enough to keep the grass alive without bringing it out of protective dormancy.
The heat and dryness of summer is stressful to grass, though, even when it doesn’t go dormant. Besides a slowed growth rate, other summer-lawn troubles include dieback from heat-related diseases, bugs such as sod webworms and chinch bugs, and weeds.
Three of the best things you can do to minimize summer lawn damage are: 1.) avoid fertilizing when hot, dry weather stops grass growth, 2.) maintain grass at a higher level (no scalping), and 3.) stay off a dry lawn as much as possible.
Helping heat-beat grass
As a stressed lawn comes out of summer, it’ll often recover nicely on its own as temperatures cool and rain returns. If rain doesn’t happen, irrigating with an inch of water per week will return grass to growth mode. Once grass is green and growing again, an application of fall fertilizer will help the recovery, assuming it’s been at least eight weeks since the last application.
GreenView Fairway Formula Fall Fertilizer is specifically designed to be used in the fall - it repairs summer damage while encouraging strong, deep root growth for winter hardiness and quick spring green up.
Top-dressing is another good lawn-recovery move that can be done in late summer to early fall. This involves spreading a light, quarter-inch layer of sifted compost or similar fine, organic-rich topsoil over the soil surface.
For lawns that are thin or patchy coming out of summer, late summer to early fall is the year’s best time to overseed with additional grass seed. Overseeding replaces heat- and drought-killed grass, thickens the lawn, and is the best strategy for heading off future weed troubles.
Seeding can be done in conjunction with fixing other lawn issues, such as core-aerating to help compacted soil or dethatching to remove excess grass-choking thatch from the lawn.
Continue to cut the grass on a high mower setting (three inches is good for cool-season grasses) until the last cut or two of the year, when a shorter cut helps head off late-winter snow-mold disease.