For a lawn, surviving the summer is no small task. The sun is scorching, water is scarce, and weeds and bugs attack from all sides. Deliberate summer lawn upkeep is the only line of defense you have against a crispy brown eyesore.
What’s your type?
The first step of any lawn care regimen is always to identify the desired end result. Ultimately, we want the lawn to be a vibrant green, weed-free, and densely packed with a single type or blend of specific grasses. To achieve this end result, we begin with identifying the current condition of the lawn, and the type or types of grass we already have. If you’re unsure, the University of California has a fantastic tool to help!
Once you’ve identified the species of the existing turf, we must determine if it is appropriate for your region. View the chart on our Lawn Maintenance Schedule page to determine which type of turf is optimal for your geographic location. Cool season grasses are more adapted for growth in Zone 1, while warm season grasses will perform better in Zone 2. Both warm and cool season grasses alike will begin to struggle when temperatures exceed about 80 degrees, but the effects will be significantly more noticeable in the cool season grasses.
Hydration is key
Watering decisions will play a critical role in summer lawn health. The general rule is that a lawn needs at least 1 inch of combined rainfall and/or watering each week to maintain its color. Just as problematic as underwatering, overwatering can promote weed growth and create optimal conditions for fungal diseases to take hold.
In order to determine how long to run your sprinkler or irrigation system to apply 1” of water, find a coffee can or any container with vertical sides. Measure 1” from the bottom container and make a mark, then place the container in the area to be watered. Time how long it takes your irrigation system to fill up to the 1” mark; this will tell you how long to run your irrigation system to apply your lawn’s weekly 1” watering. (Note: A flower pot or similarly shaped container will give an inaccurate reading because the diameter at the top is larger than the bottom, which will ultimately cause you to apply less water than necessary.)
When it comes to watering, lower frequency and higher volume is the key. More frequent light waterings trigger the lawn to focus its root production near the surface. Watering in higher volumes allows the moisture to be absorbed into the soil more deeply, triggering root growth below the existing root structure. Decreasing the frequency of waterings stimulates root growth further, forcing the plant to search for water deep in the soil. The end result is a fully developed root system with increased resistance to drought.
Early morning is the ideal time for watering. By watering before sunrise we avoid the water loss caused by evaporation, which allows the soil to absorb the moisture deeply, contributing to the root system development mentioned earlier. Evening watering also accomplishes this objective but the cool, dark, and damp conditions leave the lawn vulnerable to fungal diseases.
Mow like a pro
Arguably the most important element of summer lawn maintenance is proper mowing. No amount of watering can overcome the damage done to an improperly cut lawn. The third-of-the-blade rule is especially important during the hot summer months for multiple reasons. First, the blade helps shield the soil surface from the blistering sun, retaining moisture. It also contributes to the lawn’s allocation of energy. By cutting off less of the blade, there is greater surface area to aid in photosynthesis. Most importantly, more energy can be allocated to root growth instead of foliar growth.
Trimming off smaller sections of the blade allow more clippings to work their way to the thatch layer that helps retain much-needed moisture. Clumps that sit atop the grass layer can be worked in with a rake or a blower, or should be removed with a sweeper or bagger to avoid killing the grass underneath.
The ultimate goal during the summer is to minimize the amount of stress placed on your lawn. Children’s toys and kiddie pools left on the lawn can kill grass quickly, leaving ideal places for new weeds to pop up. High-traffic areas can also become problematic; consider using stepping stones to create a path, saving the surrounding grass. If you find yourself with a trouble spot, some new grass seeds have water-retention coatings to help survive the summer heat. Even so, you’ll still want to topdress the area to help retain moisture and block intense sunlight.
Author: Brad Turner