Summer Lawn Care

Guide to Summer Lawn Care

Summer is a double-edged sword for lawns. The heat and diminishing rainfall can wreak havoc on a lawn, but it’s also the prime time to show it off. That’s why summer lawn care is vital to its health. You spent all spring getting your turf looking as green and lush as possible, so don’t throw that hard work out the window.

On top of the heat, your lawn deals with heavy foot traffic from games, parties, pets, kids, barbecues, and more. Our guide will help you navigate the summer pitfalls and have your grass looking like the lawn of the month.

1. Water Your Lawn and Plants in the Early Mornings

A woman waters her grass in the early morning.

Watering is one of the biggest keys to summer lawn care. Summer is the prime time for heat and drought to burn your grass, causing it to fade or even turn brown. If you see your turf changing colors, that may be okay. There are several grass types available that require different amounts of water and react differently to the season. Fescue and Bluegrass are two of the more common cold-season grasses, and each has its own way of dealing with drought. 

  • Fescue has a deep root system, so it has the highest drought tolerance of cool-season types. 
  • Bluegrass goes dormant during a drought and may fade or turn brown but will green up again once rainfall comes.
  • Warm-season grasses like St. Augustine, Bermuda, and Zoysia thrive in higher temperatures via deeper root systems. They usually require 20 percent less water than their cool-season counterparts.

It’s easy to make mistakes once you see your lawn turning colors, but take a breath before drowning your grass. Most grasses will bounce back as temperatures lower and more rainfall comes, so stick to your regular watering schedule. In the summer months, it’s about quantity versus frequency.

Take solid into account as well, when watering. Soil can cause the quantity versus frequency formula to adjust a little bit. Depending on the soil in your region you may have to water more often or less, but either way, ensure moisture is reaching 4 to 6 inches down and you don’t overwater. Clay soil holds water for a longer period and can be watered less frequently. On the other hand, sandy soil drains very quickly and need to be watered more often.

  • You want to water less but deeper to encourage deep drought-tolerant roots.
  • Use a screwdriver to check how deeply water is getting into the ground during a typical watering. You want moisture to reach 4 to 6 inches down.
  • Water the grass in the early morning hours, between 5-9 a.m., as temperatures are lower and the heat won’t steal that valuable moisture. Morning watering also helps prevent fungal growth.
  • Grass needs at least one inch of water per week, but cool-season grasses need about 20% more water than warm-season ones. A good trick is to use a tuna can as a gauge because most are about one inch tall. Place the can in the middle of the area you’re watering and once the can is full, stop watering.

2. Mow Your Lawn Twice a Week in the Early Mornings or Late Evenings

The second biggest facet of summer lawn care is mowing your lawn, which goes hand in hand with watering. You can’t have one without the other. When mowing, the number one rule is to keep the grass high so heat doesn’t burn it. With this mindset, you should be mowing your lawn 1 to 2 times per week.

You should never remove more than one-third of the blade in one mowing. Each grass type has its own ideal height, so determine what kind of grass you have and subtract a third from its average length.

  • Cool-season grasses like Fescue or Bluegrass should be kept between 2.5 to 4 inches high.
  • Warm-season grasses like Zoysia and Bermuda’s ideal height is 1 to 3 inches.
A file is used to sharpen a lawnmower blade.

The second rule of mowing is keeping your blade sharp. A dull knife won’t cut anything well, and it usually destroys whatever you’re trying to cut. The same concept applies to your mower’s blade. If it’s dull, the blade will tear the grass instead of cutting it, which leads to yellow tips, and stressed turf. That stress can lead to disease. Your blades should be sharpened every 8 to 10 cuttings to keep them razor sharp.

Some other tips for mowing your lawn include:

  • Mow when the grass is dry. Wet clippings will clump and possibly clog your mower, leading to problems. Plus, dry grass isn’t as heavy if you’re composting it.
  • Mow during a cooler portion of the day, such as the early morning or late evening. This is easier on your mower and your body.
  • Mow in alternating patterns and directions each time. This will help prevent compacted soil and ruts. It also allows the grass to lay in a different direction, so both sides of the blades receive sunlight.
  • Grasscycling can be helpful for your lawn. This involves mulching your grass and returning to the yard, allowing nitrogen and other nutrients to be returned to the soil.

3. Fertilize Your Lawn and Plants Once … or Twice

A broadcast spreader is used to disperse fertilizer on a lawn.

Fertilizing during the summer months can help strengthen your lawn and keep it healthy. There is a bit of caution with fertilizing, though. If you’re applying fertilizer, it should only be to warm-season grasses, such as Zoysia and Bermuda. Cool-season grasses, such as Fescue and Bluegrass, should only be fertilized in the spring and fall. Be sure you purchase a product that is specifically made for summer fertilizing. 

To assist with fertilizing, be sure to purchase a spreader that will ensure the product is applied evenly to your lawn and you don’t overdo it in certain areas. There are hand-held spreaders if you’re doing small areas, but if you’re working on your entire lawn, a walk-behind spreader would be best. A spreader will also assist with the proper application quantity to prevent over-fertilizing. The amount of fertilizer needed for your property can be found on the product you purchase.

4. Remove Weeds

A man spray herbicide on his lawn.

Weeds are detrimental to your lawn and steal valuable moisture and nutrients from grass. Summer is the perfect time to ensure your yard is clear before weeds disperse seeds for the next year, and you have to battle them all over again. Post-emergent herbicides are great for tackling weeds without damaging your turf. You can purchase smaller containers of herbicide, but if you are applying large quantities, a sprayer can make things easier.

Before spraying, be sure temperatures in your area will be below 85 degrees for a few days. Higher temperatures can lead to the herbicide damaging your grass. Applying chemicals to an already stressed lawn can compound the problem, as well. Consider hand-pulling weeds with a tool if your grass is dealing with disease or heat stress.

5. Aerate Your Lawn

A worker uses a core aerator on a lawn.

Aerating your lawn isn’t a requirement, but it can provide a considerable boost to the overall health of your grass. Aeration adds extra hardiness to that lawn, helping deal with any stresses it may face. The best time to aerate is either in the spring or the fall.

To properly aerate your lawn, you’ll need to rent a core aerator, which removes plugs of soil from the grass. This will assist in removing compacted soil and provide air, nutrients, and water to your grassroots.

Follow these steps to aerate your lawn:

  • Apply 1 inch of water to your lawn the day before watering to soften the soil. 
  • Mark any underlying objects, such as sprinkler heads or utility lines, to prevent you from running over them.
  • For a lightly compacted lawn, do one pass with the core aerator.
  • For heavily compacted soil, run the aerator twice over the lawn with the second pass perpendicular to the first.
  • Let the plugs remain on your lawn. They’ll add nutrients back into the soil once they break down.
  • After you’ve completed, water the lawn according to your usual regimen.

6. Prepare Your Lawn for the Fall

A woman rakes up leaves during late summer.

A lot of the steps to take as summer winds down and you prepare for fall are similar to the ones you just did during the heat-filled months. The temperatures will cool down, but that doesn’t mean you are done caring for your grass.

  • Continue to water your yard. Your lawn needs to recover from heat stress and gather strength for the upcoming winter, and watering will assist with that.
  • Fertilize the grass again. One last fertilization should happen about three weeks before your last mowing. This will provide energy and nutrients for that lawn as temperatures cool off.
  • Rake any leaves before winter. Leaving dead leaves on your lawn once snow hits can lead to snow mold as it warms up again. The dead leaves will also smother sprouting grass in the spring.
  • Late summer or early fall is a great time to reseed. The temperatures are cooler so your seedlings will have less stress on them as they begin to grown.
  • Aerate your lawn again. Aerating will relieve soil compaction that has occurs from foot traffic all summer. It also will allow air, nutrients, and water to get to the grassroots easier.

Your yard should win lawn of the month after following these steps, or at least the best lawn on your block.

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