We’re into the dog days of summer early this year, so you may need a few suggestions for how to keep your lawn green in hot, dry weather. Many people’s lawns are beginning to show signs of stress. It’s frustrating to put in a new lawn and get it to successfully germinate, only to have it burn to a crisp. Follow our tips to keep your lawn healthy during drought season:
Water your lawn in the morning when it is cool to allow more water to soak into the ground rather than evaporate. A significant amount of water is lost by people watering in the hot afternoon. Avoid watering in the evening to prevent fungus and disease. Make sure you have functional and easy to use watering equipment to make the process fool-proof.
Newly sprouted grass can be protected with a thin layer of mulching straw. One or two bales will cover 1,000 square feet. The straw can be removed about three weeks after germination.
A layer of grass clippings kept on the lawn retains soil moisture and fertilizes the grass. Make sure not to leave too much though or you will have problems with excessive thatch. Mulching lawns with clippings works best if the grass has been mowed regularly and not allowed to grow too long. Clippings that are wet or long tend to become soggy clumps that eventually smother the grass beneath them and can cause disease.
A lawn is comprised of millions of individual grass plants. Grass, just like other plants, has a crown from which new growth emerges. If you keep the lawn longer in the summer, the blades shade the crown and protect it from burning.
Keep in mind that there are cool-season and warm-season grasses. Cool-season grasses thrive in northern areas, including Canada, and in higher elevations further south. Their main growth is in spring and fall when the soil temperatures are 50 to 65 F, and the air temperature is 60 to 75 F. Come high summer, they usually go dormant unless they are watered regularly. Kentucky bluegrass, bentgrass, ryegrass and fescues are examples of cool-season grasses.
Warm-season grasses grow best in southern regions and rev up their growth along with the increasing heat of summer. Warm-season grasses, such as Bermuda, St. Augustine, and zoysia, grow strongly when soil temperatures are between 70 and 90 F and the air reaches a balmy 80 to 95 F. They go dormant when the weather gets cooler.
Your choice depends on the region in which you live and when you want your grass to look its best. If you don’t care if your lawn takes longer to get started in the spring, but will stay green through the summer, go for a warm-season grass. However, grass hardiness varies with the type. So consider all of these factors when choosing grass seed.
It’s uncommon but not unprecedented: An early spring leads to plants and trees starting to bud.
“We’re about a month early,” said Joe Sulak, urban forester for the city of Columbus.
But danger still lurks for plant life, which is responding to a mild winter and a long streak of above-average temperatures. Freezing temperatures, snow and frost can damage flowers, leaves and fruit that have started to “flush,” or bloom, Sulak said.
Some early-blooming flowers — like daffodils and tulips — and trees — certain types of cherry, crab apple and magnolias — might be more susceptible to a late surge in cold weather, he said.
However, the plants will sustain no long-term damage, Sulak said.
Gardening enthusiasts are not helpless in the matter. Similar to protecting them from fall frost, gardeners can cover flowering plants at night and uncover them during the day, Sulak said.
People should follow the same planting guidelines for annuals and perennials as they would during a typical winter. Tree plantings should not be a problem because ground temperature is important and the ground is not frozen this year, he said.
The steady warm temperatures pose another potential annoyance for humans: an increase in the number of flies and mosquitoes, Sulak said.
The Climate Prediction Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, forecasts above normal temperatures for March, April and May.
Dave Gaumer, the owner of Garden Bouquet, a landscaping service in German Village, said it’s not quite time for people to panic about their plants.
“A lot of these perennials are really hearty in cold weather,” he said, referring to some that are coming up early, such as witch hazel, snowdrops and Lenten roses.
However, Gaumer said, he is watching the thermometer. If the temperature dips below 28 degrees, the frosty weather could cause problems for plants that are more susceptible to the cold.
He does see an upside to the warm weather.
“It’s going to be a beautiful spring,” Gaumer said.