Grow a long, lush healthy lawn to keep weeds such as clover, pineapple weed and plaintain at bay.
Summer has arrived and with it the many duties of keeping lawns and green spaces thriving under the heat and drought that comes with July and August.
From weed and insect pests to excessive heat and lack of rain, summer lawn care presents its challenges, if you are one who likes to maintain that perfect lawn.
For many, perfection is not a must, and for them, summer is a lot less stressful and relaxing. Still others have opted to go lawn-free, using entire plantings of perennials, groundcovers, water features, stone or a combination of any or all to transform their yard into a true no-mow paradise.
When it comes to summer lawn care, the biggest defense is a good offense. The best way to ward off potential garden pests, diseases and drought is to maintain a healthy, full, thick lawn - one that does not allow weeds to take hold, captures and conserves its own moisture and remains lush green all through the hottest months of the year.
To water or not to water
For many homeowners, the biggest question is simply to water or not to water. Given the right weather conditions, no amount of water is going to keep your lawn grasses from going dormant, or turning brown. If it simply gets too hot or too dry, most lawn grasses naturally will go dormant during summer's peak, only to perk right back up again in the cool of late summer and fall. The lawn is not dead, just "sleeping."
In many cases, lawn watering to keep grasses alive is unnecessary here in Wisconsin, due to the grass blends made for our area. While some will go dormant and naturally turn a straw color, the grass is not dead. This is simply the plant's method for dealing with drought and heat. Many property owners panic, believing their grass has perished and spend unnecessary dollars to try to replace or sod their yards.
Applying too much water actually will harm your lawn, cost you money and cause unnecessary runoff into our streams and rivers. Diseases take hold faster and more severely in lawns that are kept too wet. Lawn damage can occur because the roots of the grass do not have to grow as deep, making them less effective. Soils that are too wet also will be compacted heavily when used by family members for outdoor activities, ultimately degrading the lawn that you are trying to protect.
Because water conservation is becoming more and more important in urban areas, decide for yourself if it is truly necessary to water.
Keep it long
To reduce the need to water, there are some simple practices you can put into effect.
One of the toughest for many property owners is maintaining a healthy lawn height of up to four inches. This is one of the biggest hurdles for many homeowners to overcome as they desire a shorter, more manicured look. However, maintaining a lawn height of four inches benefits your grass in many ways.
For many grasses, the height of the grass is directly proportional to the depth of the roots, so healthier grass means deeper roots. Deeper roots mean more drought tolerance, as the roots can reach to sufficient water sources beneath the surface.
Grasses mowed too short lose water much faster during drought conditions as more of the soil surface is exposed to the hot sun. Keeping grass longer creates an effective layer of "shade" that will hold in sufficient moisture.
Fertilizers should not be applied during a period of drought. Fast-growing, fertilized lawns require lots of water.
In general, apply one inch of water per week to encourage a healthy root system in your lawn.
Common lawn weeds
While its tempting for many gardeners to use herbicides all year long to destroy lawn weeds, this is obviously not the best thing for our environment, the rest of your garden, pets and children.
Most lawn and garden plants, especially flowers and vegetables, are very susceptible to broadleaf weed killers. Because of this, these chemicals should be used only sparingly, according to proper label directions and during the appropriate times of the year.
In addition, summer heat increases the volatility of herbicide vapors, meaning that even mist from the chemicals can harm other garden plants.
During the summer, the best way to treat weeds in the lawn is digging by hand or selectively applying weed killers directly on the plant. The best time to use herbicides, if you absolutely must, is spring and fall.
Learning to identify some common lawn weeds will help you to determine where and when to spot treat. Hitting these weeds hard before they seed is an essential part of their control.
Broadleaf weeds such as dandelions, chicory, plaintain, wood sorrel and clover can be spot treated or hand pulled.
A quick note on clover. Clover, especially white clover, was once a highly prized component of healthy lawns. Because clover is well-known for adding nitrogen to the soil, you may want to consider allowing it to remain in your lawn and grass.
Crabgrass and quackgrass
Two of the most common and despised lawn and garden weeds are crabgrass and quackgrass.
While summer is not the preferred time of year to treat chemically for either, it still can be done.
Crabgrass is ideally controlled with a pre-emergent application in early spring, before germination. Post-emergent applications are available and should not be used during dry spells. Contact a well-known lawn service for information as these chemicals may not be available without a license.
Quackgrass is best treated with selective applications of Roundup or similar "kill-all" herbicides.
-Rob Zimmer: 920-993-1000, ext. 7154, or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @YardMD