After an extremely dry winter, it’s valid to be concerned about how the lawn may perform during the hottest weeks of summer. It’s not unwarranted to get nervous when everything starts getting green a month or two earlier than usual. However, with the right preparation the lawn can still look good during the summer.
Over time, the soil beneath a typical lawn degrades in quality. Fertilizers, pesticides, compaction, thatch build-up, wind and leaching do a great deal of damage.
Leaching is the process of water passing directly through the soil profile, into the groundwater. As for fertilizer, it seems counter-intuitive that they can do damage, but fertilizers come in different forms, and the cheap, concentrated, quick-release types can wreak havoc on soil conditions. Chemical pesticides gradually kill off beneficial insects and microbes that create a healthy, organic environment. With enough abuse, lawn soil is eventually turned into a compacted, benign dirt medium that requires constant inputs for the lawn to appear healthy. This gradual degradation makes it more difficult for the lawn to survive under adverse conditions. The healthiest, most resilient lawns should stay healthy in all conditions, year-round. The good news is, with a few healthy, inexpensive steps, it’s possible to increase sustainability.
Step 1 & 2: The Base
When a cool stretch, 75 degrees or less, is in the forecast, even if only for a couple days, have the lawn aerated. While it’s possible to rent an aerator and do this as a home project, it’s cheaper and easier to find a local landscaper to do it for a reasonable price. Immediately after aeration, lightly cover the lawn with a mixture of 4 parts organic matter, such as potting soil or compost, and 1 part sand. Don’t add so much that the lawn is buried. Add enough mix to fill the aeration holes. The organic matter provides nutrients, reducing the need for heavy fertilizer inputs, and helps the lawn retain moisture. The sand allows air to penetrate the soil to support healthy root growth. These two simple processes will greatly benefit the lawn.
Step 3: Water Wisely
With or without water restrictions, it is vitally important to add just enough water for the lawn to survive and have a pleasant appearance. Not only does this practice save water and money, it also trains the turfgrass to grow deeper roots. As an added benefit, watering wisely prevents the turfgrass from growing too rapidly, which can cause increased depletion of nutrients and rates of evapotranspiration (ET), the plant and soil version of sweating. ET-based irrigation controllers are available and can increase efficiency in regard to how much water is applied and when. However, ET controllers are expensive and, in an average residential irrigation system, may not make sense. While the types of irrigation heads, water pressure, species of turfgrass and climate can affect the watering requirements, there are usually rules of thumb in each region that will allow the homeowner to be safe without being wasteful. The best idea is to speak with some local contractors to see what the rule of thumb is in that area. It’s a good practice in any climate to avoid irrigating during extended periods of rain. When the soil is saturated, the irrigation water will flow through to the groundwater.
Following these three steps will help improve the quality of soil and turfgrass during stressful times of the growing season. Soil conditioning and water management are simple, inexpensive practices that yield positive results.