Welcome to Time2Garden, a blog written by the Loudoun County Master
Gardeners. We have a HOT topic for today. Yes, it's the weather. We all know what it's doing to our lawns and gardens. We're getting a lot of calls and comments at our help desk and garden clinics about what can be done as our plants wither away in the heat and lack of water.
When it’s hot, plants become lethargic and go dormant (sort of like we humans do). That is, they try to conserve their energy by concentrating on keeping their root system alive and well. Which often means beautiful green blades of grass are sacrificed for the good of the plant. This time of year a brown lawn is a natural occurrence – it’s not dead, just dormant and you could leave it that way. But you or your HOA may find a brown lawn unacceptable.
Do not despair! There are some things you can do to minimize the drought damage. Begin with watering. Sadly, most of us either over water or underwater, neither of which is good for your grass. You should shoot for 1 inch a week, including any rain that comes your way. To keep track of the amount of water you’re using, place a rain gauge at the edge of the sprinkler’s reach and where the rain will hit it. You can buy a simple rain gauge at most garden centers. It’s better for the grass roots to water a lot twice a week (1/2 inch) than a little every day.
On to mowing. Cutting grass the right height will allow it to convert the sun's energy into nutrients it needs to survive. It's best to keep your mower blades 2 to 2.5 inches above the ground. Cutting grass too close will shock the plant into dormancy. Don't mow more often than needed. Generally speaking, your grass should be 3 to 4" high before mowing.
Never cut grass with dull mower blades. Dull blades shred the tops of the grass which causes more dehydration than when cut with a sharp blade. Sharpening blades should be part of the yearly maintenance of your lawnmower. If you have a large lawn, sharpening every six months is recommended. Whether you mow yourself or have a lawn service, you'll do your lawn a favor by leaving the clippings. It's free mulch, after all. Eventually the clipping will decompose, returning nutrients to feed your lawn. It also suppresses the weeds that might be lurking there. Be careful not to leave clippings on any hard surface such as the street or your driveway. Excess clippings make their way into our waterways causing damage to the natural flora and fauna by feeding algae.
Now is not a good time to fertilize. In fact fertilizing now could prevent or delay recovery. Never fertilize a stressed plant. When it's cooler, and your lawn recovers, would be a better time. But first do a soil test so you give your lawn
exactly the nutrients it needs.
Take a picture of your lawn as it is now. It will serve as a reminder of steps
to take in the fall and next spring to have a better outcome next year at this
time. We'll give you some ideas of alternatives to all grass lawns and design changes to help manage the woes of summer.
In the meantime, do yourself a favor. Find a nice, shady spot to linger, with a tall glass of icy lemonade, and think about the fall weather coming just around the corner. Ah-h-h-h-h
More information about our Garden Clinics, Help Desk services and other gardening information can be found on our website.