Thomasville Times Enterprise

Local News

July 16, 2014

Managing lawn during summer heat

I enjoy writing newspaper articles about current issues lawn and garden issues. However, occasionally I cannot find time to sit down and write with everything happening outside. This time of the year is busy for farmers and those who work in the yard. While the rain is falling outside my office this afternoon, I am going to put together an article about what we do when there is no rain.

Every now and then, I receive calls about a particular issue which generates a good use of my time to address. After we got back from 4-H camp, many of the calls I received pertained to grass dying.

This week, I have looked at a few lawns where an area of the turf has a dark brown color in a very irregular shape. In centipedegrass, I also see pieces of grass growing inside the dead areas.

When a lawn is infected with a pest, we typically see more of a circular area that may spread. This characterizes something biotic or living, i.e. insect or disease. Other times dead areas do not follow a pattern and appear irregular in shape. In these cases, the culprit is usually abiotic or non-living, i.e. fertility problem or environmental conditions.

This does not mean that a disease or insect is not part of the problem. For instance, I always check locations for presence of insects and place samples under the microscope for disease. In some samples today, I found presence of Large Patch disease. How do we put this together?

The week’s surrounding the Fourth of July brought some very hot temperatures that were felt here and at 4-H camp at Rock Eagle. The underlying culprit behind irregular, dark brown, patches of dying grass in our lawns are the result of recent dry spell this past month. Any turf that is weakened by disease, low fertility, or poor cultural practices has accelerated injury.

The key to managing our lawn's water requirements during periods of drought is to get the right amount of water down to the roots. We need about 1 inch of water on our lawns each week. One of the biggest problems in the county is how we accomplish this.

Once our rain slowed, I noticed the sprinklers running — which is good because the lawn needs it. However, I could not help but notice how many sprinklers and irrigation systems were running at 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock and 5 o’clock in the afternoon. This is the worst time to water our lawns.

Outside of increasing the period of leaf wetness and further elevating our chance for disease, much of the water applied to our lawns during this time does not reach the roots. As the humidity lowers evaporation increases. Water evaporates from the air and soil before it reaches the roots. To compensate, the amount of water has to be increased.

Instead of using more water ,which raises our utility bills, we should instead water between recommended watering times of 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. This timing lowers the occurrence of evaporation and decreases the length of time the turf is wet, which minimizes disease severity.

For a lawn at a sandy soil location, water one half inch two times a week. Water peculates or moves down into the soil profile more in sandy soil than in clay soil. If your lawn is built on a more clay soil type, one watering at one inch per week is fine. I recommend placing some kind of cup or pan that can collect water while the sprinkler is running. You will then be able to better estimate how much water you apply.

My last recommendation for maintaining your lawn during hot, dry periods is to apply more water one time rather than through short, daily waterings. Light, frequent irrigations promote a shallow root system. Irrigation is only a supplement to rainfall. Therefore, in times of drought, roots are not deep enough in the soil to obtain water. Less frequent and heavy irrigations force the roots to grow deeper into the soil. We need a very strong and deep root system to endure periods of heat and drought. This practice alone can be the difference in a lawn surviving a drought phase.

For additional questions, contact the Thomas County Extension office at 225-4130.

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