Bob Westerfield is a Horticulturist with the University of Georgia

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Summer Turf Blues
by Bob Westerfield       #Advice   #Summer

As we continue in the blistering dog days of summer the idea of a cold drink and air-conditioned room seem much more appealing than working out in our landscape. The hot sticky days often cause us to neglect some outdoor chores such as giving our turf a good check-up.

Although turf in general, if managed properly, can be one of the toughest plants out there, it does need a little care to make it through the end of summer and get it ready for the cooler months ahead.

Disease problems can certainly be on the rise during the hot humid conditions that exist in late summer. Although there is not enough room to cover all the diseases and details in this article, there are a few generalities that can be made.  Most diseases occur due to some form of mismanagement. Many diseases will manifest themselves when the fertility is poor – either too much fertilizer or not enough. They can also occur due to poor irrigation practices – usually over watering. Soil compaction, heavy shade and improper use of herbicides can also help the on-start of disease.

Disease issues on turf can be severe in the late season if left unchecked.

That being said, it stands to reason that a better maintenance program will go a long way to both preventing and curing diseases.  Although fungicides are available to treat diseases, they are seldom applied correctly and can be expensive to use.

Begin by aerating your turf if it hasn’t been done in a year or more. This involves borrowing or renting a machine called an aerator that will punch small holes in the ground. These holes will allow better infiltration of both water and fertilizer by breaking up the compacted surface. An aerator with hollow tines is much better than one with solid spikes, so look for this when finding equipment.

Core aeration is an important maintenance step to help break up soil compaction, thatch and increase moisture and air flow.

Don’t neglect checking on the fertility of the soil. Chances are that you put out an application of fertilizer this past spring, but then failed to remember to feed your grass throughout the summer. Most grasses respond best to split applications of fertilizer, two to three times per year. August is a good month to put out the final application of fertilizer on warm season grasses such as bermuda, centipede, zoysia and St. Augustine. The best method to determine how much to put out would be to have your local county extension service run a test on a soil sample. Just call the local office and they can explain how to take the sample. The results will also reveal whether or not you need to add lime – an important factor in nutrient management.

Water management is also vital to a healthy, disease free lawn. If you have an automated irrigation system, now is a good time to make sure it is working properly. Set out small plastic drink cups at various locations and run your system for 30 minutes. Check the cups to see how much water has accumulated throughout the different zones. You may be amazed over time how uneven the water distribution really is. This will alert you to the possible need to clean or change outlet heads or perhaps change the direction or how long the system runs. Regardless of whether you use an automated system or single sprinkler and hose, a few standard rules apply. Water established turf less frequently – but more thoroughly to encourage a deep root system. Set the system to deliver either half an inch twice a week or better yet one inch one time per week. Most turf are very drought tolerant and can actually go several weeks without supplemental irrigation before extreme stress sets in. A good way to tell when turf really needs to be irrigated is when the grass blades begin to slightly roll up and the lawn takes on a bluish-grey color. Watering at night is also a great way to better manage your turf. If you water between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m., you will conserve water normally lost to evaporation, and you cut down on disease problems as the turf has time to dry out during the day.

As you walk around accessing your turf’s needs, does the grass feel spongy under your feet? It may need dethatching. Thatch is a layer of dead roots/stems that can continue to build into a thick mat that is unhealthy for the lawn. Grass clippings do not contribute to thatch, so have no fear about not bagging your cuttings. Thatch come again from poor management – over fertilization, too much water and not mowing often enough. You will need a thatch rake for small areas or rent a vertical mower to dethatch larger lawns.

Weeds may also be present in your late summer turf. Most weeds that you see now will be mature and difficult to control with herbicides. Cutting the grass often will prevent most weeds from going to seed. Spot treatments with herbicides may be effective on some easier to control weeds. A preemergent herbicide program will be a better alternative for next year. Early spraying of young emerging weeds is essential for good control in the future.

It is important to keep a handle on turf weeds before they get out of hand. Be sure to select the proper herbicide for the turf type you have.

If managed well, a lawn should give years of enjoyment and allow you more time to spend out of the hot sun doing indoor hobbies. Following these tips will ensure that you have the healthiest and greenest lawn on the block.

Photos courtesy of Bob Westerfield.


Posted: 08/06/14   RSS | Print


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