Summer 2018 has been challenging for the nation’s lawns. Here are our hints and tips on summer lawn care to keep your lawn healthy and happy.
It’s OK for established lawns to go brown
Plants are amazing and grass plants are more amazing than most. When the soil dries out in warm weather, a grass plant’s roots sends a message to the leaves to stop growing and start conserving water. What happens is that the leaves send as much of their stored water as they can into the roots. Roots are underground where there are no drying winds, less chance of water being lost to evaporation and cooler temperatures.
What you see in a dry summer, is the grass leaves getting brown and crispy. It looks as though the plants are dying. When in fact, what they are doing is diverting the water in their cells to a safe place where it will be used to keep the roots alive. As soon as the weather breaks, normal behaviour will be resumed and the grass will start growing again.
There is no need to water an established lawn. Clean water is such a precious resource (even though it sometimes feels as though Scotland gets more of its fair share!) that we really should save prioritise tap water for health, hygiene, livestock, wildlife and food crops.
If you must water, give the lawn a really good soaking every few days rather than a quick sprinkle each evening. Make sure the water gets absorbed deep into the ground where the soil is cooler. Grass roots are longer than you think and they’ll appreciate having water available at their very tips.
Keep newly established lawns well-watered
The exception to the rule is newly turfed lawns. If the leaves of new turf turn brown, you’re in a muddle. It’s more than likely that the roots are not established enough to store enough water to support the whole plant. New turf must NEVER be allowed to dry out.
If your area is unfortunate enough to have a hosepipe ban applied at some time during the summer, talk to you water company. Many of them offer an exemption for newly laid turf.
Summer lawn mowing
If your lawn is affected by drought, it’s probably not growing and therefore doesn’t need mowing.
However, if your lawn is still growing, here are some tips on mowing regimes that will help keep your lawn greener for longer
- Keep the mower blades sharp and super clean. Blunt blades rip at the leaves and leave open wounds that lose water. Dirty blades could spread rust or redthread disease. Both are common diseases that affect stressed lawns and don’t look nice.
- Avoid scalping the lawn. Longer grass shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist.
- Mow little and often. No sudden shocks. Your lawn is vulnerable in hot weather so never remove more than ¼ of its length in one go. Yes, I know we normally say 1/3 of the length but that’s for more lawn-friendly weather. The hotter and drier it gets, the more sympathetic you need to be to your lawn’s needs.
- Allow clippings to fall back into the sward. Provided the clippings are short and the lawn is fairly dry, it’s OK to let them fall back onto the lawn. If they form great big clumps – it’s too wet to let them loose. As a rule of thumb, “if it’s dry, let them fly”
Summer lawn feeding
A summer lawn feed is a good thing provided that the soil is damp and the plants are able to absorb the fertiliser. Up until the end of August in Scotland, apply a balanced feed containing Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus. It will give the lawn an energy boost and help it stay greener for longer.
Stewarts Turf recommend Vivid Green from Harrowden Turf. It’s available to order online here
Never use fertiliser on a tinder dry lawn. It will scorch. Always make sure it’s watered in well.
What can you do to help your lawn through a drought?
Avoid heavy wear and tear
It’s hard to tell children they shouldn’t be playing football or tennis on the lawn during the school holidays. But, if it’s so hot that the lawn has shrivelled up, it’s probably too hot for mad games anyway.
Grass grows from the crown of the plant which sits just below the surface of the soil. With no green leaves to protect the crown, it could be damaged by sliding boots, backsides or bike tyres. Try to limit the fast and furious games.
Move lawn furniture and picnic rugs around
Keep the air flowing across the top of the lawn by shifting furniture, tents, rugs, paddling pools etc every couple of days.
Postpone weed control treatments until the weather changes. Weeds will show up more than ever when the grass has turned brown. Using herbicides in hot weather will do more harm than good. Make a mental note of where the weeds are and start your treatment programme when the weather is more suitable.
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