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Don't neglect lawncare in the summer
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Homeowners know summertime means mowing time, but it is also the time to improve the health of the lawn and prepare it for fall.
Wayne Wells, turfgrass specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said water, nutrients, proper mowing, and pest and disease management are the four keys to having a good lawn.
"Summer is the time to grow grass, and measures can be taken now to catch up for missed work in the spring or to prepare the turf for winter," Wells said.
Grass needs water for photosynthesis, for nutrient movement and for cellular structure. Moisture needs can be met with between 1 and 1 1/2 inches of water a week.
"It is best to give the lawn one thorough watering where water moves into the soil to a depth of 3 to 4 inches," Wells said. "Frequent, light watering encourages shallow root growth."
Insects and disease can wreak havoc on a lawn in the summer, so Wells encouraged homeowners to learn how to scout for insects and identify diseases.
"Fall armyworms like mid-summer, and chinch bugs love St. Augustine at this time of year. This is also when grubs begin to cause a problem in lawns," Wells said. "Leaf blight diseases can cause serious turf thinning problems in the summer, and while brown patch usually goes away by mid-summer, it shows up again in the fall."
Proper lawn nutrition is another key to summer lawn care. Nitrogen is for foliar growth, phosphorus for root growth, and potassium is a regulator and assists the plant in stress conditions. Wells recommended applying a 4-1-2 or 4-1-3 nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium ratio fertilizer, such as 20-5-10, based on a soil test.
"When taking a soil sample, crisscross the lawn taking core samples from 4 inches down every 20 to 30 feet," Wells said. "Mix the soil cores well and take your sample of one pint to be tested from that."
Apply post-emergence herbicides in the summer to troublesome weeds such as crabgrass, goosegrass and spurge.
Not only did the soggy June leach some fertilizer out of soil and get the weeds growing strong, but it got many people's mowing schedules off. Wells encouraged homeowners to take caution when mowing to not scalp the grass.
"Follow the one-third rule. Never take off more than one-third the grass at any one mowing. If you cut more than that, you can end up with brown-looking, damaged grass," Wells said. "A dull mower blade splits the ends of the grass and leaves them susceptible to disease, so keep your blades sharp and follow the recommended mowing height for your grass species."
Bob Brzuszek, Extension professor of landscape architecture, encouraged homeowners to start planning in the summer what bulbs they want to plant in the lawn. Possibilities include rain lilies, September lilies and spring daffodils.
"Plant them in the lawn in the fall so they sprout up later," Brzuszek said. "You can mow over them regularly until they come into bloom, then mow them again once they're finished."
Another step homeowners can take to beautify their lawn is to protect trees from string trimmer damage. Several products and methods are available to keep grass from growing up to the tree trunk, making it vulnerable to damage when these grasses are trimmed.
Brzuszek said mowing strips, or blocks placed at ground level, allow the mower to run over them and keep the edges neat between lawns and beds.