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July 17th, 2012

Embrace Your Brown Lawn

With all the hot weather we’re having in Iowa, my bluegrass lawn looks kinda brown. Would a summer feeding help it to green up?

blog-dougWhen a lawn is stressed from heat, fertilizer is the last thing it needs. Cool-season turf grasses, including bluegrass, fescues, and perennial rye, slow their growth in response to hot weather. If the weather is dry as well as hot, you’ll notice a lot of brown blades among the green. This summer “dormancy” can last through Labor Day or until cooler weather and fall rains prompt a return to green.

You could keep the lawn green through summer with copious amounts of water. But I would argue against that sort of wastefulness. Instead, why not take a break from mowing and allow the lawn to go dormant?

There’s one caveat to letting the lawn brown out, and that is the chance that patches of turf will die if the weather stays dry for too long. A good soak every 2 or 3 weeks is all it takes to keep bluegrass alive. Depending on your soil type and how dry the soil is to begin with, it could take between one-half inch and one inch of water to soak the ground to a depth of 6 inches. If natural rainfall fails to provide this much, you’ll have to step in. Apply water in the early morning, when less will be lost to evaporation, and water slowly so every drop sinks in.

Other summer strategies for keeping a lawn healthy include setting the mower blade high—up to 4 inches—and using a mulching blade that drops finely chopped clippings back on the lawn.

Save the fertilizer for fall. Bluegrass and other cool-season grasses naturally regenerate in fall, when temperatures drop and soil moisture is more abundant. In fall, bluegrass will devote the extra nutrients to extending and thickening its root system instead of producing more top growth. Choose a slow-release organic product.  —Doug Hall

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July 15th, 2011

Conserve Water in the Garden

dougWater is the lifeblood of gardens. When summer heats up and natural rainfall becomes scarce, gardens can falter—unless the gardener steps in with a watering can. Water is a precious—and in some communities, expensive—resource that is not to be squandered. Here are some ideas to keep your summer garden thriving without wasting water:

• Soil preparation. Soil that is rich in organic matter, porous, and fertile encourages healthy, deep root systems. And far-reaching root systems are better able to provide plants with the moisture they need in times of drought. Midsummer isn’t the best season for amending the soil; save this task for fall. In the meantime …

• Mulch. Mulched soil loses less moisture to evaporation. It also stays cooler, which keeps roots and beneficial soil microbes happier. Straw, leaf mold, or dried grass clippings are good mulches for vegetable beds. Shredded wood, pine straw, or bark are good under shrubs and in flowerbeds. Bonus: Mulch prevents many weeds from germinating.

• Drip irrigation. When you water, use a technique that applies the water exactly where it’s needed. Soaker hoses and drip tubing deliver the water directly to the soil (as opposed to a sprinkler that flings water into the air and allows much of it to evaporate). Hand watering, with a hose or watering can, also ensures that the water lands where it is of greatest benefit to your plants.  —Doug Hall

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