Posts Tagged ‘lawn irrigation’

A dry spring hinders lawn greening in NH & VT

Dry weather in April hinders green grass

Despite the early spring and absence of snow, current weather in April is so dry lawns are under drought stress just as they attempt to put up new leaves.  I have been on countless lawns and have discovered conditions more typical of late June or early July than mid April.  While the warmer temperatures have induced some greening of grass, those lawn areas susceptible to drought stress are staying brown and are unable to capture enough moisture to push out new blades.  I am seeing areas of lush green grass in typically moist or shaded areas while grass in the open sun with sand below is all but stalling, remaining brown.

The result of a dry, cool spring is crystal clear; lawns simply are not greening up as fast as they could or normally would with a massive lack of natural rainfall.  A spring drought will not help any lawn or ornamental landscape plant since the winter was mild and dry.  Turf grass exposed to drying winds and no rain means slow to minimal recovery from a snowless winter.  The real proof of this phenomenon will show as winter kill during the upcoming weeks.  As a result, lawns will have a hard time pulling out of winter stress or at least may not recover as quickly or completely.  For those fortunate enough to have an irrigation system, fire those babies up and get that carpet of brown green!  Our weather is more akin to those living in the dry Midwest like Arizona than NH or VT.  With some rain in sight, perhaps this dry trend will end and the hum of weekend lawn mowers will appear as quickly as the migration of robins returning from Florida.


Lawn watering, from green to brown

Watering your lawn is essential if you want to minimize browning

June is typically a transition month from cooler wet weather to warmer and drier weather in NH and VT.  While you may enjoy the warmer weather, your lawn is composed of cool season grasses and disapproves of 80 or 90 degree days.  Your grass is designed to flourish in 60 or 70 degree temperatures, but set the weather to broil and you will have consequences.  For instance, even a healthy green lawn with plenty of water is still susceptible to leaf scorch – a condition similar to taking a vacation in Mexico in January.  The lawn has succulent leaves, full of moisture, and they may not be fully prepared for hot weather.  I have seen lawns turn from a vibrant green to patches of white or tan overnight!  I can hear the phrase “what happened?” echo down the street from front porch to porch.

How can such a thing be prevented?  You can mow regularly with a sharp blade to 3,” not too short as to cause stress.  Don’t over fertilize either because too much of a good thing is never healthy.  A lawn cranked up on the golden juice of high soluble fertilizers is predisposed to stress and what we in the business call the classic “crash.”  This crash is a like watching a nice sports car hit a concrete wall – most unpleasant.  A lawn that is racing in terms of growth can be dangerous, especially if that same lawn runs out of soil moisture and/or hits a period of 90 degree days.  This type of weather can spell all kinds of trouble for what seemed bliss for you as a homeowner. You may see all kinds of white blotching as “hot spots,” as the sunniest areas tend to dry out first and turn a dull purple or off green.

Classic drought stress brought on in June by warm weather and minimal rainfall

Don’t confuse this type of situation with summer diseases which may also be present.  Dollar spot, brown patch, and a hoard of numerous villains await a weak, dry lawn, or one that stays wet overnight due to late watering or humidity.  Drought stress or sun scald can mimic diseases like dollar spot or patch diseases during the summer.  If you are in doubt, have a professional look in order to determine what course of action may be required.

Hot spots in a lawn should receive top priority when it comes to watering

When it comes to watering, anything is better than nothing when it comes to your lawn turning from green, to dull purple, to light tan, to all out brown.  Drought stress, combined with hot weather, can cause a lawn to crash and brown out in mere days if left unattended.  Any irrigation is better than no irrigation in the sense that once your lawn goes brown, it takes weeks to start new growth and push out new green leaves.  Brown grass leaves don’t just rehydrate and turn green for the most part – they are gone and need to be replaced.  Early intervention by watering can either minimize or prevent massive browning if done correctly.  Most turf wants 1” of rainfall per week to continue normal activities.  If you can water in the morning, this is preferred to help minimize disease and evaporation in the day’s heat.  Watering for a soaking is better than a light misting.  In other words, a 1hr soak is better than 15 minutes a day, yet 15 minutes a day is better than no irrigation at all.  Early watering will yield faster results and help the lawn stay green before things turn tan or brown.  Watch for those hazing dull patches, those sections that don’t bounce back after you walk over them so you can still see your footprints.  These are the priority areas that need water versus turf that is still a vibrant green.


High Heat and Brown Grass

High heat and a lack off rainfall is double trouble when it comes to your cool season lawn- whether in NH or VT.  Brown grass results within days if not weeks after prolonged heat and an absence of rainfall.  What is a homeowner to do?

At this time of year, most action would be preventative such as proper cutting height (3”), lime, slow release fertilizer, mulched clippings to enhance organic matter, not mowing during the heat of the day, and having over seeded with a drought tolerant turf.  In terms of no rainfall, unless you have an irrigation system setup properly or a very shaded lot- browning is as inevitable as bacon in skillet on Sunday morning.  Hmm, you can just hear the sizzle and smell the lawn drying out to a golden brown!

On a serious note, its not the browning of your lawn that is a huge thing, but what might eat it while brown.  You would never know of an attack because green turning to brown might get your attention while outside.  What about brown staying brown?  Nothing can indicate a problem- no color change.  Now is the time to monitor for chinch bug, grub, or sod webworm activity either yourself or by hiring a professional licensed lawn care company. 

In terms of watering, anything is helpful- but don’t expect that magical green you would see in the spring or fall.  Providing an inch or more of water may not even be allowed if there is a ban like many towns are now experiencing here in NH.  Since most grass needs about an inch per week, anything else helps to keep the dormant turf alive as it remains in a hibernation state.  High heat will brown out and cause all kinds of blotches and spots in a treated or non-treated lawn setting- it is plain just too hot for cool season grass when the mercury rises above 85 to 90.  High heat can cause white blotches on the leaf blade to creating drought stress as dull blue or purple sections.  Further stress results in a tan or light brown lawn as the plant shuts down to preserve itself.  Remember, grass blades are 99% water, so no water- no grass to grow!

 Now is not the time to apply liquid fertilizer or herbicides- the result can be a disaster resulting in what I call “corner to corner grey or brown turf”.  A trained eye can spot this kind of chemical induced stress.  High soluble fertilizers place undue stress on a lawn already on the edge.  Mowing during the heat of the day is like lying on your driveway at noon- hot and unpleasant.  Any remaining moisture is quickly lost through the fresh cuts as the lawn literally wilts in hours- sometimes causing massive browning.  Stressed turf is highly susceptible to mower tracks from the weight of a tractor.  This is also true of lawn care companies that use perma-greens and other powered equipment to apply fertilizer, lime, or herbicides- the pure weight causes tire tracks and the resulting brown lines!  A light touch using smaller spreaders helps to minimize this issue.

In short, high summer heat is not customary in NH or VT, but when it does occur- be sure to watch out for insect damage, water if you can- what you can, don’t mow if you don’t have to- especially during 11am to 3pm, and cut high 3” to 3.5”.  Don’t feel obligated to mow when not mowing is really the best course of action.

Take a vacation and have some fun- but make sure you take care of your investment!

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