The aroma of fresh cut grass hangs in the air. Nearly all my perennials are planted and absorbing the plentiful sunshine and occasional rainfall. And I can almost taste the smell of hamburgers that has made its way to our back porch from the grill next door.
Has your barbeque grill made its way out of storage? Is the badminton net set up for some games? Is the fire pit open and ready to roast s'mores? And is your lawn ready to withstand summer's frequent outdoor activity - and excessive heat and pests?
An outdoor gathering just isn't the same without a lush, green lawn to cushion your feet. Since several lawn pests and diseases may specifically affect your region, proper lawn management will help you treat and prevent the most common diseases in your region.
The Davey Tree Expert Company Tech Advisor Greg Mazur says common summer lawn problems in the Midwest and Northeast include brown patch and chinch bugs, as well as drought, thatch and crabgrass. To determine whether your lawn needs to be addressed for drought-related issues, look for dollar spot, or straw-colored, silver dollar-sized spots, during the hottest summer months, and summer patch, or reddish-brown and light tan patches, during mid-summer or drought.
Thatch, in particular, can not only restrict water, fertilizers, pest controls and air flow from reaching the soil surface, but it can also attract lawn diseases and pests. And because crabgrass tolerates high temperatures and dry soils, it tends to establish itself along sidewalks and driveways where the turf is often weaker and thinner. The result is coarsely-textured, clumpy turf. Soil compaction, on the other hand, is a result of running equipment over wet soils, concentrated traffic flow and more.
"Watch for brown patch disease - it's coming early this year," says A.D. Ali, technical advisor for the Davey Institute in Alva, Fla. "When I visited Memphis a few weeks ago, I saw some already."
Tall fescue grass is the most prominent turf in the Mid-Atlantic region, but Ali says Bermudagrass might get infected as well. Ali explains that brown patch symptoms vary between the two grass species - isolated brown spots appear on fescue but larger circles appear on Bermuda.
Brown patch also affects St. Augustine grasses in Texas. It will appear on Florida's predominant St. Augustine and occasional zoysiagrasses later this summer as well. "In zoysiagrass, they call brown patch 'large patch' because the brown circles are much wider - they expand up to several feet," Ali says.
To prevent your lawn from suffering brown patch infection, consider a fungicide application and reduce fertilization. "Nitrogen can aggravate brown patch," Ali says.
Florida grasses often suffer from chinch bugs, which suck sap from St. Augustine grass and inject a saliva that will cause yellowing or wilting, then eventually kill it. Proper watering will help you manage chinch bugs that attack your lawn. Ali says you will notice more chinch bug damage in dry summer months because drought-stressed plants are more susceptible to the pest.
Proactive management, such as proper mowing and annual core aeration treatments, can help prevent some lawn problems, such as crabgrass and soil compaction.
Ali says proper mowing guidelines include a preferred height for each type of grass: Mow zoysia and Bermuda grasses to 1 or 1.5 inches; mow tall fescue and other cool-season turf grasses to 2 to 3 inches; and mow St. Augustine grasses 3 to 4 inches. You should typically mow high to keep your soil shady and protected from the sun.
Heat and pests can threaten the beauty of your lawn this summer, but visitors and other forms of lawn traffic can also wreak havoc on your green spaces. Well-managed turf can better withstand these issues - and it can also be an environmentally friendly boost since a healthy stand of turf can more readily soak up carbon from the atmosphere and provide evaporative cooling.
No matter the region you call home, it's important to keep up with proper maintenance to prevent pests and diseases from threatening your lawn this season. You'll be more likely to enjoy the company of friends and family, the seasoned smell of summer's grilled concoctions and, of course, the aesthetics of your landscape.