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The Dog Days of Summer

September 11, 2012

Now that fall is only a couple of weeks away, I can justify my eager anticipation for a cooler climate and delicious desserts - and the pumpkin-scented candles now burning throughout my house.

But from the looks of my trees and lawn, my landscape isn't quite yet prepared for a new season.

As I walk around my property, taking in the last few dog days of summer, I notice some issues with my trees: A few undersized leaves hide beneath patches of wilting foliage - some of which has adopted early fall coloration. Other leaves lay beneath the thinning canopy on the ground.

I continue my inspection. Brown patches scatter the turf, and I stop near one to get a closer look. I stoop down and grab a handful of turf with my fist, then pull back the roots as if I'm rolling up a rug. Sure enough, white grubs appear at the soil surface, feeding on the turf roots. They're more active now that the nights are getting cooler.

Other turf patches resemble loose hairs when I run my fingers through the blades of grass and pull them out of the soil. From previous seasons, I recall that these thin, brown areas indicate drought-stress.

Shawn Fitzgerald, landscape horticulturist with The Davey Tree Expert Company, says landscapes are suffering from the extreme drought conditions we experienced this summer, but now is the time to make the fix - before fall begins and presents us with a cooler climate.

Fitzgerald says the biggest problem this year is that trees are weakened by drought conditions, which can encourage insect pests to attack. "Ninety percent of the time, insects attack trees that are stressed," he explains. "You won't often see insects on a healthy, robust tree."

Dog Days - summer end - WEB

Drought  also can lead to leaf scorch, which appears as if someone held a lighter up to the tip of a leaf and slightly singed the edge. But after this record-breaking year of drought, it's likely you'll see its effects next year as well, including less-than-normal-sized buds when growth emerges in spring.

The good news is diseases are less likely to affect your trees and plants now because they thrive in the warmer weather that is gradually giving way to cooler nights in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac and the beginning of September.

When it comes to your lawn, if your region received one or two weeks of rain after the long drought period, Fitzgerald says your lawn should be greening up again. "Your lawn should be looking good this time of year," he explains. But if brown patches still exist, Fitzgerald says your lawn has not yet recovered. To improve the appearance of your lawn, he recommends proper maintenance and care.

Here are a few things you can do to revive your landscape this fall:

  • Water. Although recent rains saved some trees and shrubs from further drought damage this summer in some regions, property owners should continue to water their trees and lawns 1 to 2 inches weekly. "Light, shallow watering is not good; it keeps roots at the surface, which makes plants more prone to drought stress," Fitzgerald says, recommending watering infrequently, yet thoroughly, to encourage roots to reach deeper into the soil.
  • Fertilize. "Fertilize now or in spring to increase the vigor of your trees," Fitzgerald adds. "Similar to why humans take vitamins after feeling ill, fertilizer will also increase the tree's energy, promoting more water and nutrient absorption through the roots."
  • Seed & Sod. The recent rainfall, for example, benefits seeding and sodding practices - and the appearance of your lawn - this time of year. Fitzgerald recommends slit-seeding to lay seed on your lawn, which is where a machine cuts grooves into the soil in alternating lines for seed placement. "The grooves provide full coverage - otherwise you could waste a lot of seed from randomly throwing it down," he explains. Seed early enough to provide the roots enough time to establish themselves in the soil before the leaves fall and the soil temperature cools, Fitzgerald suggests. Water every other day to promote germination. When new turf begins to appear, switch to a once-per-week watering regimen.
  • Aerate. Although aeration services are available year-round, as long as the ground is unfrozen, now is also a great the time to address thin turf and aerate your lawn, Fitzgerald recommends. Aeration is beneficial because it reduces water runoff. "Removing plugs from the soil makes room for air and water to enter the root system," he explains.

In terms of timing, Fitzgerald says Northeast and Midwest property owners should address any seeding issues by Sept. 30. In each USDA Plant Hardiness Zone one enters moving South, the timeframe increases by three or four weeks. Richmond, Va., residents, for example, can wait until Oct. 30 to address seeding issues in their lawns.

Before vibrant, colorful leaves begin to blanket your landscape and hide any problems, spend this month inspecting your property and preparing it for another season. Refresh your landscape after the long, dry summer we've had and fall in love with your new haven.

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