2011: Summer Heat, lack of rain means dormant lawns in GTA

July 12th 2011: (Observations from the field in the Greater Toronto Area)

This Spring brought lots of rain through April and May, in fact, record rainfalls that made it very difficult to get out and work in your lawn and garden.  Lawns were spoiled and became complacent and lazy by not sending deep roots down in the soil to look for water.  June and July have brought very dry conditions with what is proving to be a hot and sunny summer with no rain except for the odd scattered thunderstorm (thunderstorms provide a lot of water in a short span and rarely soak the soil sufficiently).  Shallow rooted grass species such as Bentgrass, Annual Bluegrass and Rough Bluegrass expanded and thrived in lawns.  Lawns with shallow root systems are more susceptible to drought as the soil temperature is much higher near the surface.

This means lawns everywhere are going dormant, but not dead.  Dormant lawns are characterized by the yellow, brown appearance.  Most lawns can withstand not being watered for up t0 4-6 weeks, however damage can occur if they do not receive water for any longer period of time.

Most lawns will bounce back with cooler temperature and mother nature’s long rain showers, but how do you make sure?
Here are my 5 best lawn tips for summer lawn care:

1. Water deeply at least once a week for about 1.5 -2 hours in each area. Lawns need 1-1.5 inches of water each week to look their best.  Apply the water deeply no more than twice a week to deliver the prescribed amount.
2.  Mow high, at least 3 inches.  Longer blades up top, support deeper roots below!
3.  Only mow during the morning or evening, and only when the lawn reaches about 4 inches in height.  Mowing in high heat causes mechanical damage from the weight of the machine, and even more stress with walking on it during the intense heat and sun. (leaving the lawn to get too long and then hacking it down causes even more stress- expect yellowing within days!)
4.  Limit activity on the lawn.  The dormant blades and crowns are easily injured at this time.
5.  Check for Chinch bugs!  Chinch bugs love the heat and sun and can actively be sucking the remaining juices from your grass blades and inserting their turf killing toxic poison while you sit idly by.  Chinch damaged turf will not grow back and you will need to seed and top-dress these areas in September.
5 1/2. Fertilize only with a proper summer-balanced slow release fertilizer.  Using the wrong fertilizer can cause surge growth using up the plants vital energy for no benefit.  Better yet, you can burn your lawn by using quick release fertilizers or using too much at the wrong time of the year.

Important Notes: The typical Ontario lawn is primarily Kentucky Bluegrass.  It is important to note that you need to accept that most plants (including turf) just can’t grow in intense heat with no rain.  Even Weed Control is not as effective during high heat as the plant under stress can not absorb it adequately.  It is not reasonable to expect a Thick, Green lawn during times of drought, but with proper care, your lawn will bounce back beautifully in September while your neighbours are left scratching their heads.

Unsure of what to do on your lawn with all this heat? Leave us a comment, we’d love to help!