Fescue and heat are fighting an age old battle that many homeowners will be facing during the months of summer. As RVA enters May, weather patterns continue to fluctuate and the average daytime temperature drives up into the 80s and 90s. Turf type tall fescue, the lawn of choice for most residents of the Greater Richmond area, is a cool season grass, which means that it struggles during the summer and does the best in the spring and fall. A fescue lawn will begin to develop almost a purple hue before turning a brown color and feeling dry and brittle to the touch when it succumbs to heat stress. As a result, tall fescue lawns require monitoring, watering, and proper mowing during the summer to be successful.
Monitor for Diseases
Fescue and heat do not go well together, and this weak period for fescue makes it susceptible to certain diseases. A fescue lawn during summer is not only going to be under stress due to the heat, but it is also going to be at its greatest risk for developing diseases. Brown patch, a common fungal disease in fescue lawns, appears anytime between May and August when night time temperatures stay warm and humid. Areas of the lawn most at risk of developing brown patch are ones with poor drainage that stay wet for prolonged periods. The best way to prevent brown patch is to adjust watering schedules properly and consider preventive fungicide treatments that keep brown patch from taking over your yard.
Another potentially damaging threat to your lawn comes from below the surface. Lawn grubs, the larval form of common beetles in our area, develop and feed among the roots of a lawn during summer. When their populations grow too high, they can decimate a lawn by chewing every root to the nub. Their life cycle brings them to the surface and makes them the greatest threat around the beginning of summer, so lawns at risk should consider preventive grub control treatments as well.
Nutsedge is a weed that appears during the summer and is not covered by the standard weed control products applied Hby most turf management professionals. While it is not a direct threat to your lawn the same way that fungus and grubs can be, nutsedge is considered a pesky eyesore by most homeowners and can disrupt the uniformity of an otherwise Picture Perfect lawn. Nutsedge cannot be prevented, but nutsedge treatments are available as needed.
Mowing in the Heat
When mowing turf type tall fescue in the summer, it is vital to take into consideration the relationship between fescue and heat. This is when fescue is the most stressed and easily damaged, so following proper mowing techniques is the make it or break it for many lawns. This comes down to two key factors: frequency and height.
A lawn that is mowed too infrequently goes through greater periods of growth before being taken down more dramatically than is usually appropriate. Cutting off more than one third of the blade of grass at a time is very stressful to cool season grass and can exacerbate its stress. If you mow your lawn at a height of four inches, do not let it grow past six inches before its next cut. Similarly, if your lawn experiences an extended period of heat and shuts down, it may not grow for a couple of weeks. Do not cut the grass if it doesn’t need to be cut as this can be stressful as well.
Where height is concerned, turf type tall fescue is so named because it likes to stand tall. While most warm season grasses should be mowed below two inches, fescue should be kept at four inches or taller for most of the year. The taller the grass is above the ground, the deeper its roots will extend below the ground. Additionally, taller blades of grass will help shade the surface of the soil, locking moisture in a bit longer and keeping the root system more healthy.
Running Your Irrigation
The majority of homeowners that invest in the professional care of their lawn have also invested in an irrigation system to help them manage the balance between their fescue and heat. Fescue does best when it receives an inch to an inch and a half of water per week on top of typical rainfall. There are many pitfalls that can occur when setting up your irrigation, however. Watering should be done in the early morning to prevent fungus; zones should be run in a rotation to encourage deep absorption and drive roots; and coverage should be checked regularly to make sure all heads are properly adjusted. To learn more about proper watering for your lawn, check out our next blog installment.
Fescue and heat are not friends, but they don’t have to be enemies. A properly maintained lawn with a healthy soil system is going to have a far greater chance of success no matter the time of year than one left to its own devices, or worse, mismanaged. If you have questions about the state of your lawn or its best care, be sure to contact your PPLM representative today.
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