Leaves that are not removed from your lawn can block sunlight and air from reaching the grass. The problem becomes worse when it rains -those fluffy layers of leaves turn into dense, soggy mats. The lack of air circulation can lead to turf diseases and may even smother the grass and kill it. But raking isn’t the only—or even the easiest—method of protecting your lawn’s health. It turns out that mulching leaves is what’s best for the health of your lawn. You can easily mulch the leaves by running over them many times with a mower to chop them into tiny bits, and letting the mower scatter them back into the lawn. As the mulched leaf bits decompose over the winter, they enhance the soil with valuable nutrients that feed the microbes and worms present in any healthy lawn. And compared with raking, mulching leaves takes MUCH less time and effort.
The first and most important rule is to set the deck of the mower to the HIGHEST SETTING to leave the grass as tall as possible. If the deck is too low, you’ll end up scalping the lawn and the grass will be vulnerable to weeds and possible to damage from winter temperatures. Better to leave the deck set high and make several passes with the mower from different angles to mince the leaf bits up to the size of a dime- and multiple passes will help scatter the bits around the lawn evenly. Properly shredded leaves are the size of confetti and will filter down between the blades of fescue where they won’t be noticeable. In summer lawns such as Bermuda, St. Augustine, or Zoysia, the shredded leaves will blend in with the brown, dormant grasses.
When you’re done, if there’s so much leaf mulch that you can’t see ANY grass, try one more pass with the bag attached to the mower, then scatter the leaf-litter that was picked up into your landscaping beds. Leaf mulch is also beneficial to planted beds this time of year, but it’s important to add mulched leaves to the beds NOW, so they’ll be fully decomposed by spring. If you wait until spring to leaf-mulch the beds, the nutrients won’t be broken down and available to the plants when they need it most.
It’s nice to know that the back-breaking job of leaf raking isn’t necessary- or even advised- for lawns in our region. So instead of hours of raking and bending over to fill plastic bags that could wind up in our landfills, simply ditch the bag attachment on your mower and enjoy a nice walk around the yard! If you have a landscaping service that usually mows for you, be sure to ask them to mulch the leaves for you instead of bagging. It’s better for your lawn, better for our environment, better for your back, AND, better for your wallet!
REFRAIN FROM CUTTING TOO SHORT
One common mistake made by both homeowners and commercial landscape maintenance companies is cutting a lawn too short. If a lawn is cut too short, it reduces the plants’ ability to produce energy for growth. When cut at the proper height, however, grass develops stronger roots that support more vigorous plants that are more tolerant of stress. Keep in mind that different varieties of grass have different growth habits that directly relate to mowing heights. For example, cool season grass and warm season grass types require somewhat different maintenance techniques. Research which cutting height is right for your lawn.
REMEMBER THE “ONE-THIRD” RULE
When deciding on the correct height to cut your grass, it is important to also remember the “one-third” rule: never remove more than one-third of the grass height at one time. By doing so, the lawn is kept cooler because less plant tissue is removed. In fact, cool season grass types actually benefit in the heat of the summer by setting the blade higher. If a lawn is normally cut at 2.5 inches, for example, increasing it to 4 inches in the heat of summer will come with many benefits.
LIMIT WATER INTAKE
One collective misconception about maintaining grass in extreme heat is the necessity to overwater. A glaring issue is that after rainfall, people still irrigate their lawn. A general rule to keep in mind is that turf grasses do better managed on the dry side rather than wet; when soil is constantly wet, it creates too many physiological problems for plants and soil organisms alike. The grass roots will be deprived of oxygen and may become more susceptible to disease because diseases thrive in wet conditions. In general, the drier the grass and soil, the less disease there will be.
Another rule-of-thumb is to water “deeply and infrequently.” Water deeply to wet the entire root zone, and then do not water again until the grass is dry. To determine next watering time, simply “eye-it.” If it starts to look dry, then water. If you would like to be specific, water the hot spots (spots that get dry faster than the rest of the lawn) and then wait for the rest of the lawn to dry out.
While it is important to be adequate on hydration, do not water the grass daily. Lawns need only one-inch of water per week, including rainfall.
WHEN IN DROUGHT
Avoid mowing the lawn during drought stress. Lawns under such stress are limited in their ability to recover from mowing and can be damaged even more. Instead, mow the grass after a rainfall or after irrigation day. Also, resist mowing wet grass to avoid clumping.
KEEP BLADES SHARP
When grass is cut with a sharp mower blade, the plant will heal faster than when cut with a dull blade. Dull blades will actually tear the plant tissue, not cut it; this torn grass tissue will develop a brown appearance at the surface and may become more susceptible to stress and disease. Sharper blades will prevent a brown appearance and help to prevent further harm to the plant.
DO NOT BAG GRASS CLIPPINGS
Return clippings to the lawn by using a mulching mower. Clippings are actually beneficial to the lawn, as they act as a slow-release fertilizer for the plant as they decompose. It is important to aim the clippings away from streets, storm drains, and bodies of water.
Tall fescue lawns are looking great right now. However, the hot, humid weather headed this way brings the potential for lawn diseases. These can be very detrimental to lawns in our area, causing thinning and browning that can only be repaired by aerating and seeding in the fall.
Here are some tips on preventing fungus.
Proper cultural practices can help minimize the onset and damage from lawn disease. Be sure to water deeply and infrequently, during the early morning hours. Don’t water your yard at night. Watering at night, keeping that grass damp overnight with high humidity and high night time temperatures creates prime growing conditions for brown patch fungus.
Also, always mow the grass at 3.5 to 4 inches. However, if conditions are favorable, lawn disease can still attack a healthy stand of turf.
Dreamlawns can protect your lawn from this disease with timely fungicide applications. Our program includes fungicide applications during the summer months. Feel free to call or email us for more information on our fungicide program.