Lawn care during the dog days of summer

In many parts of the United States, these are the dogs days of summer - when heat and lack of rainfall cause your lawn to look as droopy as most gardeners feel.

What can you do to help that parched-looking lawn? Start with simple things:

*Don't fertilize; it encourages water-hogging growth.

*Sharpen your lawn-mower blade; dull blades leave grass more susceptible to drought.

*Mow less frequently, and don't scalp the grass. One of the most important things you can do is raise the blade's height so it cuts at least three inches high. That keeps the soil cooler, conserves moisture, and helps prevent crabgrass, which robs good grass of water.

*Leave grass clippings on the lawn.

*As much as possible, avoid walking on drought-stressed grass.

*Set up a rain gauge so you know how much rain falls on your yard.

Unless grass is less than a year old, a brownish lawn doesn't always indicate that it's dying and must be watered. As a defense mechanism, the cool-season grasses typical in the Northern half of the country go dormant when they don't receive enough water.

After rainfall returns, they usually green up again. But when they're watered during dry spells, they begin actively growing, and you'll have to continue weekly watering. That's why it's best to either not water these lawns or to water them regularly.

Occasional watering can do more harm than good. So does a squirt from the hose rather than a long soak (because it encourages shallow root growth that can't fend for itself during drought).

Set your sprinkler so it waters only the grass; you don't want to waste money by wetting sidewalks or driveways. To avoid wasteful runoff, turn the faucet halfway on, instead of at full force, or, when water begins to drain off the grass, shut the water off and resume an hour later.

Lawns consume about an inch of water per week, and that's the amount you need to apply - no more and no less. Measure the amount of water the grass is receiving by placing empty soup cans in various sections of the sprinkler pattern. Then note the number of minutes it takes for one inch of water to collect, and next time you'll know how long to leave the sprinkler on. Or stick a probe into the ground to make sure the soil is wet six to eight inches deep (which indicates it has received an inch of water).

For most efficient use of water, choose an impulse sprinkler over an oscillating one, and don't water in the afternoon; heat and wind can cause half of the water to evaporate. Early morning is the best time. Buy a special timer, hook it up to the faucet, and set it to turn on at 5 or 6 a.m.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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