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Lawn care: mow high, mow often, water deeply

Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 12:00 p.m. CST

As homeowners are having the annual over-the-fence discussion with neighbors on whether or not to let lawns go dormant, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Richard Hentschel offers mowing and watering advice for summer lawn care.

“Our cool-season grasses will naturally go dormant as the summer heat and lack of rainfall triggers that dormancy,” Hentschel said. “What went wrong in 2012 is that the extended drought did not supply even the minimal rains that the crown of the grass plants needed to remain hydrated and able to return again in the late summer.”

Hentschel added that 2013 has also seen the need for a lot of reseeding and re-sodding in order to get lawns back into shape. He said homeowners can aid in the recovery of their lawns by using a variation of methods they are already used to doing.

“As the summer weather comes along, mowing the lawn at a higher mower setting leaves a longer grass blade that can produce more nutrients for the roots and at the same time shade the soil, keeping those roots cooler,” he said. “Moving the blade up just takes a few minutes and the results are long-lasting.

“Another mower-related item is to make sure the mower blade is sharp and doing a better job of cutting the grass blade, not just tearing or shredding.

“If you are able, sharpen the blade at least a couple times during the growing season. That taller grass blade also helps the lawn compete better against existing weeds and prevents others from germinating from seed.”

Hentschel also suggested mowing frequently and leaving grass clippings on the lawn to improve the soil. Whether or not to water depends on the homeowner’s desire to have a green lawn all summer.

“Watering the lawn deeply will promote longer roots, which in turn allows the lawn to be more drought-tolerant during brief dry periods. This also means that the lawn will use more fertilizer as well, no matter if it is a commercial product or organic in nature,” he said.  

Even in a dormant state, Hentschel said the grass plant crowns will need to receive about one-half inch of water a couple of times a month even while the lawn is dormant and brown or straw colored. 

“The lawns will resume their fall growth once appropriate weather returns no matter what part of the state you live in. In summary, mow high, mow often with a sharp blade, and water deeply when you do,” he said.

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