As summer approaches and temperatures rise, the interaction between grasses and environmental stressors becomes problematic. The combination of heat, drought, wear and disease are responsible for most of the injury seen during the summer on athletic field surfaces. Heat stress is the underlying factor that weakens turf to the extent that is more easily killed or injured by one of the other common mid-summer stressors. Below is a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for you to follow this summer.
One of the best ways to help your field fight through the hot, dry conditions of summer is to make sure it has the proper fertility (or fertilizer). Follow recommendations based on a soil test to meet the needs of the plants on your fields.
Unwanted broadleaf and grassy weeds not only detract from the appearance and safety of your fields, but they are also competition for the desired grass plants. Reducing weed populations in the spring will increase the moisture and nutrients for the desired turf plants in the summer.
The summer heat and dormant grass will also mask insect damage to your turf. Scout the thatch layer of your fields for insects and treat accordingly.
Longer grass blades mean deeper roots. Deeper roots mean more water and nutrients are available. However, this needs to be done before the stress of heat causes the plant to stop growing.
Overuse is a problem during any season of the year. However, when cool season grass is under stress from the dry conditions, damage to the crown of the plant is more likely because the plant is not actively growing to recover from the wear.
The development of cool season turf grass is temperature-dependent. During extended periods of heat and moisture stress, cool season grasses stop growing and the leaves turn brown. Summer dormancy is reversible, so when cooler temperatures and moisture return, the grass will re-grow from the crown.
Turf needs an inch of water a week to stay healthy and continue to grow. During the heat of the summer, you may need to increase the irrigation frequency and volume to offset the high evaporation rate that is caused by the extreme conditions.
When cool season grasses are dormant, reduce the amount of foot and machinery traffic. Don’t drive your mowers on the field just to stay busy. Resume cultivation and mowing when the turf has started to regrow and recover from the stress of summer.
Summer conditions will mask the symptoms of disease on your fields. Pay attention to the plants and the weather conditions to help anticipate diseases.
The hot and dry time of the year is a perfect time to start planning your renovation plans for fall. Aerification, topdressing, overseeding, fertilization and pest control plans for the fall will make your fields healthier and more wear-resistant going into the next hot and dry season.
These ideas will assist you in managing the heat and lack of rain while still producing a safe and playable turf. Whether you manage a sports field or want to improve the condition of your lawn, the advice above should help you to grow a healthier grass surface throughout the summer and prepare for the future seasons.
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