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Sunday, August 25, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Proper care and feeding help lawns survive heat

Pat Munts

It’s starting to heat up. Is your lawn ready for it?

A lot of lawns took a beating in the weeks of hot weather last summer. Add to that the fact that a lot of you lost shade trees in November’s storm. You will need to adjust your watering schedules to make sure the lawn gets enough water.

First, check your irrigation system. Are all the heads working properly and the leaks fixed? Leaky systems are inefficient and can waste a tremendous amount of water. Check for head spray patterns that are blocked by plants or heads buried in sod.

Next, lawns generally need about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water each week to stay healthy. That inch or so of water should be put on so that it can soak 6 to 8 inches into the soil. This allows the roots to grow deep into the soil where they can stay cool and draw on soil moisture reserves. How long it takes water to soak that far into your soil depends on the type of soil you have. Water drains through sandy soils much more quickly than loams or clay.

To determine how long it takes to do this, measure your sprinkler output by setting out some flat cans (tuna or cat food cans work well) on the lawn. Turn your system on for 30 minutes and then measure the amount of water in the can. Multiply this by 2 to get the amount your system puts out in an hour. Compare this to the 1-inch requirement and that will tell you how many 30-minute intervals you need in a week.

Fertilize your lawn properly. Most lawns go dormant in mid-July with the heat and revive in the fall when it cools and the rains return. Lawns should be fertilized in early April with a slow release fertilizer, again lightly in early June and then not again until September to early October. The fall fertilization is the most important because it allows the plants to store food reserves for spring. The slow release fertilizer feeds the lawn in a way it can take up the nutrients slowly.

A high-nitrogen, fast-release fertilizer causes such fast growth, it stresses the plants. When it is used up, the grass plants crash. Over time this fast cycling of nutrients weakens the lawn, reducing its ability to tolerate drought.

Lastly, mow your lawn at the right height. Most lawns do best when mowed to 2 to 3 inches. The taller grass shades the soil and helps retain moisture. On the other end of the spectrum, don’t let your lawn get overly long. Cut it before it gets over 6 inches tall. Letting it go beyond that and then cutting it repeatedly will weaken the grass plant. Always use a sharp blade on the mower.

Pat Munts is co-author, with Susan Mulvihill, of the “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Munts can be reached at pat@inland nwgardening.com.

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