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Summer lawns need constant attention
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Recent rains are turning struggling lawns across Mississippi into lush landscapes, and homeowners must work hard to keep them looking good all summer.
Wayne Wells, turf specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said now that the grass is growing, those performing lawn maintenance need to be sure to cut their turf to the correct height.
“Different grasses have different mowing height requirements,” Wells said. “St. Augustine needs to be about 3 inches tall, while Bermudagrass should be maintained at a height between one and one and a half inches.”
Cutting the turf too short scalps the lawn, creating undue stress and leaving it susceptible to insects and disease. A lawn consistently cut too short can die. Wells urged homeowners to follow the one-third rule.
“Never take off more than one-third of the total height of the grass at any mowing,” he said.
Turf grows quickly in the summer, making this the ideal time to apply a complete fertilizer to weak lawns or those with trouble spots. Healthy lawns that just need some color can benefit from an application of nitrogen.
“Always have a purpose when you put out fertilizer,” Wells said. “If you don't need it, maybe you can hold off for a month or two before you put out the fertilizer.”
Weeds thrive when the grass is growing strong, but good mowing and the use of selective herbicides can keep these in check.
Actively growing turf needs between an inch and an inch and a half of water each week. While most Mississippi lawns began getting that minimum or more in July, be sure to irrigate during dry times.
“In midsummer, it gets dry really, really quick,” Wells said. “Nothing beats Mother Nature's good, natural rain, but if that doesn't come on time, you may need to get the hoses out.”
Wells said it is better to water thoroughly and infrequently than to water lightly each day. Time the irrigation so foliage is dry before nightfall to prevent turf diseases from setting in.
With enough moisture, insects can become a problem in lawns. Blake Layton, Extension entomologist, said when rains come after a dry spell, fire ants pop up across lawns.
“You won't have any more fire ants than before in the yard, but it will look like you do,” Layton said.
Now is the time to apply another round of fire-ant bait. Layton recommended making broadcast applications of fire-ant bait around Easter, the Fourth of July and Labor Day to keep fire ants in check.
Different types of turf suffer from different insect pests. Chinch bugs are the big threat for St. Augustine, especially during dry weather and in sunny parts of the lawn. Suspect chinch bugs in St. Augustine if there are expanding, irregularly shaped areas of dead grass.
“One way to check for chinch bugs is to take a gallon coffee can with both ends removed and force it into the ground at the transition between the living and dead grass,” Layton said. “Fill it with water, and if there are chinch bugs, in a few minutes they will float to the top.”
Homeowners also can look for the one-fifth-inch-long bugs by checking for the small insects scurrying around at the soil surface around the base of the shoots in the transition area.
Fall armyworms are the biggest insect threat to Bermudagrass, especially on newly established or highly fertilized lawns. The first sing that these worms are present is when the tips of the grass turn white from the small larvae feeding. Armyworms can defoliate a lawn in a few days, so they should be detected and treated as early as possible.
Highly fertilized, well-watered centipede grass is most susceptible to the two-lined spittlebug. This insect creates little masses of spittle where the immature nymphs suck on the stems of the grass. Adults are maroon leafhoppers with two orange stripes on each wing.
The Extension Service offers several publications that can help homeowners maintain lawns. These include Control Fire Ants in Your Yard (P2429), Control of Insect Pests In and Around the Home Lawn (P2331), and Establish and Manage Your Home Lawn (P1322). These publications are also available in county Extension offices.