“It’s so dry the trees are bribing the dogs.” ― Charles Martin, Chasing Fireflies
While drought stress might not seem like an IPM issue, it can definitely impact how your grass will respond to pests, both current and future. As Pat Vittum, Turf Entomologist at UMass, tells her students, “Turf can take one or two stresses, but not three or four.” How can you reduce stress during these dry times?
Hold off on fertilizers…
at least until the weather flips to cooler temperatures and you can water it in, either by timing it before predicted rain or through irrigation. Fall fertilization will help to increase turf density by helping the turf produce more tillers, rhizones, and stolons and encourage shoot growth, but only if it can reach the root zone. Look to apply one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 ft2, plus other nutrients recommended by a soil test.
Now is not the time to park on the grass, host a neighborhood pickup flag football game, or allow the kids to set up a bike ramp.
Set your mower to its highest setting. The longer the leaf blades, the deeper the roots, providing a buffer against drought, diseases, and insect damage.
Make sure those blades are sharp.
If you haven’t yet sharpened your blades, don’t wait any longer. Dull blades shred rather than cut, allowing more moisture loss and increase turf stress. You can find information on blade sharpening here.
Wait to mow
Unless you have irrigation, your lawn is likely not growing. No growth, no need to mow. If storms drop some needed moisture and the grass takes off, wait until a cooler time of the day to mow. Do not, however, wait too long. If you end up leaving clumps of clippings, they can block out the sun and seal in the moisture, leaving the turf susceptible to humidity loving diseases. Once it is growing, mowing should be conducted often, twice a week or more. Mowing increases shoot density by increasing tillering (stems that develop from the crown of the parent plant). The more tillers, the fuller your lawn, leaving less room for weeds.
For up-to-date information on turfgrass conditions, listen to Cornell’s Frank Rossi’s weekly podcast. Grass specific weather information, including when and how much to water, can be found at ForeCast: Weather for the Turf Industry.