Yard & Garden Report


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Summer lawn care

Lawns need special care to look good during summer. Tips on irrigating, mowing, fertilizing and more.

Lawn sprinkler

It’s summertime, a great time to go outside and enjoy our landscapes! Unfortunately, not everything in the backyard is happy now. Our lawns hate the heat.

Most lawns in North Dakota turn yellow and go dormant in the summer heat. This is a natural way for our lawns to survive.

There is nothing wrong in letting your lawn take a summer nap. You can take a break from lawn care, too. You can both be happy.

But many of us don’t like a yellow lawn in summer. If this includes you, let’s talk about summer lawn care:

The first concern is watering. There’s an old trick to see if your lawn is thirsty. Take a walk across your lawn and look back. If you can see your footprints in the grass, the lawn needs a drink.

Lawns need 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water per week, either from you or Mother Nature. Water deeply. It’s better to give your lawn a big drink of water rather than a series of sips.

Roots grow where the water is. Lawn mowerIf you water deeply, you will develop a deep root system. If you only sprinkle the surface of the soil, you will create a shallow root system.

If you have a clay soil, irrigate only once or twice a week. Sandy soils can’t hold a full inch of water. These soils should receive a half-inch of water two or three times per week when needed.

Now you may be asking: How do I measure inches of water?

Here’s how: Set some containers around the lawn. Turn on the sprinkler and measure the time it takes until the proper amount of water falls into the containers. Use this as your base time for watering.

Watering in the morning is best. The grass plants are active and will absorb the water they need. Any extra water will evaporate, keeping the grass blades dry and preventing diseases. Watering during the afternoon is not recommended since much of the water will evaporate before the plants absorb it. The worst time to irrigate is in the evening since the lawn will stay wet all night, leading to diseases.

Let your grass clippings fall to the ground. These clippings will shade the soil, keeping it cool.

Mow your turf tall. A tall turf will shade the soil. A taller turf develops a deeper root system. The first lawns in the neighborhood that turn yellow are those mowed short.

Avoid using herbicides in summer. Herbicides add stress to lawns, which are already under stress from the heat. There is a risk of herbicide drifting into your garden.

Don’t burn the lawn with fertilizer. Dormant lawns do not need fertilizer; but if you irrigate all summer, a light fertilization might be helpful. Use one-half the normal rate. Organic fertilizers are especially useful in summer since they are less likely to burn the grass.

Whether or not you actively take care of your lawn in summer, expect the lawn to wake up when temperatures cool off. Autumn will be the best time to reseed, kill weeds, and develop a strong root system heading into winter.


Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, August 4, 2014. Photos were made available under Creative Commons licenses specified by the photographers: Justin Chiaratti and Michael McGimpsey.


Zuk, A., J. Knodel and R. Smith. 2011. Home lawn problems and solutions for North Dakota. North Dakota State University: Fargo.

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