Fix Summer Lawn Damage

Between the high temps and the low precipitation, summer can be notoriously tough on your lawn. But where there’s Sunday, there’s a way to get your lawn back in shape! Read on to learn about the causes of summer damage—and what you can do about it.

What Causes Summer Lawn Damage?

Hot, dry conditions can take a real toll on your turf. Parched grass may react by wilting, turning brown, and going dormant, which means the lower portion of the plant—the crown—is alive but not actively growing. And while this scenario is one of the most common, it’s not the only explanation for summer stress. Here are all of the causes you’ll want to consider:

 

Dormancy. When your lawn goes dormant, it’s normal to miss that lush, green turf. But dormancy is a pretty impressive survival mechanism! Without access to regular water—like what lawns experience during drought—cool-season lawns will go dormant to reduce their energy needs. Unless the crown of the plant is damaged by heat or desiccation (drying out), your lawn should recover when conditions improve. 

Sunday ProTip: Think you may be dealing with drought? Take a walk across your turf and observe how long your footprints remain visible. Healthy grass will perk right back up, while stressed grass will still appear “trampled” for a while. 

 

Heat. Unseasonal heat can cause damage or, if the crown of the plant dried out, plant death.

 

Flooding. If your grass is under standing water for too long, it can be damaged by debris and lack of oxygen. If it’s especially hot during that time as well, it may suffer even more.

Sunday ProTip: If you have recurring issues with flooding, consider installing a rain garden to divert water away from your turf.

 

Weeds. In their quest for survival, weeds compete with your turf for water, nutrients, and space—and when they get the upper hand your grass may respond by turning brown and bare. Maybe you’ve pulled or treated weeds already this summer, in which case you might be seeing some bare spots too.

 

Traffic. Your lawn dislikes traffic as much as you do! Healthy turf can easily bounce back from average foot traffic. But excess amounts related to barbecues, lawn games, slip & slides, and other summer activities can weaken the turf and cause soil compaction. This makes it harder for roots to soak up water, leading to thirsty grass.

 

Pests. Usually, bugs are just a nuisance, but severe infestations can damage or even kill your turf. Some of the common offenders are grubs, sod webworms, billbugs, and—this year especially—armyworms. To check for pests, grab a handful of dead turf and see if you can pull it up. If it lifts easily like a carpet, then you may have grubs, which cause damage by tunneling under the roots. 

 

Disease. If you tried the turf-lifting test and your sod held firm, then you may be dealing with lawn disease. Take a look at the live grass surrounding the dead area to determine if the issue is spreading, then consider if your lawn care routine may be allowing disease to flourish. Consistent watering after dark and mowing with dull blades can make your lawn more susceptible. 

Why Recovery Matters

Sending an already stressed lawn into winter is like going into battle without armor. Luckily, fall showers and moderate temperatures give your turf a great chance to recover. The key? Bringing back green growth, because a higher rate of photosynthesis will build up those carbohydrate reserves and strengthen the root system for overwintering. 

How to Help Your Grass Recover

Spotting summer stress early is a great way to help your lawn before the damage gets too bad. If, after a little detective work, you’ve determined you’re dealing with insects or disease, your local extension office can provide the best, most comprehensive care plan. But if your lawn is under pressure from weather or cultural practices, there are a lot of steps you can start taking now to get it back on track:

 

  1. Give it some time. Lower temperatures and fall rain may help dormant turf recover and green up without any intervention from you.
  2. Remove debris. Pick up sediment, plant debris, slip & slides, and other items that block sunlight from getting to your grass.
  3. Reduce traffic where possible. This is especially important in areas that are visibly stressed, whether from shade, heat, drought, compaction, etc.
  4. Apply your fall fertilizer. September and October are prime times to strengthen your grass before winter. Our fall nutrients include nitrogen and iron to maximize late-season growth and green up, plus seaweed for disease resilience. Giving your grass this extra growth will maximize energy storage, as well as helping your grass root more deeply and resist winter injury.
  5. Water properly. If your sprinklers normally run early in the morning, then you may not notice if they stop working. Audit your irrigation system and water deeply but infrequently. Keep an eye on the forecast as well; with fall rains arriving you don’t want to water on top of that.
  6. Get weeds under control. Start by hand-pulling, making sure you get as much of the root system as possible. Avoid letting annuals set seed for next year by mowing over them or removing their flowers. And if needed, you can spot treat with our better-for-the-planet herbicides. (Don’t forget to remove flowers before spraying to protect pollinators!)
  7. Patch bare spots. Fall is an amazing time to plant new grass using either seeds or plugs. Just make sure you keep the soil moist until germination, then cut back on watering.
  8. Overseed cool-season lawns. This is one of our all-around favorite tips! Overseeding involves spreading a thin layer of seeds across your whole lawn, even healthy areas. The benefit of doing it now is that it helps you build up a thick, healthy, and resilient lawn before winter, so it can come back stronger than ever in spring. Before you do this, mow a little lower than usual to ensure good seed-to-soil contact. It works best when temps are in the low 70s.

 

Your lawn may be dealing with summer stress, but you don’t have to be! Taking action now by following the steps above will go a long way. Want one-on-one support? Remember that every Smart Lawn Plan comes with unlimited access to our in-house experts.

CITED SOURCES

Heflebower, R. Renovate your lawn after a long, hot summer. Utah State University Extension. 

Home Lawn Watering Guide. University of Missouri Extension.