Gardening: Brown-spot season is upon us

Eileen Ward

Wow! Two rainy days recently. This much needed water will help to refresh our drought-stricken lawns and gardens. It will also activate the fertilizer applied this spring which will add strength to help them better survive the rest of the dry season.

While these were good rainstorms, they did little to reverse the drought conditions spring can bring.

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very year at this time I must discuss those dreaded brown spots which appear on our lawns. Neighborhoods all around the island are drying up fast. It is only the beginning of a month or more of this type of weather so here are some tips to help your lawn get through this difficult spring season.

With the temperatures getting hotter and the air becoming drier your grass would turn to a golden brown without the supplemental irrigation from your sprinkler system.

Automatic sprinkler watering fresh lawn.

The brown spots indicate a lack of proper coverage by your irrigation system. Homes with newer systems do not have as severe a problem if pressure dips a little as those with older systems. There may be more accumulated gunk and debris in older valves and other system parts. You might want to call and irrigation company to clean your system to help prevent future problems.

The first thing you should do is run the sprinklers manually and visually check for proper coverage. Clear any heads which are clogged and adjust any which are misaligned. Check for shrubs and trees which may be blocking the water and trim them as necessary. And be sure you keep the sprinkler heads clear of grass since the blades of grass hitting the water can affect the coverage patterns.

The worst thing you can do is run your sprinklers for more days trying to green up the brown spots. First, this is against the restrictions in place and second the spots are still not getting coverage and the rest of your lawn is getting too much water. This can needlessly drain our water reserves and bring us closer to salt water intrusion.

Watering during the midday hours is another water waster. While the pressure is likely to be better you will lose over half of the water to evaporation into the atmosphere due to heat and wind. I recently watched as a neighbor watered during the afternoon hours. It looked like smoke from a fire as more than half of the water flew into the air and disappeared with the wind.

So what else should you do?

Water the dry spots with a hose whenever you can find the time, preferably in the morning hours to help prevent disease problems. Remember the rules say you must be at the end of that hose personally watering. These stressed areas are more susceptible to disease problems and insect infestation. For disease prevention apply a lawn fungicide to the spots and a foot or two beyond the edges.

As for insects, keep a close eye on your lawn for chinch bugs because of the recent rains. A very hot, dry period followed by the frequent afternoon rain showers of June create a climatic period that is perfect for the breeding of a generation of chinch bugs. They like to lay their eggs when it’s dry and then they hatch with the rains. Watch for the telltale yellowing at the edges of the brown, damaged areas in your lawn followed by the increase in size of your brown spots or new areas. Part the blades to find the little black bugs with the white wings running in the soil or on the base of the grass blades. The newly hatched are tiny orange specks. If caught early spot treatments a foot beyond the damaged area may get it under control.

Another problem likely to arise with these dry spots is an inability of the soil to absorb water. The soil has been adversely affected from being dry for so long. The grains of sand in our sandy soil tend to accumulate oil around them. This prevents water from penetrating the soil and so it just runs off these areas rather than being absorbed and used by the grass roots. Applying a surfactant to the dry spots will help them more readily absorb water and thus enable them to green up again. A good surfactant which most of us already have around the house is liquid dish detergent. Or you can buy a surfactant in the garden center. Mix 1 tablespoon of dish soap to one gallon of water and drench these dry spots.

And finally, the most important way to help your lawn survive drought is to prepare it by watering deep and less often all year. You should never have to water more than once a week if your lawn has been conditioned. Also cutting the grass at a higher depth will grow a deeper root system which will help the lawn to sail through with little or no damage when your sprinkler coverage is inadequate.

These brown spots from inadequate irrigation will become the breeding ground for problems which need chemicals to correct. And we all know where our chemicals and fertilizers end up. In the Gulf of Mexico.

A lot of lawns, mine included, still look great with only once a week watering. While the city allows you to water three times a week, I say stay at once a week if your lawn looks good and continue to grow a deep root system. Why would you want to give the city more money if you don’t have to?

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Eileen and Peter Ward have owned a landscape and lawn maintenance company for 35 years. Eileen can be reached at Gswdmarco@comcast.net or 239-394-1413.