Patches of dead grass require watering change

The best gardeners I know are observant. They notice new insects, spots on leaves, an unidentified weed and the weather.

After examining patches of dead grass and rotten-bottomed tomatoes at the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office, I realized that many people didn’t notice they needed to change their watering habits when the weather changed, or they simply forgot.

Yes, we have had a few 100-degree days lately, scattered in with the humid, monsoonal weather (that’s a bit of a stretch, I admit). This erratic weather makes gardening more difficult, because we need to pay more attention to our plants’ needs and adjust accordingly.

On one hand, the rain is a nice change from our hellish weather. On the other hand, we shouldn’t water like we needed to earlier this summer, or problems will arise.

One perplexing issue that homeowners encounter this time of year is a fungal disease in their lawns called “patch disease.” This looks like patches of dead grass in a lawn. This problem is caused by overwatering and can be controlled by (you guessed it!) changing your watering habits. It sounds easy, but some people notice the patches in their lawn and think they need to water MORE, not less, and that exacerbates the problem.

I was volunteering at the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Master Garden desk last week when we received a few samples from homeowners. Horticultural technician Susan Rose broke out the microscope to show me exactly how to identify patch disease.

Under magnification, the fungus reveals itself in the form of runner hyphae, which basically run alongside the roots and are kind of difficult to identify if you’re not a grass guru like Susan. But one sample was obvious even to me. The hyphae looked like it was strangling the grass root, like a glob of hair wrapped around it. The sample itself was fairly damp, indicating it may have been overwatered.

To avoid patch disease and other fungal diseases in your lawn, there are several steps homeowners can take. For established lawns, CSU Cooperative Extension recommends:

■ Watering in the middle of the night. Research shows that dew encourages fungus to grow. If you water between 1–4 a.m., you shorten the amount of time that dew can remain on the blades of grass.

Avoid watering your grass between 6–10 a.m. and 6–10 p.m. I’ve noticed that this is the opposite watering schedule of many homeowners, who turn on their sprinklers when they get home from work.

■ Water deeper, less often. The bottom line is, if you water for a few minutes every day, you’re not encouraging your lawn’s roots to reach farther down into the soil to follow that moisture. You’re creating a shallow-rooted lawn, which dries out faster and is more susceptible to a variety of problems.

How can you tell how deep you’ve watered? Get a long-handled screwdriver and use it as a probe. You want to water to a depth of at least 6 inches every time you water.

■ Plan on aerating your grass this fall. CSU Cooperative Extension recommends aerating twice a year, not just in the springtime. This will help you manage thatch in your lawn as well as combat compaction of the soil, which makes it more difficult for water to get to the lawn’s roots.

■ Don’t mow your grass so short. Only remove 1 1/2 inches of the blade at a time, and leave your grass about 3 inches long. This also will help you water your grass less often, as it will dry out less in between watering. And you might not need to mow as often, so you could enjoy your hammock more.

Erin McIntyre is a writer, apprentice master gardener and owner of the gourmet pickle company, Yum Pickles. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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