Long Island homeowners have had a love affair with lush, green lawns for what seems like an eternity. Maybe it goes back to our collective local heritage and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, or perhaps it’s that Long Islanders are savvy enough to know that a healthy lawn can increase property value by up to 20%. So when a harsh summer like the one we’ve been enduring wreaks havoc on our beloved lawns, even the most seasoned homeowner goes seeking answers.
If your lawn looks like a field of hay as we head toward fall and you think it is beyond help, think again. Grasses that grow in New York go into dormancy, and even though your lawn might look dead, especially after all that hot, dry summer weather, the roots and crowns of grass are still alive below the ground. And that is where hope springs eternal.
“Our grasses are cold season grasses. They get stressed when we try to keep them alive and growing where normally grass would respond by going dormant. The critical thing this year is a lot of lawns went into dormancy because of the small amount of rainfall we had,” according to Alice Raimondo, Cornell Cooperative Extension Suffolk County Horticultural Consultant.
One of the top resources for lawn care specific to Long Island, the Cornell Cooperative Extension Suffolk County (CCE), the CCE tests soil on a weekly basis at their facility in Riverhead. This can help take the guesswork out of what your soil requires to maintain a healthy lawn.
“Bring in a cup to a cup and a half of soil and we will test it to see what the PH or acidity is,” Raimondo says. “There’s a $5 charge, and we will give you recommendations [for lawn care] after testing. We will either email or mail you a report.”
The effort is worthwhile beyond the curb appeal and beautiful backdrop for backyard barbecue gatherings, of course. Grass is one of the most resilient plants on earth. It acts like a sponge, and actually pulls carbon dioxide, ozone, soot and dirt from the air and then produces oxygen at a rate of three times more than trees. In fact, an acre of grass produces more oxygen than one acre of rainforest.
In addition to your tender loving care, a healthy lawn requires three things: water, fertilizer and proper mowing.
WATERING YOUR LONG ISLAND LAWN
A typical Long Island lawn requires only about one inch of water per week, including rainfall and sprinklers. The CCE recommends that you install a rain gauge in your yard to measure how much water your lawn is actually getting.
The best time to water is from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. This allows the grass to dry in the morning sun, reducing the chance of turf disease. You can actually kill your lawn with diseases that live in the soil and thrive in the moist conditions perpetrated by over-watering. You can go to the Lawn Watering Tool provided by the Northeast Regional Climate Center, plug in your zip code and the date you last watered and the tool will give results of when you should water again and with the correct amount of water needed.
If you are not sure how much rain your area has received, the CCE Turf Industry ForeCast tool will show you how much rain fell over the last seven days. It will even tell you how long you should run your sprinkler (but make sure to check local rules and recommendation during dry seasons) and includes a tool to calculate how much water your sprinkler applies in an hour.
FERTILIZING YOUR LAWN
The CCE recommends a single application of fertilizer in early September, with no more than 1 lb. nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Long Island lawns do not need phosphorus, so apply phosphorus-free fertilizers (for example, 16-0-8 NPK) Fertilize when rain is in the forecast or water-in your fertilizer so it gets down to the roots.
Grass gets stressed, so you should never mow your lawn when it’s too hot, too dry or too wet. The best time to mow is when the weather is cool and it hasn’t rained in at least 24 hours.
Hicks Nurseries in Westbury also recommends keeping your mover blade sharp and set to a height of 2.5” to 3” through October. Sharp blades prevent the grass from tearing, which can result in brown tips. Mowing your lawn too short can expose it to too much sun, leaving it burned. Too much sun reaching the soil also creates an opportunity for weeds to grow,
And don’t worry about what to do with all that cut grass. Leave the clippings on the lawn to recycle nutrients.