The ‘green, green grass of home’ looking pretty brown this summer

Managing Editor

Frank Day Park is a magnet for kids in the summer, including (from left) Corey Rice, 10; Andrew Ruckman, 5; Milee Ruckman (behind pole), 9; and Brookelynn Ruckman, 11. Lawns in Frank Day Park are surviving the summer heat pretty well, thanks to shade from the many trees and lots of watering.

Photo by Deb Hill

Keeping a lawn green hasn’t been so easy this summer. An extended period of unrelieved hot weather combined with a lack of rainfall has made it difficult for homeowners and others to keep their grass happy. Many usually green and leafy front yards are looking a little sere and brown. 

Most local professionals say this summer is one of the worst they can recall when it comes to dry, hot weather.

“I don’t remember when we’ve had such a long spell of hot weather,” said Scott Sanford, owner of SAS Sprinklers and Lawn Service in Lewistown. “In weather like this, you are not going to have a perfect lawn. There is no such thing as a perfect sprinkler system, and wherever there’s a weak spot, you will see brown grass.”

Sanford, who cares for some pretty big lawns including those at the D’Autremont Softball Complex, said the best advice he can offer is to water in the very early morning or late at night.

“I’m trying to water when the City has the most water pressure,” he said, “and when it is coolest. I sometimes start at 4 a.m. This time of year, we are watering daily.”

Jeff Whitcraft, owner of Judith Shadows Golf Course, said he is watering as much as his two wells will allow, but even so, is having trouble keeping the greens green.

“There’s no way to keep up with it,” he said, referring to the evapotranspiration rate, or the rate at which water leaves the soil due to evaporation and plant respiration. “At 95 degrees, we are losing water almost as fast as we can put it on.”

Jim Daniels, Lewistown’s parks and recreation director, said even the parks with automated sprinkler systems are struggling.

“We are not able to keep everything as green as we would like it,” Daniels said. “We only water at night, so people can use the parks during the day. It’s been unusually hot and dry for an unusually long period.”


Tips from the experts

All the experts agree: water in the cool part of the day, avoid watering when it is windy, and make sure you are watering deeply enough.

“A good deep watering daily, in the morning or the evening, is key,” said Rebecka Blair, florist at Alpine Floral Greenhouse and Nursery.

Another tip is not to cut the grass too short.

“The longer blades of grass help shade each other,” Sanford said, suggesting grass should be at least 2.5 inches. “Also, mulch your clippings back in rather than bagging and removing them. The clippings contain nitrogen, which grass needs, and help reduce evaporation.”

“Use the middle level on your mower,” said Pam Zerr, greenhouse co-manager at Krings Greenhouse and Nursery. “Trees around your lawn will help shade it and keep the evaporation down, but they may also be ‘stealing’ water from the grass, so you may need to water more.”

Fortunately, Lewistown’s water is relatively inexpensive. According to City Manager Holly Phelps, water rates are averaged across the year, which comes out to $1.07 per 1,000 gallons.

“There’s no penalty for extra water use in the summer,” Phelps said, adding that some City water customers with large lawns use 100,000 gallons of water a month or more. “The rate is still $1.07 per gallon.”

Unlike cities in drier parts of the country, Phelps said Lewistown has never rationed water as there has always been enough.

In the end, gardeners must decide whether they have the time and budget for all the extra watering. The good news is, what looks like a dead, dry lawn can eventually recover.

“Grass will go dormant if not watered enough, but it will recover when water is available,” Zerr said.

One final piece of advice from the grass experts:

“If you want green grass in the summer, move to where it rains more,” Whitcraft quipped.

“You could move to Alaska,” Sanford echoed.





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