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Keep it green: Tips to save your summer lawn

/ Source: TODAY

At the height of summer heat, P. Allen Smith joins the "Today" show to answer a question that’s on the minds of homeowners everywhere: “What can we do to save our lawns?” Here are some of his tips:

According to, the average homeowner spends roughly 40 hours mowing their lawn each year, and we Americans spend $8.5 billion on lawn care products and equipment. Lawns are a major part of the gardening scene, with millions of acres in this country alone.

Keeping a lawn in tip-top shape can be a big job, but my approach to it is a little more relaxed than others.  For example, here's my approach to lawn fertilizing:

Fertilizing your lawn

I only fertilize my lawn a couple of times a year, once in the spring and then again in midsummer with a food specially blended for lawns. You'll find these blends higher in nitrogen than other elements (the first number in a series of numbers on the fertilizer bag). Nitrogen is what stimulates vigorous growth and deep green color.  

I feed only a couple of times a year because I discovered that fertilizing more often meant too much growth — I was working myself to death trying to keep it mowed and watered. So, by reducing the amount of fertilizer, I've saved myself time and energy. Also, by allowing my grass to grow longer, just by an inch or so more in summer, I've reduced my watering a bit more. The taller blades of grass cut down on water evaporation from the soil.

Fertilizing can be confusing because there are so many different blends out there to choose from. For instance, there are some that actually have pre-emergent herbicide mixed with the fertilizer to keep weed seeds from germinating. Turf growers have told me that if you are going to use pre-emergents, it's better not to use the blends because they're not as effective as applying pre-emergents separately from the fertilizer.

Fertilizer spreader

It's always best to fertilize your lawn after mowing and when the grass is dry. If the grass is wet, the fertilizer will stick to the blades and burn the lawn.

I prefer using a spreader because it ensures equal distribution of the fertilizer across the lawn, and I always load the spreader on a sidewalk or a drive just in case I spill some, which I usually do.

To get even distribution, I set the gauge at a low setting and go over the area several times, making sure that each pass of the spreader overlaps the last. This will give the lawn a nice even color without dark streaks from over-fertilized areas.  After I have fed it, I just water it in.

Lawnmower tips

The lawn mower can be one of the most neglected tools in the garden, and that's pretty ironic when you consider it's also one of the most expensive. 

To keep your mower in tip-top shape, start by disengaging the spark plug. This should be done anytime you are working on your mower. Next, drain the gasoline and oil from your lawn mower.  Any gasoline that stays in the tank for over a year can gum up your carburetor. You can handle these jobs by using just a few things from around the house.

A turkey baster is great for extracting the gasoline from the tank. It works better and easier than turning the mower upside down. For collecting the oil, try using a disposable aluminum roasting pan. After you've collected it, you'll want to dispose of it responsibly. You'll find many automobile maintenance businesses take used motor oil for recycling, and this is the most environmentally safe way to discard it.

Next, you should replace the spark plug. It's the spark plug that ignites the engine. If it's worn or corroded, you'll have difficulty starting your mower. Spark plugs are inexpensive and easy to replace.

When preparing your lawnmower for spring you should also clean the air filter and remove any old grass or debris clogging the fins of the engine cover.

And one last tip, take your mower in and have the blade sharpened and balanced. This will keep the engine working more efficiently and you will get a smoother cut on your grass.


It's best to water in early morning, very early, like 5 a.m. This gives the lawn an opportunity to dry before nightfall, a time when many types of fungus are most active. This is also usually a non-peak time for most communities' water supply. It's also much better to water early only a couple of times a week than to water lightly more often. Deep soaking encourages deep root growth, whereas light watering encourages the roots to stay close to the surface of the soil, making your lawn more susceptible to heat and drought.

Another thing to keep in mind is that an actively growing lawn this time of year will require about 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. This of course will depend on your soil type.  Lawns can be a source of pride — just don't let the summer heat get the most of it, and you.

Brown spot repair

According to several Web sources, more than 60 million Americans own dogs and that means that many of these pet owners are facing the challenge of brown spots on their lawns.

What causes the brown spot? It's just like over-fertilizing! There is a high nitrogen content in pet urine, which causes the urine to burn the grass.  The number one thing pet owners can do to avoid brown spots is to water the area well within eight hours to dilute the high nitrogen level. When these spots go untreated you'll need to reach for the repair kit to green the grass back up. Grass repair kits are sold commercially or you can make your own by mixing sand, seed and slow-release fertilizer.