Transitioning a Lawn From Spring to Summer

Get tips on making this transition easier.

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Keep grass runners like these in check by trimming frequently.

The transition from spring to summer, whether gradual or abrupt, is a time to focus on certain changes in your landscape. Nowhere are those changes more apparent than in the lawn.

As the temperature warms, warm-season grasses such as Bermuda, Zoysia, St. Augustine, and centipede grasses really take off. For the most part, that’s a good thing. But those grasses can also be a problem when they spread to nearby garden beds. You can keep them in check by trimming runners frequently, or create borders to keep grass out permanently.

Cool-season grasses such as fescue often thin out considerably as the temperature rises. There’s really not much you can do about this until fall, when cooler temperatures will help fescue bounce back and reseeding can begin.

It’s important to monitor the amount of water your turf grasses receive in the summer, especially since rainfall is less plentiful in most places. You should water once or maybe twice a week and soak deeply each time you water, letting the water run 30 minutes to an hour. If runoff is a problem while you're watering, cycle the water on and off during the hour.

Unless you live in a dry, arid region, the best time to water is early in the morning. This minimizes the threat of fungal diseases that can attack your turf if it remains wet overnight, especially in humid areas.

Wait till fall to fertilize lawns, advises Paul James. Fertilizer feeds a whole new crop of warm temperature weeds, especially crabgrass (above).

Paul James recommends waiting until fall to fertilize. Though many gardening resources suggest fertilizing lawns during the summer, Paul believes that doing so encourages growth at a time when grasses would prefer to rest. Also, new growth means more watering, more mowing, etc. And fertilizer feeds a whole new crop of warm temperature weeds, especially crabgrass.

The most common treatment for crabgrass involves the use of both pre- and post-emergent herbicides. These applications must be carefully timed, and the majority of herbicides contain chemicals that pose serious health hazards to humans and the environment. Instead, Paul suggests raising the cutting height of your mower one inch. Doing that can dramatically reduce crabgrass in the lawn because the taller grass shades the weeds, and they won’t grow as well. In a study conducted at the University of Maryland, crabgrass and broad-leaved weeds made up 53 percent of a plot of turf that was mowed at 1.5 inches; in a plot mowed at 2.5 inches, the weed population was only 8 percent!

What about trees and shrubs? Young or newly planted trees and shrubs need consistent moisture during the summer, up to 10 gallons a week, preferably delivered in the form of a slow drip. Pay particular attention to evergreens, because once their rootball dries out, chances are they won’t rebound.

Container plants may need watering as often as every day because the potting mix dries out quickly, especially on hot, windy days. Plants growing in hanging baskets can dry out even faster, and may need water twice a day.

For herbs that tend to get leggy, such as basil, pinch the terminal growth back every week or so to encourage bushier growth.

Herbs also need extra attention during the spring-to-summer transition. Many herbs begin to flower during this time, and in most cases you should remove the flowers because they can result in less flavorful herbs. Harvest your herbs often to encourage more foliar growth, and for those that tend to get leggy, such as basil, pinch the terminal growth back every week or so to encourage bushier growth.

And don’t forget about your water garden. When the air temperature rises, so does the water temperature in ponds. This can lead to changes in water quality and the development of algae.

String algae is the most troublesome. You can remove it by hand or with a tool designed specifically for string algae. You can also rely on a number of different natural and chemical controls. If you inoculate your pond water with beneficial bacteria and add rock salt routinely so that the concentration hovers at around 1.13ppm, string algae shouldn’t be a problem.

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