Suffering in These Dog Days?
Tips on Getting Your Lawn Through the Long, Hot Summer
“Dog Days bright and clear Indicate a happy year; But when accompanied by rain, for better times, our hopes are vain. Dog Days are approaching; you must, therefore, make both hay and haste while the sun shines, for when old Sirius takes command of the weather, he is such an unsteady, crazy dog, there is no dependence upon him.” – The Old Farmer’s Almanac, 1817
For years, I thought the Dog Days of Summer were the days that were too hot even for your farmyard dog to be left outside. My childhood Dog Days were when the days were the longest and the heat was the strongest and even those hot Alabama days would cause my dog, Thumper, to seek shelter under our pump house or barn.
Like You, Your Lawn is Stressed
It was also when my Dad, a sod farmer, received the most homeowner calls regarding problems with turfgrass. At this time of year, lawns would get fungi; insects would invade, and even the grass would suffer heat stress reactions. And, it was when Dad had to spend long days and nights on the sod fields making sure quality inspections took place, harvesting turf, and keeping watch over water wells that would run all night to keep the center pivots working. The great thing about the Dog Days of Summer is my job was to use the CB radio to let Dad know that I was bringing his food out to the farm by four-wheeler so that he could work through supper, and I could grab him for a few minutes to tell him about my day. I can even remember his CB handle was #16.
The Origin of Dog Days
Today, I now know that there is a much more scientific definition of the Dog Days of Summer. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, “This period of sweltering weather coincides with the year’s heliacal (meaning “at sunrise”) rising of Sirius, the Dog Star. Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Majoris – the “Greater Dog” – which is where Sirius gets its canine nickname, as well as its official name, Alpha Canis Majoris. Not including our own Sun, Sirius is the brightest star in the sky.” The Old Farmer’s Almanac considers those days to be the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11 which is soon after the Summer Solstice in late June.
The Modern Dog Days
Dad no longer works the long days and sweltering nights – as he has handed that job off to the next generation. The Dog Days of Summer are now handled on the farm much differently with agricultural advances and technology. Should you need to reach anyone in the field, you can now text or call, and dinner can be delivered via delivery services. The things that haven’t changed are the tight quality inspections, around-the-clock harvesting and irrigation, and the surge of homeowner questions and concerns regarding lawn problems.
How to Get Through
So for everyone who is enduring the Dog Days of Summer, here is my advice:
Heat-Specific Watering Techniques
First, make sure you monitor your watering – not too much and not too little. You may find that the rain provides enough nourishment, and you might be able to shut off your sprinkler. If you do need to water, make sure you are only doing it twice per week and in the mornings. Deep and less frequent is the key. You don’t want the water sitting on your grass through the hot, humid nights. This will cause problems.
Be Watchful for Opportunistic Pests
Next, keep an eye out for disease and pests – this can happen slowly or literally, overnight. You may see yellow or bare areas, spots on your grass blades, bite marks, actual insects, etc. Address those problems quickly, as some can wipe out a lawn overnight.
Test Your Soil for pH and Nutrients
Finally, as your lawn sustains heat stress, a great line of defense is to make sure your pH and other nutrients are in balance. If you have not taken your annual soil sample, make sure to do so. If you have, make sure you are feeding your lawn the nutrients it needs to stay nourished throughout these rough Dog Days of Summer.