Summer Lawn Care: Fertilizing for a Healthy Yard

By: Ken Wilson

If your lawn has frizzled in the summer heat, you might wonder if you can fertilize it back to health. Fertilizing is one of the top three things (along with watering and mowing) you can do for thick, green grass. But you’ll only get the results you want if you apply it to the right grass at the right time.

Fertilize warm-season lawn grass in the early and late summer for a deep green color, strength, and healthy growth. Avoid this care practice when temperatures peak in July and during drought periods. Use a product with slow-release nitrogen to reduce the risk of fertilizer burn.

Summer fertilizing can make your lawn look its best for your BBQs and ball games. However, your timing must be spot-on, or you’ll stress your grass instead of refreshing it. Here are must-know fertilizing rules for the summertime.

3 Rules for Fertilizing Lawns in Summer

A dose of fertilizer in the hot months can do wonders. It can make grass vivid green, bounce back quickly after wear and tear, and be more likely to fight off weeds, diseases, and pests. It’s also good for your pocket because a well-nourished lawn isn’t as thirsty.

The catch is that not all types of grass respond well to this maintenance practice during the sunniest season. And your choice of product and timing strongly influence your results.

Here’s what to know for grass so lush you’ll want to feel it under your bare feet.

Rule 1: Match Your Lawn’s Life Cycle

Think of when your lawn grows the fastest. If it shoots up in summer, it’s warm-season grass. Suppose its growth spurt is in spring and fall. Then it’s a cool-season variety.

The best time to apply fertilizer is when your grass is growing well. So, only warm-season grass should get a dose in summer. (Save this practice for the fall for cool season grass.) When experiencing a growth flush, grass sucks up the nutrients you feed, stopping them from being wasted and polluting the environment.

Not sure which grass is which? Check this table for common warm- and cool-season varieties:

Cool-season Grasses

  • Bermuda
  • Buffalo
  • Kikuyu
  • Seashore paspalum
  • St Augustine
  • Zoysia
  • Centipede
  • Bahia
  • Carpet

Warm-season Grasses

  • Annual rye
  • Colonial bent
  • Creeping bent
  • Hard fescue
  • Kentucky blue
  • Perennial blue
  • Red fescue
  • Rough blue
  • Tall fescue

Rule 2: Get The Timing Just Right

Summer is the ideal season to dish out the nutrients to warm-season grass, but any day won’t do. You must avoid the scorchers; you risk stressing and burning your lawn if you fertilize it during intense heat. So save this practice for early or late in the season (June and August).

Periods of drought are also the wrong time, as this is when grass takes strain and becomes dormant.

Watch out for these signs your grass is struggling:

  • Wilting
  • Darkening color
  • Footprints left in the grass

Keep the nutrient boost for when the drought is over, and your grass comes back to life. Help your lawn hold on until then by following these care tips for dry days.

Rule 3: Know what Fertilizer to Use in Summer

Nitrogen is the hero nutrient to supplement lawns. It encourages growth, fullness, strength, and color intensity.

But you need a special form of this nutrient in the summertime. Use a product containing slow-release nitrogen. These are best for the sunny season because they drop the risk of burning (although they’re slower to turn grass deep green and make it grow than products with water-soluble nitrogen).

These are some common sources of slow-release nitrogen:

  • Methylene ureas (Nitroform and Nutralene)
  • Polymer-coated SCU (PCSCU)
  • Polymer-coated urea (PCU)
  • Sulfur-coated urea (SCU)
  • Organic matter (dried poultry waste, feather meal, and dried blood)

Another reason slow-release nitrogen works so well in summer is because the warm weather helps bacteria and fungi in the soil work faster to break down the nutrient so grass can use it.

Tip: Let your grass clippings stay on the lawn after mowing to make the fertilizer effects last longer. The clippings will return nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil as they break down. Keep the clippings at most an inch long to prevent smothering your grass.

More Ways To Summer-Proof Your Lawn

Here’s how to ensure your other lawn care practices support your fertilizing efforts.

1. Watering Lawns in the Summertime

Overwatering increases the risk of fertilizer runoff, which isn’t only wasteful but also an environmental threat. Underwatering can make grass go dormant, messing with nutrient uptake. Get the balance right by turning off the tap just as water starts running off the lawn.

Summer fertilizing can make your lawn look its best for your BBQs and ball games. However, your timing must be spot-on, or you’ll stress your grass instead of refreshing it. Here are must-know fertilizing rules for the summertime.

Set your alarm clock because the best time to give your grass a drink is around sunrise. There’s less chance of evaporation in the early hours. Another good time to water is in the afternoon. However, avoid setting your sprinklers or uncoiling your hose at night to protect against fungal diseases.

Tip: Core aeration can help water flow deeper into the soil.

2. Mowing Lawns in the Summertime

Keep your grass longer when it’s hot – about 2 to 3 inches. This length shades the soil and helps retain moisture. Longer grass has the added benefit of being more effective at fighting off weeds and less bothered by grubs. Plus, it can make more food for growth.

Mow frequently enough that you never need to remove more than a third of the blade length at a time. Cutting more stresses the grass, stunts its growth, and puts it in danger of weed attacks, diseases, and thatch build-up.

Tip: Sharpen your mower’s blades when blunt because a clean cut helps grass hold on to water. A sure sign you need sharper blades is when grass tips look shredded or torn instead of cut after mowing.

Final Thoughts

Fertilize your warm-season grass with slow-release nitrogen in the early or late summer to help it grow dense, intense green, and luxuriant.

Schedule this maintenance essential for the peak growing period, then water and mow as needed, and you’ll have a healthy, beautiful lawn to make outdoor activities all the more enjoyable.

About the author 

Ken Wilson

Long time career in the home services industry from remodeling to patio construction. Currently residing to in SWFL and active contributor to multiple home & garden publications.