Welcome to the Dog Days of Summer

For years I thought the Dog Days of Summer were the days that were too hot
even for your farm yard 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. It was also when my Dad, a sod farmer, received the most
homeowner calls regarding problems with turf grass. At this time of year, lawns
would get funguses; 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.

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 Dog Days of Summer are now handled on the farm much differently
with agriculture advances and technologies. Dad no longer works the long days
and sweltering nights – as he has handed that job off to the next generation.
Should you need to reach anyone in the field, you can now text or call who you
need with your smartphone, and dinner can be delivered via all kinds of delivery
services. Fortunately, those CB radios have long since been retired. 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.

For those who appreciate a good old wive’s tale, or better yet a farmer’s instinct
for weather conditions, enjoy this Dog Day Folklore and a great summary quote
to wrap up the Dog Days of Summer definition.

“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

So for everyone who is enduring the Dog Days of Summer, here is my advice:

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. 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. Finally, as your lawn sustains the 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 the rough Dog Days of Summer.