Warm, wet weather keeps Iowa grass growing, mowers moving

'Water grass' thriving at time lawns typically slow down

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At a time when grass typically goes dormant, providing relief from regular mowing, Eastern Iowans are scrambling to keep up with their rapidly growing lawns and cussing what most of them call “water grass,” which is clogging their mowers and leaving unsightly windrows behind.

“It’s ridiculous. We’ve had no down time from mowing at all this summer,” said Daniel Gibbins, superintendent of the Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation Department.

During a normal August, city workers would be mowing every eight to 10 days, he said, rather than the five- to seven-day cycle they have maintained throughout this growing season.

With more than 1,500 acres to mow in parks, along right-of-ways and in lots acquired by the city after the 2008 flood, the city is spending considerably more for gasoline and labor than it would in a normal summer, Gibbins said.

On the flip side, though, the flourishing late-summer lawns are “absolutely good for business — both sales and service,” said Michael Bauer, a sales representative for Midway Outdoor Equipment in Hiawatha.

“The grass keeps growing and people keep mowing, every four days, just like in May,” he said.

The lack of a typical mid- to late-summer dry spell is “keeping my guys busy mowing,” said Kipp Evans, owner of G & K Lawn Services in Marion

Most lawns are growing 2 inches to 4 inches a week, added Chad Rawson, owner of Simply Green Lawn & Tree Care of Cedar Rapids,

Warm days combined with ample moisture have provided “perfect growing conditions” for warm-season grasses such as crab grass, foxtail and yellow nutsedge, Rawson said.

July, with a statewide average of 6.13 inches of rain — 1.63 inches above normal — was the 16th wettest July in 144 years, according to State Climatologist Harry Hillaker, who said rainfall for the first part of August also has been well above normal.

Some lawns, Rawson said, have gotten out of hand, requiring double-cut mowing or bagging of the clippings to eliminate “the windrow effect” of dense strips of clippings across the top of the lawn.

Teresa Kress of Quasqueton, whose lawn typically takes her six hours to mow, said she not only has to do it much more frequently this year but she also has to spend more time cleaning up clumps of grass from her lawn and from the deck of her mower.

“I like taking care of my lawn, but this is getting to be a bit much,” she said.

Tim Stanford of Quasqueton, who volunteers to mow the lawns every Thursday at Cedar Rock State Park, said the entire season has been a challenge.

“I’ve never seen so many clumps of grass. The sound of the engine tells me when I have to slow down and let the mower spit them out,” he said.

Crab grass, a warm season grass that typically invades lawns in late summer, is the most common of the weeds people often call “water grass,” according to ISU Extension horticulturalist Richard Jauron.

“It’s in its heyday right now in mid-August,” he said.

Jauron said he presumes water grass derives its nickname from its tendency to dry out much later in the day than blue grass and other desirable cool season grasses.

ISU Extension weed specialist Robert Hartzler said its thick blades and dense stands limit air circulation, enabling it to retain moisture from rain and dew.

Hartzler said water grass is a generic term for weedy grasses that invade lawns.

“They are better adapted than turf grass for the warm wet conditions prevailing this year, which enables them to out-compete turf grass,” he said.

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