The hot summer sun and less-than-normal rainfall have left many lawns in dire need of repair. Luckily, fall is traditionally the ideal time to renovate cool season lawns such as fescue, Bluegrass, and ryegrass. The mild night temperatures and timely rains create the ideal growing condition. Seeds germinate quickly and establish root systems well before the winter chill sets in. So if your lawn needs major attention, or there are bare spots to fill, here are a few tips to help you do the job right.
When renovating the home lawn, there are many different cool season turfgrass species to choose from. However, the best varieties for the Lawrence area can be whittled down to just one: turf-type tall fescue. It is the best adapted grass for a year-round lawn. Although K-31 has been planted for many years, the newer turf-type cultivars far surpass it in quality and desirability. Turf-type tall fescues are more dense, finer-textured, darker green and not as prone to "clumping" as is the K-31.
Choosing seed can be confusing and sometimes frustrating. Keep in mind though, that a small investment in time and money up front will pay big dividends in the quality of the turfgrass to come.
The current K-State variety recommendations come from the most recent national tall fescue trial. This trial included the newest varieties, some holdovers from the 1992 trial and some old standards such as K-31 for comparative purposes. Based on performance in Kansas, the top varieties from this past year included Airlie, Arid 3, Bonsai 2000, Bravo, Durana, Dynasty, Falcon 2, Glen Eagle, Jaguar 3, Masterpiece, Millennium, Mustang II, Plantation, Rembrandt, Scorpio, Shenandoah II, Southern Choice, TF 66 and Watchdog.
Regardless of the specific variety you choose, it is better to purchase or create a blend of multiple varieties to minimize your risk of failure and increase the health of the turf. Blending three or four varieties together is okay because growth differences among the turf-type cultivars are often subtle.
However, their disease and insect resistance vary greatly. Likewise, there is a tremendous difference between the turf-types and K-31. While K-31 seed is popular for its price and availability, seedlots have been historically contaminated with the perennial weed orchardgrass, that cannot be selectively removed from tall fescue. Additionally, K-31 seed production has been impaired by drought this year so selection of a turf-type tall fescue is highly recommended.
Fall seeding greatly increases your chances of success when establishing a cool season turf. Likewise, purchasing high-quality seed at a premium price will reward you with a healthy, weed-free lawn. Keep in mind, though, proper seed bed preparation, seeding rate, and keeping the seeds moist as they germinate are also important these first few weeks. So, if you are like me and having to re-plant your lawn, good luck and let's all hope for rain.
Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.