Many gardeners consider fall the best time of the year. Warm days and cool nights help rejuvenate an otherwise lackluster landscape. However, sparse rains and late season heat have left many homeowners asking, "Is my lawn still alive?" A logical question as once lush green grass looks brown and dead.
Luckily, fall is the best time of year to overseed and renovate your lawn. Here are some helpful tips to get your fall lawn care program off to a good start.
Begin by determining how much damage has been done to your lawn. Many cool season grasses go dormant in late summer because of heat and drought. Lawns with automatic sprinkler systems are usually able to maintain their color with regular watering, but many homeowners do not enjoy that luxury.
To check if your grass is dead or just dormant, pull up an individual plant and separate the leaves from the crown. (The crown is the area between the leaves and the roots.) If it is firm and green, not papery and dry, the plant is still alive. If it is brown and dry, that plant is dead and overseeding is a must.
Once you have determined how much renovation work is required, the next step is to prepare the seed bed. If large areas need overseeding, the best option is to completely till the area. Do not remove dead material first as it adds organic matter to the soil once it is turned under.
Similarly, if the grass is gone and only weeds are growing, spray Roundup first and then till after the weeds have died. Use caution, as Roundup will kill both desirable and undesirable plants in the landscape.
For less drastic jobs, use either a verticutter or a core aerator. Both are designed to loosen the soil and allow seed, water and oxygen to penetrate. And both can be used the day you are ready to overseed.
However, pay attention to soil moisture. Because the ground is so dry, they may not work well. You should water the lawn the day before you plan on using either of these two machines.
Next, spread the seed. You can either use a drop or a rotary type fertilizer spreader. Be careful to avoid flowerbeds and other areas you do not wish grass to grow. Anywhere a seed falls becomes a potential place for a grass plant to grow.
Overseed using fresh, weed-free seed. Apply it at the rate of five to eight pounds per every 1,000 square feet. For areas that have been tilled completely, seed at the rate of eight to ten pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet.
Finish up with spreading a starter-type fertilizer and then watering it all in. Try to keep the bed moist as the seeds will die if allowed to dry out. Once the grass has grown three to four inches, begin mowing and back off on the water.
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.