The last summer holiday has come and gone. Now it is time to turn our attention to fall and all of the great gardening opportunities it has to offer. Warm rains and cool nights make this the ideal time of year to renovate our lawns. Summer heat and drought have taken their tool on cool season grasses such as fescue, bluegrass and ryegrass.
So, if your yard is in need of major attention, or there are just a few bare spots that have to be filled, here are some tips to help get you up and growing this fall.
For home lawns, there are many different cool season turfgrass species to choose from. However, for the Lawrence area the choice can be whittled down to just one: turf-type tall fescues. They are the best-adapted grasses for a year-round lawn. Turf-type tall fescues are more dense, finer-textured, darker green and not as prone to "clumping" as is the old standard K-31. K-31 may still be a good choice for large, open acreage. However, the new cultivars will give better performance for those who desire a high-quality turf in a smaller residential lawn. Regardless of the specific variety you choose, it is better to purchase or create a blend of multiple varieties to minimize risk of failure and increase turf health. It is not necessary for mixes to contain only the varieties mentioned below as there are many varieties commercially available that are proven winners.
Never the less, each year K-State rates some 160 tall fescue varieties for color, greenup, quality and texture at their research center just outside Wichita. Quality ratings are taken once a month from March through October. K-31 consistently rates near the bottom.
The highest-rated named cultivars from last year's ratings were Apache III, Constitution, Riverside, Cayenne, Pure Gold, Turbo, Blade Runner, Bingo, Finesse II, Forte, Padre, Regiment II, Scorpion, Silverado II, Coshise III, Grande II, Raptor, 2nd Millennium, Finelawn Elite, Legitimate and Tahoe. Each of these varieties averaged a rating of at least 4.8 on a scale of 0-9, with 9 being optimum quality.
Keep these in mind to ensure success: Apply 6 to 8 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet for new areas and about half as much for overseeding existing lawns. Using too much seed results in a lawn more prone to disease and damage from stress. Using too little seed can result in clumpy turf that is not visually pleasing. Apply the seed evenly by adjusting the seed spreader to a low setting and making several passes over the lawn. Seeding a little on the heavy side with close overlapping is better than missing areas altogether, especially for the bunch-type tall fescue, which does not spread.
Following seed dispersal, establish good seed to soil contact by hand raking, power raking, core aerating, or watering. Water is the most risky because if applied in excess, it may wash seeds away and not water them in. Once wet, the soil should be kept constantly moist but not waterlogged. You may need to water three times a day during hot days. Cool, calm days may require watering only once every couple of days. As the grass plants emerge, gradually decrease watering to once a week. Let the plants tell you when to water. If you can push the blades down and they do not spring back up quickly, the lawn needs water.
To learn more about home lawn care, join Extension Master Gardeners and myself as we host the Fall Garden Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Douglas County Extension Office on the 4-H Fairgrounds.