It’s time to deal with dead or dormant grass

We all like lush, green lawns. September is the perfect time to give your lawn a boost, and, in my case, some form of rebirth for a good showing next year. With the heat and lack of moisture, most of our lawns will have some damage. This rejuvenation can be a simple fall watering plan with a fertilizer application. Overseeding may be needed. Both are easily doable for the average gardener.

How can you tell whether ugly brown grass is dead or just dormant? If you check a few of the individual grass plant crowns – the part just below the soil surface – and they crumble like thin brown paper, then yes, they are dead. If that crown is fairly hard and solid, then your grass is just dormant. A healthy lawn can stay dormant five to eight weeks with as little as 1/4 inch of water every two weeks.

Overseeding the whole lawn or just spot-seeding the damage requires some preparation. The new seed must come into contact with the soil. Just throwing seed on top of thatch or thick grass will yield little. Hand raking the spots is relatively simple. For larger areas, power equipment may be required. Power raking, even verticutting, can damage the existing turf if not done carefully. Core aeration is a much better alternative. This action relieves soil compaction, helps the thatch decompose and improves both moisture and nutrient retention. The little plugs of sod that core aeration leaves on top of your ground will break apart in a week or so.

Blue grass and tall fescue are the most common turf grasses in Kansas. Tall fescue is the best adapted and requires the least water fertilization, and it is available in over 160 cultivars or varieties. Local garden stores only carry a few types. It is best to pick a blend of varieties and a blend mixed locally, as they will most likely follow local research and university recommendations. The label on each bag will show you the seed origin.

The extra cost for good seed is a wise investment. K-31 is the easiest and cheapest to find, but it earns the poorest ratings every year in K-State trials.

Sow seed uniformly. Use 6-8 pounds per 1,000 square feet on large dead areas, and half that to thicken a thin lawn.

Fertilization now will promote good root development before winter and a strong stand come spring. A soluble, nitrogen-rich fertilizer at 1 to 1 1//2 pounds of actual nitrogen (not product) per 1,000 square feet is recommended. A soil test is the best way to determine your soils need, but in lieu of that, this is a safe formula to start with.

Diana Sjogren of the city of Lawrence will present free workshops on lawn fertilization. Presentations and hands-on learning are planned at 5:30 p.m. today, 10 a.m. Saturday and 5:30 p.m. Sept. 14 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, 2110 Harper St. To register, call 832-3006 or send e-mail to

Once planted and fertilized, the area must be kept moist, not wet, until the seed germinates and starts to establish good roots. This germination will take 1-2 weeks and then another 23 weeks for a strong stand. Light watering on a daily basis may be required. Let the new grass grow 3 inches tall before its first mowing.