Despite the fact that most of us are already tired of taking care of our lawns for the year, on Monday we entered the peak of cool-season lawn renovation. Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 is the short window that researchers say will get you the most results for your money in this region, when it comes to lawn care, at least.
Many of the callers to the garden hot line want to know just what they really need to do to get their yard looking good for next year. The most important thing to know is that proper mowing, watering and fertilizing throughout the year will far outweigh anything you do now. Fall renovation is important for a healthy lawn, but good maintenance is really the key.
Those important, all-year round keys to maintenance:
¢ Mow high - 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 for fescue lawns.
¢ Water early in the morning and infrequently. (Less disease, better root systems, less thatch.)
Fertilize in September and November and in May only if your lawn is irrigated. (Early spring fertilizers encourage heavy topgrowth, making the grass less drought-tolerant, and summer fertilizations easily burn the turf.)
If you are doing those things, your lawn should already be looking good. Still, I like to check the depth of the thatch layer every year and core aerate to relieve compaction. Just walking on and driving a mower over the lawn will compact the soil over time. Here's the scoop on the rest of the fall season turf renovation:
Core aeration: Done with a machine that has hollow tines that pull up plugs of soil. Relieves soil compaction and helps to control buildup of thatch (speeds degradation). This is a good thing to do every year, or at a minimum every other year. Machines can be rented or hired. A core aerator should be run over the entire yard at least twice, in 2 different directions.
Power rake/verticutter/slit-seeder: Vertical blades on the machine cut shallow grooves in the soil surface and pull thatch out. Thatch is the layer of stems, roots, etc., between the grass and the soil surface. To check for thatch, cut a little vertical slice out of the soil and examine the layer between the leaf blades and the soil. Up to one-half inch of thatch is healthy, but more than that can prevent water and nutrients from reaching the roots. After use, the thatch that is pulled out needs to raked up and removed before seeding and fertilizing. Power rakes, verticutters and slit-seeders can also be rented or hired. Slit-seeders have a seeder on the back, which saves one step.
Seeding: Work to get good seed-to-soil contact if you want good germination from your seed. The aforementioned machines make nice seed beds. To fill in bare spots, either till the area and rake it smooth, or use a garden rake to rough up the soil surface. Use good quality seed. Overseed the entire lawn if it is thin or seed only the bare/thin patches. You should apply the seed at 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet if overseeding or 6-8 pounds per 1,000 square feet if for bare spots. Too-heavily seeded areas will choke themselves out as they grow.
Fertilizing: The best way to find out what fertilizer your lawn needs is to have a soil test through the Douglas County Extension office (tests are free right now). If you only fertilize once a year, do it this month. A second application in November is also beneficial. Never apply more than 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet to established turf. That means math and it is important. There is a publication at the Extension office called "The Rookie's Guide to Fertilizing" that can greatly help with the calculations - call us at 843-7058 or stop by the office at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds to pick one up.