A Beautiful Spring Green Lawn
Dreaming of greener grass? Longing for relaxing summer evenings in the hammock with a glass of lemonade and full view of a beautifully manicured lawn? You’re not alone. A crossword puzzle I worked recently gave the clue, “suburbanite’s pride.” The answer was an obvious little 4-letter word: “lawn.” All of us though, whether we live in the suburbs or out on a rolling country road, take great pride in a beautiful lawn. It becomes the centerpiece of summer gatherings and the favorite spot for good family times.
Spring and fall are the best times to take a good look at your lawn and do the work necessary to ensure it will be its best come next spring and summer. All lawn maintenance activities are best done in the late summer and early fall. This includes sowing a new lawn, fertilizing, repairing, and reseeding. Here are some tips for fall lawn care that will let you enter winter carefree and anticipate the greener grass of summer.
First, determine the status of your lawn right now. Is it (1) already healthy and green with little need of repair; (2) basically in good shape with just a few spots that need some work; or (3) in need of total restoration so that you feel like you need to start from scratch?
A healthy lawn is free of weeds and disease, free of brown and dry spots, has little or no thatch, and doesn’t have you sending the kids out everyday to pick the dandelions. (Thatch, by the way, is a term that means that layer of dense, tangled up grass roots and dead organic material in your lawn’s root zone. It’s bad, and you don’t want it.)
A lawn that does have some bad spots but is basically more than 50 percent good can be restored to perfection with some work. A lawn that has more than 50 percent of it covered with weeds, dry spots, or diseased areas should be totally reworked and begun from scratch.
Once you decide which category you lawn falls into, you are ready to get to work. Even the perfect lawn needs some work this time of year to ensure it will stay that way. The perfect lawn should be fertilized now and again in the spring. Choose an organic fertilizer free of harsh chemical salts. Avoid anything that says “fast acting.” You don’t need fast acting; there’s plenty of time to get the job done, and those fast acting chemicals just kill the earthworms and get to the water supply. Fertilizing in the fall prepares the lawn for winter by inviting strong vigorous growth to build the root system and store energy. Your grass will overwinter better and be ready to face the stress of summer heat if fertilized and strengthened now.
It is very important to not overfertilize. Too much nitrogen is especially harmful to your lawn. Grass will do something called “luxury consumption” when it comes to nitrogen. That means it will just keep on consuming nitrogen if it’s available. The result is too rapid growth and increased susceptibility to disease. Use a slow release organic fertilizer and apply only twice a year according to its directions or at the recommended rate of a soil test.
The perfect lawn should also be treated now for pest control. Many common lawn weeds such as dandelions germinate in the fall when the weather turns cooler. Check your garden supply store for a pre-emergence weed killer and apply according to its directions.
Also, check the “perfect” lawn now for thatch. You should be able to stick your fingers between the clumps of grass. You should also be able to feel the soil when you push your finger through the grass. If all you feel instead is a tangle or roots and matted organic material, you probably have thatch. Thatch keeps your lawn from properly utilizing water, provides habitat for nasty lawn pests, and prevents nutrients from cycling between your grass and the soil.
Early fall is the best time to de-thatch. You can rent a power dethatcher from garden supply centers. After you dethatch, fertilize and water the lawn well. It should recover in about 6 weeks.
The not-so-perfect lawn should also be fertilized and treated for pest control during the fall. Now is a good time to get a soil test done if you haven’t had one in several years. Contact your local extension service about soil testing and follow their recommendations. Brown spots in the lawn can be a result of thatch, overzealous mowing, compacted soil, or lack of water and nutrients. Check for thatch and remove if necessary as described above. Also, make sure that you are mowing at the correct blade height. Most lawn grasses should only be cut by 1/3 of their blade height. If you are cutting shorter than that, you could be damaging the roots and stolons.
If your soil is heavy or seems compacted, it’s a good idea to aerate the lawn now. (A good indicator of a compacted soil is poor water drainage.) A garden aerator can be rented or you can hire a professional to do the job. After aerating, add a topdressing of sand or ground compost. This helps the roots and improves the soil quality.
Now is also the time to take stock of your watering habits. Lawns should be watered in the early morning so grass can dry before sundown; otherwise the wet grass becomes an invitation to disease overnight. Also, be sure to water infrequently and deeply as opposed to very often shallow waterings. Shallow waterings discourage root development and keep the roots from getting down in the soil to where the nutrients are.
To repair bare spots, remove any dead grass and rake some compost into the soil. Then sow new seed.
If you need to start from scratch, be sure to start in time. You will need about 1 and 1/2 months before the first frost. Start by tilling your old lawn. Till up everything–grasses, weeds, all of it. Then fertilize with a good organic fertilizer as described above. If you have a heavy soil, you can also add compost or manure at this time to improve soil tilth. Then, smooth out the area and fill in any low spots. Go over the area with a rake to remove any stones or debris.
Purchase high quality grass seed. Be sure to read the label. Grass seed should have a guaranteed germination rate of at least 75 to 85 percent and it should be less than 0.05 percent weeds by content.
Using a rotary spreader, spread the grass seed over your lawn area. Then cover with weed-free straw. Be sure that you get even distribution of the seed. It’s a good idea to sow half the seed in one direction, then the other half in right angles to the first. Water thoroughly and make sure the seeds receive constant moisture until established.
Then sit back and relax. Your lawn is ready for winter and will bring lots of satisfaction at the coming of spring.