Garden Views: Tips for reviving and caring for your fall lawn

Does your lawn look sad? Has your grass taken a beating from all the hot dry weather we have had? Or, perhaps, you just could not get excited about the constant watering required to keep it green during the long dry spell, plus the cost of paying for all that water was too scary. Or were you concerned about the environmental wisdom of using all that water just for grass?

Many lawns have an area that the crabgrass or other weeds totally took over this year. With the wet cool spring it was difficult to figure out the timing to apply the crab grass pre-emergent and the weeds seem to have taken full advantage of the opportunity to grow “like weeds”. Good news. You can act now to improve the looks of your lawn next spring and you do not have to devote all you time and money to doing so.

When purchasing grass seed, read the package to learn what you are paying for. Avoid seed with annual ryegrass, it is cheap but is only there for one year. Look for a mix with Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescue and perennial ryegrass. Note whether the mixture is for shady or sunny areas, it does matter.

Fall is a good time to plant grass seed for several reasons. Grass is a cool season crop, it likes cooler weather. During the fall, weeds tend to be much less active and so are not competing with the grass we want to grow. And if we are really lucky, we will get Mother Nature to share some natural sprinkling with us.

Prepare the area you are going to seed by removing what weeds you can and raking with a heavy garden rake to loosen the soil. Using a mower, set low, with the bagger attached may help to catch some of the weed seeds that may be in the area. Then apply the seed you’ve selected and water thoroughly. Burlap material can be used as a cover for the seed and helps retain the moisture. You will need to water daily until seeds germinate, about 10 days. Hope for rain.

With the drought still holding on this fall is probably not the time to do many of the usual lawn care chores. Sam Bauer, University of Minnesota extension educator and lawn specialist, has his advice of what we should and should not do.

Do not:

• Aerate. While aeration is a great fall practice, it places stress on the turfgrass plant and may actually cause the lawn quality to decline.

• Dethatch or vertical mow. This process tears turfgrass leaves and crowns, and should only be conducted when the lawn is healthy.

• Spray herbicides. Systemic and contact herbicides used for weed control are more effective when weeds are actively growing.

• Fertilize with quick release nitrogen. High rates of quick release nitrogen fertilizers can have negative effects on drought-stressed turf. There is also a greater potential for environmental loss of nitrogen when the lawn is not actively growing.

• Mow too often or too low. Raising the mowing height and mowing less frequently will help encourage turfgrass recovery

Do:

• Maintain soil moisture to promote turfgrass recovery.

• Spot seed and fertilize thin and weak areas with a high quality turfgrass seed mixture.

• Fertilize with slow release nitrogen sources and soil test to determine fertilizer requirements of phosphorus and potassium.

Additional information on a variety of topics is available at the University of Minnesota website: http://www.extension.umn.edu/

Jean Kuehn is an Anoka County Master Gardener.

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