We lost our summer rather quickly this year. Some folks even lost their gardens to frost over Labor Day. Even though most of our gardening weather is gone, the cooler, damper weather is perfect for renovating that worn and thin lawn.
How do you know if your lawn should be renovated or just ripped out and replaced? Experts say if the area is covered with more than 50 percent weeds or bare soil or the soil has been heavily compact, it’s better to just kill off what’s left and start over. If that is the case, use the fall to get rid of the weeds and plant in the spring.
If the lawn has less than a 20 percent cover of weeds and a little compaction, the best treatment will be to aerate the lawn and then apply a good quality fertilizer blended for a fall application. Fall is actually the most important time to fertilize a lawn so it goes into winter healthy.
Renovation is in order if 20 to 40 percent of the lawn is covered with weeds and the grass is thin or dying. First try to figure out why the lawn is doing poorly. Is it getting more shade than it used to? Are the sprinkler heads plugged, worn out or not set to run long enough? Is the area getting heavier use as a play area or dog run? Taking care of the causes will go a long way to making the renovation successful.
Weeds can be hand-pulled or treated with a broadleaf weed killer. If you use herbicide, wait two to four weeks to let the weeds die and the herbicide to lose its punch. Run a core aerator over the lawn in two directions. Leave the soil plugs but rake them to distribute them evenly. Most lawns here do not need to be thatched.
Select the appropriate seed. If your lawn is now shady use a shade tolerant seed such as a turf-type fescue. For sunny areas choose a bluegrass, ryegrass or fine fescue. Divide the seed into quarters, and mix it with fine sawdust or sand. Broadcast it in the four compass directions to get an even spread. Rake it gently to mix it with the soil plugs and get it into the aeration holes. Roll it gently with a lawn roller. Especially thin spots should have a mulch applied to help retain moisture.
Once the seed is in, plan to hand-water or let sprinklers run two to four times a day to keep the top quarter-inch of soil moist. Once the seed is up, cut back to about three times a week until it’s too cold to run sprinklers. Mow it when it gets to about 3 inches but leave it a little long for the winter to protect the soil and the new roots. Hand-pull any weeds that pop up; the new grass is sensitive to herbicides. In the spring apply a good fertilizer, pull any errant weeds and enjoy your new lawn.