Early September is the perfect time to renovate a tired and worn lawn in our area. The soil is still warm from summer but the temperatures are cooling and fall rains aren’t far off.
The first step is to determine why the lawn went into decline. Was it caused by poor watering practices, landscaping that has grown to shade once sunny areas or heavy use that compacted the soil? Renovating it won’t help if you don’t fix the underlying problems first.
If your lawn is still covered with a reasonable (more than 50 percent) stand of grass, renovating is better than replacing. Start by pulling any weeds by hand to get them out of the way. Using herbicides now may harm new grass seed later. Aerate the entire lawn with a core aerator that can cut three-inch deep plugs. Crisscross the lawn at right angles so that the holes end up about two inches apart. Aerators can be rented or hired, just be sure to clean the machine’s tubes well before using it to minimize the transmission of weeds and diseases from the last lawn it was used on. Avoid thatching your lawn as that can damage already stressed turf.
Once aeration is completed, rake the surface lightly to break up the plugs but don’t remove them. Level any rough areas and add a one-inch layer of good compost over the area. The compost will fill in the aerator holes and work into the soil. Apply a lawn starter fertilizer if needed and water the new seed bed well.
Now for the lawn seed. Traditionally, Kentucky bluegrass in a blend has been the lawn of choice for our area. However it needs full sun and a lot of water to stay looking good all season. A good alternative to bluegrass is a blend with a high percentage of fescue grasses such as red, hard, Chewings and fine fescue. Fescue grasses are more shade and drought tolerant than bluegrass and tend to grow more slowly. The fescues roots can grow a foot down which allows them to access deep moisture in the soil. Seed mixes containing fescues are often labeled as shade mixes at the garden store.
Apply the seed with a handheld or drop spreader set at the proper settings. Make two passes at right angles to each other using half the seed on each pass to get even coverage. Rake the seed lightly to bring it in contact with the soil. Apply palletized straw mulch to the seed bed to help keep moisture in. Finally roll the entire seed bed with a lawn roller to press the seed into the ground.
Water the area lightly twice a day into October or until good, steady rains come. Pull any weeds that come up but don’t use any herbicides. Don’t mow as the longer grass blades will help protect the lawn from winter damage. Try to keep the kids and pets off the lawn.