Summer’s end is often a welcome time for many, especially if you enjoy gardening and working on your home landscape. The cooler post-summer weather is just what many of us need to become re-inspired and head back out into our yards.
Early to mid-fall is a great time to take on the important job of renovating cool-season lawns. The soil is still warm and yet the air is cool; the perfect combination for grass seeds to germinate and turf to take root quickly.
The question often arises on whether to work with an existing yet run down lawn, or simply start from scratch. My guideline is if the lawn is still 50% intact, work with it by renovating. Otherwise, starting over or replacing the existing lawn usually achieves the best long-term results.
If starting over is the best option for you, then your new seed or sod will have the best chance of establishing if you start with a clean soil surface. You have two options. The first is to till up the existing vegetation. This is my option of choice since it doesn’t involve any chemicals. However, you should know this is labor intensive since you’ll need to remove all the loosened debris before applying new seed or sod. Also by tilling, millions of dormant weed seeds are also going to come to the surface. Many will germinate. Consequently, you’ll need to make another pass with the tiller about two weeks after the first (allowing time for new weed seeds to germinate). Rake the surface clean to remove the debris and smooth out the area. Then you can apply the seed or sod.
Option two is to spray the lawn with a non-selective herbicide in early fall. There are organic and non-organic options for this. I’m not a fan of either. The natural option is to use a horticultural vinegar (acetic acid) at 20% concentration. Two things you need to know here: first, it’s deadly to small creatures like frogs, lizards and other similar creatures. Which is why I don’t like this option personally. The other option is a synthetic herbicide which I also don’t advocate. The most recognized option is Roundup which includes the active ingredient of glyphosate, and other inert ingredients which aren’t listed by name. Personally, I won’t use Roundup since I don’t knowingly support Monsanto, the company that makes it. However, I recognize not everyone shares my position. If you still feel the need to use a synthetic, non-selective herbicide product, generic glyphosate products are available for half the price. The label on the product list the active ingredients. If you choose this option, more is not better. Use sparingly and mix according to instructions. Be sure to only spray when it is very calm to avoid the adverse consequences of chemical drift. About 10 days after spraying, begin the makeover process.
Prepare the soil to readily accept the seeds or sod by making it loose. For renovations, rent a “core aerator”. It’s the most practical tool for preparing the soil. This device extracts cores from the soil and allows for better aeration, compaction relief and improved drainage.
In either case, this is also the best time to improve the soil by adding or incorporating amendments such as compost, leaf mold, manure, and lime. The best way to know what nutrients to add is to refer to a soil test that you can get through your county extension service. It also provides important information regarding the soil pH level and instructions for bringing it into optimal levels.
Next, add seed or sod, depending on the level of makeover you’ve chosen. For seed, apply it at the rate suggested on the bag. Use a criss-cross pattern with the spreader to ensure adequate coverage. For sod, lay it down in rows, alternating the seams from row to row. For either case, a rented water-filled barrel roller is a good tool for making sure the seeds or turf has good contact with the soil. Last, keep the seed or sod moist until it is established, usually with several light waterings throughout the day. After your new lawn is established, it should receive about one inch of water per week in the absence of rain.
A lush, healthy cool season lawn is a joy to see year round and especially in months when not much else is growing. A few important steps taken now will make your lawn the envy of the neighborhood and make your spring lawn care even easier.