Lawns take a beating during summer. The longer days, the heat, and the increased use and activity all make it difficult for grass to thrive. Ironically on the flip side, shade can be even more damaging as a lack of sunlight prevents growth and increases moisture which promotes moss. Trees and bushes that create the shade have large root systems that also steal water so there is less for the grass roots.
No matter the injuries, fall is the perfect time to mend, rejuvenate and prepare your lawn to be its best next spring.
Autumn Offers Optimal Growing Conditions
Many of today’s grass varieties simply grow better in cooler weather – daytime temperatures between 60 and 90 degrees is ideal. Watering is easier in lower temperatures. And, herbicides contained in spring fertilizers can harm or inhibit seed germination. By seeding your lawn in the fall, you give it plenty of time to get established and strong so that come the spring growing season, it will be ready to flourish with care.
There are five elements to consider in this process: top dressing, aerating, overseeding, fertilizing and watering.
We all know how important good soil is to growing anything, so giving attention and energy to this part of the repair process reaps great reward:
Mix up some healthy soil (top soil with the right amendments for your type of soil). Depending on the size of your space, you can use a bucket or wheelbarrow. You’ll want enough to add ¼” to ½” soil to your area so consult with your nursery to calculate how much topsoil to purchase.
If it is a smaller area, pile the loose healthy soil on your damaged area then rake it out to spread it evenly. On larger areas, you’ll want to use a spreader.
Compacted soil or soil with lots of clay benefits from aerating, or “punching holes” in your lawn. This process makes it possible for water, oxygen, fertilizers and other nutrients to better penetrate the soil and reach grass roots.
To determine if your lawn needs aerating, dig a square-foot section of grass six inches deep. If the grass roots are 2” deep or less, your lawn needs aerating. (Don’t aerate newly seeded or sodded lawns before they are a year old.)
Make sure your lawn is well-watered before aerating. You can hire this process done, or rent an aerator from your local garden center.
I always thought “overseeding” mean putting more seed than necessary on the lawn to increase your chances of growth…but alas, I humbly discovered it actually means “sowing seed over existing grass!” That also means that before you overseed, you must determine that the existing grass you have is worth keeping. Experts recommend a 50% benchmark: if that much of your existing grass is healthy and plentiful, then overseed. If you have less than 50% of your lawn, then you need to scrap it and start over.
The other thing I learned is that lawns get “old.” If you don’t continually bring in new grass to your yard, your grass will get old and have a harder time thriving. This is another reason to overseed.
Selecting Grass Seed – There are so many new varieties with characteristics such as drought resistance or insect resistance. Also consider how you will use your lawn as there is a spectrum ranging from low maintenance (high use) to intense maintenance (aesthetic use).
Choosing the Right Amount – A recommended rate for this process is 4-5 pounds of new grass seed for every 1,000 feed of ground you want to cover. It is best to use a spreader (definitely worth the investment) and don’t forget to put it on the “overseed” setting.
Until the root system develops, the little seedlings can use all the help they can get. By applying a starter fertilizer, you will make nutrients easily available to the little guys. The main ingredient, phosphorus, will promote root growth.
Last but not least, I cannot over stress the importance of proper watering. You can go to all the work and expense of preparing the soil, aerating, overseeding and fertilizing, and then blow it by not watering enough. Here’s why it is so essential: the water must get down to the soil beneath the seeds in order to draw the roots down to the water. If water remains on the surface, the roots don’t grow deep enough to create strong grass.
So here’s the challenge: you need to apply a lot of water to soak the soil yet do it gently enough so that it doesn’t cause the seeds to float away. Find a high-volume, gentle sprayer or sprinkler and water two times a day until your new growth is well established.
Your lawn has been good to you all summer by providing a place for fun and enjoyment, now it is time for you to be good to your lawn. Repair and rejuvenate your grass this fall and reap the benefits next spring!