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Late summer is the time to prepare for next year’s lawn

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By Kristopher Fante

Agriculture Columnist

The summer months have bolted by so quickly, and many of us are looking out our front door and seeing a yard of crabgrass, warm season weeds, dead areas and a mixture of spotty brown and green grass. You may be wondering when it’s the best time to resolve these issues. Most of us will tell ourselves “fall is right around the corner, I’ll work on it in the spring,” but that’s the exact opposite of what you need to do.

It’s very easy to procrastinate this task or just ignore it, especially with football season and all the fun festivities that we partake in during the wonderful autumn season.

We still have a little more time before September, so make that one last push to overhaul your lawn now and it will pay dividends come next spring.

Fall is the absolute best time to repair or redo your entire lawn. Unlike spring, you don’t have to deal with the weed competition, as all warm season weeds will start to decline once fall brings the early frost. The threat of extreme hot temperatures that we may have during the summer following a spring application of new grass seed can easily kill young seedlings, so that’s another reason late summer into fall is ideal. The warm temps during the day followed by cooler temps at night make the grass seed germination process very easy. The soil remains warm, but the cool air above the soil makes it the perfect time to establish cool season grass seedlings.

One mistake that many homeowners make is they wait too late in the fall season to start sowing grass seed. The fall season for growing a new lawn actually starts in the late summer.

The last week of August is the prime time to get your seed down. We are still getting some consistent rain in the late summer and this will aid in getting the seed to germinate quickly. Once September starts, the dry season begins and fall is our season with the least amount of rainfall.

You really don’t want to extend beyond the second week of September on starting a new lawn from seed. The lack of moisture and the unknown of when the really cold weather will move in just makes it a risky investment of both time and money. I’m not saying it can’t be achieved, as the last few fall seasons have remained warm until early November, but they both were very dry, as well. Go ahead and knock this out in the late summer, and you can spend autumn enjoying bonfires and fall festivals.

As for knowing whether to over-seed or start over completely; the general rule states if you have 50 percent or more of actual grass, you can just apply seed. If you’re way below that, it’s probably best to have someone remove all the weeds and the top layer of soil with a tractor and bring in an inch or so of clean weed-free soil.

You can also go the route of applying an all-purpose weed and grass killer in late July to early August, then you can till up your soil and apply seed and straw after the weed killer has run its course.

If you are just applying seed over an existing lawn, make sure you use a power seeder. This is way more effective than just broadcasting seed over the dirt. When you use the method of broadcasting, you have to contend with birds eating your seed, wind blowing your seed around and, if we get monsoon-like rains, the seed can wash away or create piles of seeds, and that’s not what you want.

I highly recommend renting a power seeder or just paying someone to do it. Anytime I’ve used a power seeder, I’ve had a fantastic germination rate and it’s really worth the small rental fee. Broadcasting doesn’t achieve the seed to soil contact that is a must for germination to take place.

Furthermore, don’t skimp on a quality fescue. Purchase a turf type fescue such as Rebel fescue, not a Ky.-31 tall fescue. If the bag says it’s a turf type, you should be good. Look on the back of the bag and read the information on the type of grass seed it contains. Straight Ky.-31 is for farms and fields, not a residential lawn. A turf type will have finer blades and will also give you a dark green thick lawn, not a tall scraggly lawn. You will probably pay twice the price, but you get what you pay for when it comes to a quality lawn seed.

Being fall is the optimum time for getting a lawn established, don’t forget that keeping the ground consistently moist is very important.

I’ve seen it too many times; homeowners pay a lot of money and have a contractor come out and power seed or redo the lawn entirely, but they never drag out the water hose. The next thing you know, Halloween is here and the grass seed never germinated. Not only have you thrown your hard-earned money out the door, you just lost another year of optimal grass growing time.

What I have found that works best for me regarding the chore of watering new seed is to start around 6 p.m. and turn on the sprinkler in one area, then move it every 30 minutes or so. Continue this until dark, then do it again the next day and so on. I would have one going in the front and one in the back. The morning is also ideal, but if you work during the day, evenings are just as good. Normally you don’t consistently water a lawn in the evening hours because you are promoting disease, but since it’s temporary, there shouldn’t be any problems. Between your water hose and hopefully some rain and cooler temperatures, you’ll have new seedlings coming up in no time.

Once your seedlings reach around an inch or two in height, apply a lawn starter fertilizer and water that in. That will help your new seedlings produce a good root system and help prepare for the cold winter ahead. Don’t apply a regular lawn fertilizer, like a 10-10-10 or a weed and feed. New seedlings are tender and can get burned easily from a strong fertilizer. Also, minimize the foot traffic on the seedlings, as they are easily damaged. Be mindful and only walk through the lawn for maintenance reasons.

So as summer winds down and going to the pool or the lake will all be behind us soon, take a little of your remaining summer and get your grass seed applied at the optimal time. So when spring arrives, you will be ready to pull out the mower and cut your beautiful new lawn while some of your neighbors will be looking at theirs and wondering why your yard looks so nice and theirs not so much.

Then you can tell them, “You should have applied seed at the end of summer!”