This time of year, lawns can get pretty ragged looking. They may have bare spots, or areas where the weeds took over, or be thin in shadier spots.
Fall is a great time to do a little repair and then to help your lawn grow more lush and thick by replanting problem spots or simply “overseeding.”
Think It Through
Before you can solve any problems, you need to figure out why they are occurring. If the problem is foot traffic, instead of trying to plant grass when it’s likely to get beaten bare time and time again, fix the underlying problem. Install path materials instead of grass.
If the problem is too much shade, rather than continuing to replant grass (it’s a full-sun plant, after all), plant shade-loving ground covers or perennials.
And if you’re not sure what the problem is, consider calling out a lawn service for an evaluation and estimate. Even if you decide not to use the service, at least you’ll know exactly what the problem is.
If you have low or uneven spots in your lawn, fill them as needed with high-quality topsoil — available in bags for smaller projects and by the truck full for large projects. Once the lawn is smoothed, replant with grass seed.
If you have just a little unevenness, each spring rake an average of perhaps 1/4- to 1/2-inch of topsoil, or better yet, compost over the grass. This process gradually will fill low spots, and if you use compost, it also will nourish the lawn and improve the soil.
Resolve Disease Issues
The first step is to identify the problem, but lawn problems are tricky. So many seem to manifest themselves as big brown spots.
So if you have large brown patches or other insect or disease problems, it may be time to call in a professional, at least for a diagnosis. Any professional lawn service should be able to tell you what the problem is and give you an estimate on th4 cost to remedy the problem. You could also choose to resolve the problem yourself by going to your local garden center, explaining to a knowledgeable clerk what the problem is, and then following that person’s advice. Sometimes the solution will be cultural (fertilize less or more, mow differently, etc.) and sometimes the solution will be applying a lawn chemical, such as grub or moss killer.
Time it Right
If you’ve ever planted grass seed and been disappointed, a major reason is probably timing. Grass seed won’t germinate if it’s too hot or too cold. Most lawn grasses do best if planted when daytime temperatures are no lower than 60 degrees and no higher than 75.
It takes about two weeks for lawn seed to germinate fully, so check the weather forecast before planting and try to find a two-week window that best conforms to those temperature ranges. This translates into late September and early October in most of Iowa, most years.
Buy The Right Seed
If you have bald or very thin spots in your lawn, use a special lawn patch product — the kind with mulch built right in — to fix it. Follow package directions exactly, being sure to work the soil with a ground rake or other tool to make sure the seed can get good contact with the soil.
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If your lawn is thin overall, try reseeding. First power rake the area (or at least work it over with a ground rake) to turn up soil so the seed can make good contact with the soil. Reseed, following package directions exactly. As you scatter seed, it’s better to put it on too thickly rather than too thinly.
And a side note: Don’t use any grass seed older than 1 year. It will have dramatically — by probably at least 50 percent or more — lost its ability to germinate.
Water, Water, Water
Grass seed dries out easily in just a day or two. It’s critical that you sprinkle any area with grass seed every single day (unless it rains) for the first three weeks. That gives two weeks for the seed to germinate and one week to baby the newly sprouted grass.
It doesn’t have to be a heavy watering — just enough to wet down daily the top quarter inch or so of soil.
Then Cover the Basics.
Moving forward, stay diligent with basic lawn care, such as regular mowing, fertilizing, weed control and watering. It will do wonders for building up your lawn. The grass will grow thicker and better, crowding out weeds and other problems. Often even a problem lawn can be nicely restored with two to three years of consistent, quality care.
l Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener website at Theiowagardener.com