September Turf Tips
by
K. Marc Teffeau

 

 

The hot summer temperatures and the dry August heat has taken a toll on area lawns. So, whether you are looking at renovating, re-establishing or planting a new lawn, September is the time to do it. The lawn-seeding window in our area is August 15th through October 15th, with the best time found in September.
It is difficult to maintain a nice turf area on the Eastern Shore as we are in the “twilight zone” for turf grasses. It generally gets too hot here for cool-season grasses like bluegrass, and too cold for warm-season turfs like Zoysia.
So what is a turf aficionado to do? First, lower your expectations. If you moved here from above the Mason-Dixon line you will not be able to maintain a bluegrass lawn unless you have a golf course budget – and even then there is the environmental impact question of whether it is worth the effort. Second, in a word – turf-type tall fescues. We will talk about that grass species in a minute.
There are three reasons why the early fall is the best time for putting down grass seed to patch bare spots, re-seeding the entire lawn and feeding the turf. Summer’s heat is abating and the coming warm days and cool nights are just right to stimulate the germination and growth of your grass plants. In addition, we get the fall rains after the summer dry spell to help with the germination process.
The second reason for fall seeding is that weed competition is starting to lessen. Many of our weed problems in turf are annual weeds such as crabgrass. At this time of year they are completing their life cycle and going to seed.
Finally, the third reason is that grass seed spread now will sprout soon enough to provide lawn enjoyment this fall, and next spring the new seedlings will have a head start against the weeds.
Before you decide whether to spot seed to fill in bare areas or to start all over from scratch, take a close look at your present lawn. Why does it look the way it does? Has it suffered or failed because of poor drainage, too much shade, seeding the wrong grass types, or incorrect soil pH? Was it damaged by insects such as chinch bugs, Japanese beetle grubs, sod webworms or a disease problem like brown patch? Are the weeds present because of improper mowing or fertilizing at the wrong time of year? You need to determine why the turf looks so poorly and then develop a plan of action to improve it.
If the lawn looks pretty good with a minor broadleaf like dandelion weed problem, then spot treat the turf with a broadleaf grass herbicide. Annual grasses like crabgrasses cannot be controlled now. Wait until next spring to deal with the crabgrass.
If the turf is off color and looks hungry, then feed it. Fall is the best time to fertilize the cool-season turf like the turf type tall fescues that we grow on the Shore. Fertilizing three times in the fall (September, October and November) is usually recommended.
The cool-season turf is in an active growth stage, storing up carbohydrates against the rigors of winter and a healthy green-up next spring. The roots are also in active growth and having a strong, healthy root system is the best way for the grass plant to survive next summer’s hot, dry weather.
To be accurate in your application of fertilizer and lime you will need to determine your lawn’s needs with a soil test. A list of soil testing laboratories can be found in the Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Website at www.hgic.umd.edu as Home and Garden Mimeo #HG 101 - Selecting and Using a Soil Testing Laboratory. Test – don’t guess your lawn’s fertility needs. To avoid and minimize fertilizer runoff use a “slow release” lawn fertilizer.
If your soil test comes back and recommends liming to increase the soil pH, fall is an excellent time to do it. The freezing and thawing of the soil during the winter helps work the lime down into the turf and root zone of the grass plants. You can use either the regular ground agricultural limestone or the newer “pelletized” form. The advantage of the pellets is that it is easier to spread and is not as dusty as the traditional ground limestone. Because it is pellets, it will take longer to break down in the soil.
Many home lawns look bad because the homeowner started off by seeding the wrong type of turfgrass. There are a lot of lawn grass varieties out on the market packaged in fancy boxes. Just remember the turf type tall fescues and forget anything else for our area.
When seeded at the rate of five to eight pounds per 1,000 square feet, mowed at 3 inches or more and given some fertilizer each year, you just can’t beat a turf type tall fescue lawn.
Kentucky 31 (KY31) was the original tall fescue turf developed for home lawn use. Now there are many improved cultivars on the market to choose from. Go online to the Maryland Home and Garden Center – www.hgic.umd.edu – and download publication TT 77 in the lawns section for a list of recommended turf type tall fescue cultivars.
I like to recommend that you find a blend of a couple different cultivars of improved turf type tall fescues. Don’t waste your money seeding straight KY31 when there are all these new and improved turf type tall fescue cultivars on the market. The improved cultivar means that they will cost a little bit more, but the additional expense is well worth the cost for the better looking lawn.
If your lawn area has bald patches or is over 50% undesirable weeds and grasses, my recommendation is to spray the entire area with Round-Up herbicide and reseed.
Inadequate seedbed preparation is responsible for many lawn seeding failures. The soil must be broken up and worked completely down to a depth of six inches. The practice of working over the bare areas down to a depth of an inch or so with a steel garden rake and then seeding just doesn’t do the job. Get out the rototiller and do the job right the first time.
After you have tilled the soil, work in the lime and fertilizer according to the soil test results. Put half of the lime and fertilizer on and till down for to six inches. Put the other half on and work with the rake into the top one or two inches. To evenly spread the seed, sow half the seed in one direction and the rest at right angles. Cover the seed lightly by raking and firm the soil with a light tamping.
Protect the seed with a light covering of clean straw or cover it with a fabric cloth like Re-may. The mulch maintains an even soil temperature and holds in the moisture.
Keep the new lawn moist until the seed germinates and the seedlings have a good start. This may take two weeks for tall fescue seed. Lightly mist the seed three or four times a day to provide adequate moisture. This is the only time that a light misting of the grass is recommended.
After the grass has been up for three or four weeks, it can be cut. Make sure that your mower blade is sharp, as a dull blade can rip the tender young plants out of the ground.
If the lawn area is covered with the leaves from nearby deciduous trees shedding their leaves in the fall, be sure to remove them. If the newly seeded lawn goes into the winter covered with tree leaves, you will have to re-seed those areas again next spring as they will have died out.
With the fall tree fruit coming on now it is important that you harvest them correctly. When the figs on your fig bush are maturing, harvest them when they soften slightly. If you let them get fully ripe you will be fighting the hornets and yellow jackets for them.
Pears are definitely one of the tree fruits that you do not let ripen on the tree. Most pear cultivars are picked when their background color begins to lighten but fruits are still firm. Pears should be kept in the refrigerator and brought to room temperature to ripen. In contrast, Asian pears should be allowed to ripen on the tree.
For apples, it is a good idea to pick an apple every few days as they start to ripen to determine the peak harvest time.
For good garden sanitation and disease control, clean up and dispose of all rotted or fallen fruits from trees, vines and bushes this fall.

Happy Gardening!