Tidewater Gardening September 06

September Lawn & Landscaping Tips


K. Marc Teffeau

     Fall is the best time to renovate or reestablish lawns on the Eastern Shore. The lawn seeding window is August 15th through October 15th, with the best time found in September. There are three reasons why the early fall is the best time for putting down grass seed to patch bare spots, reseeding the entire lawn and feeding the turf. First, summer’s heat is abating and the approaching 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. The third reason is that grass seed spread now will sprout soon enough to provide lawn enjoyment this fall, and next spring the newly established turf 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 from drought damage 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, or sod webworm? Or does it have a disease problem like brown patch? Are weeds present because of mowing the turf at too low a height or fertilizing at the wrong time of year? You need to determine why the turf looks the way it does and then develop a plan of action to improve it.
      If the lawn looks pretty good but has a minor broad leafed weed problem, then spot treat the turf with a combination herbicide according to label directions. Annual grasses like crabgrass can’t be controlled now. Wait until next spring to deal with the crabgrass.
      If the turf is off color and looks hungry, then feed it with a complete fertilizer. 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.
      You need to determine your lawn’s lime and fertilizer needs with a soil test. The standard fertilizer recommendation is 10 lbs of 10-6-4 fertilizer per 1000 square feet of lawn area. This should be applied in September, October and November for a total of 30 lbs. If you want to use a “slow release” lawn fertilizer, apply it in September and come back in March with 10 lbs of 10-6-4.
      Many homeowners go to extremes when it comes to fertilization. They either do not apply any year after year and starve the turf or they over fertilize and burn up the lawn. If you are next to the Bay or one of its tributaries, it is important to apply the correct amount of fertilizer to avoid excess run-off into the water.
Maintaining a correct soil pH is also important for lawn health. Fall is an excellent time to lime the lawn if the pH is below 6.2 for a clay/silt soil. 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 pelleted lime is that it is easier to spread and is not as dusty as the traditional ground limestone. Because it is pelletized, 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 turf grass to begin with. There are a lot of lawn grass varieties out on the market packaged in fancy boxes. Just remember the improved turf type tall fescues and forget anything else for our area. It gets too hot here for bluegrasses and the perennial ryegrasses on the market all have disease problems.
      Use a turf-type tall fescue cultivar at a rate of 4 lbs. of seed per 1,000 sq. ft. of area for over-seeding, or 8 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft. for new lawns. When seeded at these rates, 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. Recommended cultivars include Falcon, Rebel, Rebel II, Olympic, Houndog, Arid, Apache, Bonanza, and Jaguar, just to name a few. Don’t waste your money seeding KY31 when there are all these new and improved turf type tall fescue cultivars on the market.
      Being improved cultivars means that they will cost a little bit more, but the additional expense is well worth the cost for the better looking turf that you will get.
Don’t give all you gardening attention to the lawn in September. This month is a great time to plant and divide perennials and shrubs for next year’s garden. By planting in the fall, your plants do not endure the stressful summer heat during establishment and have time to form sufficient root systems before the onset of winter dormancy.
      When planning next year’s fall garden, consider the versatile and carefree daylily as a source of fall color to complement chrysanthemums and fall asters. There are several varieties of daylily that will bloom in August and September. Modern hybrids are available in many colors and grow from 2 to 6 feet tall. American-grown hybrid varieties have less trouble with virus disease than the old species types.
      Mums can be transplanted while in bloom, which makes them useful for instant landscapes in early autumn. Water thoroughly the day before (or at least several hours before) digging plants, retaining as much of the root system as possible. Dig the new hole, and gently loosen a small amount of soil from the outer soil depth. Water thoroughly after placing the plants to settle them in.
      As with any transplanting, it is best move mums in early morning or late evening when temperatures are cool. Monitor plants carefully for several days for wilting, and shade briefly during the hotter periods of the day, if necessary.
      Perennial phlox should be divided about every third or fourth year. Early fall and early spring are the best times to plant and transplant them. Divide big clumps into thirds.
      Plant roots of both garden and tree peonies in September or early October so they will have time to become established in the soil before winter. Dig a hole 18 inches across and 18 inches deep for each tuber. Space the holes so that the plants will be at least 3 feet apart. Make sure the roots are buried only 1½ to 3 inches below ground level. Deeper planting keeps the plants from blooming.
      Allow plants to finish the summer growth cycle in a normal manner. Never encourage growth with heavy applications of fertilizer or excessive pruning at this time as plants will quickly delay their hardening process that has already begun in anticipation of winter several months ahead. New growth can be easily injured by an early freeze. Wait until deciduous trees and shrubs begin to drop their leaves before fertilizing them. This signals dormancy, when no new growth will be stimulated that might not harden off prior to cold temperatures. However, roots are active until soil temperature drops below 40 degrees F, so nutrients will be taken up and used by the plants to develop a stronger root system.
      Now is not the time to do any extensive pruning of the active growth of woody plants in the landscape. You can go in however, and remove any dead and diseased branches and do a general sanitation clean up. Especially do not prune any spring flowering shrubs. They have set their flower buds in late summer and early fall. If you prune now, you will be removing the flower display for next spring.
      Happy Gardening!!!