Lawn Restoration in Fall
Early Fall is an ideal time to restore your lawn. There is a way to do this successfully at a reasonable cost, and following this recipe just once will give you terrific results, but if you really want a healthy green weed-free lawn you’ll repeat this formula in both spring and fall for several years. Remember this is a recipe, so skipping any step guarantees failure.
First you’ll need to figure out how large your lawn is, in square feet. Multiply the width times the length of each section and add them together. The total square footage of your lawn tells you how much fertilizer, grass seed and weed control to buy.
Here are the tools you’ll need: a walk-behind core aerator (“plugger”), a broadcast spreader, and a fireman’s style hose nozzle. The ingredients are: good quality slow-release nitrogen lawn fertilizer, broadleaf weed control, and quality turf-type tall fescue grass seed mix.
Turf-type tall fescue makes an elegant dark green lawn that is drought tolerant and rugged. It is a fine-bladed, deep-rooted grass that spreads underground, forming clumps that fill in bare spots. Turf-type tall fescue tolerates shade better than bluegrass or rye, and requires half as much fertilizer and water to look good. Using a blend hedges your bets against insects and diseases; over time the most rugged grass will crowd out the others.
Once you’ve spread all the ingredients, it’s time for the most important step. Run the aerator over the lawn several times in different directions. Repeat more often in bare patches; your goal is to break up the soil as much as possible. The seed will find its way into the holes, where it will be protected from drying out. Fall rains will wash the fertilizer into the plug holes, so the newly planted grass seed will have food right away.
In a week or two you’ll see the first new grass. Daily watering at this stage is critical. All you have to do is keep the soil most until your new grass is several inches tall. A light watering each day should be enough. The easy way is to stand in the middle and spray the entire lawn with the fireman’s nozzle (a typical pistol-grip sprayer won’t put down enough water). On bare ground, putting down straw will help keep the soil moist.
Don’t mow until the new grass is six inches tall, and make sure your blade is newly sharpened. Set your mower at 4 inches (and leave it there from this point forward; scalping the lawn is a huge contributor to weed problems, since it allows sunlight to reach the soil surface and encourages weeds to sprout).
Here’s why this recipe works: the best defense against lawn weeds is healthy turf. Compacted soil is the enemy; weeds can grow there but lawn grass will struggle. Aeration penetrates and loosens the soil without damaging existing lawn grass. It makes “pockets” that collect moisture and shelter grass seedlings, capturing rainfall and preventing your seed and fertilizer from washing away. New grass can make a deep root system easily, protected from wind, sun and traffic. Core aeration is the “magic bullet” for healthy lawns. You probably have broadleaf weeds like dandelion, spurge and plantain in your lawn. Again, the best lawn weed control is healthy strong turfgrass. No amount of chemicals will really control lawn weeds if the lawn itself is sparse and weak. One last point: If you gather your grass clippings you are wasting a huge amount of money on fertilizer. The nitrogen in clippings is fertilizer you paid for, so use a mulching mower to recycle the clippings back into the soil.