Next week is Labor Day, which means it’s time to take care of your lawn. Summer 2011 has been tough on yards because of excessive heat and a lack of rain. If that wasn’t enough, some diseases have crept in, whether you watered or not. The only thing that seems to thrive is crabgrass and quackgrass.
Next week is Labor Day, which means it’s time to take care of your lawn.
Summer 2011 has been tough on yards because of excessive heat and a lack of rain. If that wasn’t enough, some diseases have crept in, whether you watered or not. The only thing that seems to thrive is crabgrass and quackgrass.
The first step is determining if the grass is still alive. Normally, when the temperatures climb into triple digits, cool-season grasses such as bluegrass, ryegrass and the fescues go dormant. Plants shut down their leaves, opting to keep the crowns or growing points at ground level alive, as well as the roots. If you see a hint of green in your yard next to the ground, that indicates the crowns are probably still alive.
It doesn’t mean they are dead if you don’t see any green. They could be covered by layers of dead grass blades. Grab a handful of grass and carefully peel the dead leaves away. You should come to a whitish-green crown that will look fleshy and moist. If you do, that’s a great sign.
If you keep peeling and end up with nothing but brown, that means the crowns didn’t survive summer’s heat stress. There still is a chance the roots are alive, but winning the lottery may have the same odds.
Dead crowns really make the lawn care job easier. You simply start over with either seed or sod. The big decision is made. Green crowns, on the other hand, force you to make a decision. Is there enough green that, when cool temperatures and water are applied with fertilizer, the lawn will recover? That’s what we hope for.
Another method is to thoroughly water the lawn, wetting the ground down at least 12 inches. This means providing at least an inch or more of water to the turf. The downside is if temperatures climb back into the 90s, the grass probably won’t do anything except stay brown. But the crowns might green a bit, which would help you determine how much is alive.
The one-third rule is a good starting point: If you look at your yard and determine that one-third or more is dead, it’s easier to start over. Some folks will stretch it to 50 percent; at that number, the amount of effort you have to put into the lawn considering time and money may not be the most cost-effective, especially with your time involved.
Saying that time is “free” allows the 50 percent to be another benchmark.
If more than one-third to one-half is dead, kill the remainder, till up the soil, add organic matter and then re-seed or sod. Within six weeks, you should have a picture perfect lawn, provided you give the developing seedlings or sod the right amount of water.
For lawns less than one-third or one-half, there are a couple of things you can do. First, get rid of everything that is dead. Use a rake to pull out the dead stems and plants. (The leaves, if dead, shrivel up to nothing pretty fast.)
You can rent a dethatcher, such as a power rake or vertical mower. It’s less strenuous, but it can be just as demanding on your elbows and shoulder. You can go that extra step and have someone else use the machines, such as a teenager who wants to earn gas money. You could also hire a professional.
Professionals may have a slit-seeder, which is a vertical mower that drops seeds in the slits it cuts in the ground. Give the yard a thorough watering and the seeds pop up, the lawn thickens and all seems right with the world.
On the other hand, you can scatter some seeds over the roughed-up yard from the dethatching machines, water them thoroughly and hope that enough are covered with soil or plant materials so the birds won’t see the free bird seed.
Make sure you get the correct type of grass seed. Don’t go by the fancy pictures or be sucked in by terms such as “low-maintenance” or “drought-resistant.”
Not all grass seed is the same. Kentucky bluegrass tends to be the ideal, but it’s more high maintenance. Turf-type tall fescues are easygoing and survive heat and drought. However, if you throw tall fescues in a bluegrass lawn, you have the biggest mess you’ve ever seen. The tall fescue will be unsightly clumps in the spreading bluegrass. So read the label carefully.
Fertilizer is also important in getting the lawn to recover. Labor Day weekend is the ideal time to fertilize your yard, providing an actual pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Most lawn fertilizer is formatted to this amount if you follow directions. Don’t overapply or you’ll burn the grass, new grass seed or sod. Read the directions.
Fertilizer doesn’t work without water. Starting in September, when temperatures are more moderate, make sure the yard gets an inch of water per week, either from the sky or sprinkler.
There is no law that you must have lawns throughout your property, though some neighborhood covenants have certain restrictions. Patios, wood chips, moss and groundcovers are much easier to maintain.
David Robson is a specialist with University of Illinois Extension. For more gardening information or for your local extension unit office, go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/mg.