Lawn Maintenance Tips
Frost Seeding / Dormant Seeding
Frost seeding is done in the late winter and early spring. Dormant seeding is done late fall once the soil temp falls below 45 degrees. This seed will not germinate until spring. It is sometimes easier to dormant seed than frost seed since there is not any snow cover in the fall to deal with. I like to tell people that to ensure you get a good lawn going in the fall, try to get it seeded by the 20th of September in this part of the country. Any mix with Kentucky Bluegrass will need a minimum of 4 weeks of soil temperatures above 45 for it to sprout and produce the plant strength to make it through the winter. Fine Leaf Ryes and Fescues can be planted later due to the faster germination time, but Bluegrass is best if planted early for a good stand. That does not, however, eliminate the possibilities of frost seeding. Iowa State University did a study a few years back that showed the later you wait to frost seed the better. (Seeding would be best between February 1st-15th.) The later you go, the less seed you will lose to pests, wind or having it be worked into the soil too deep.
Ideally 3-4" is a good guide for a mowing height. Most people mow their lawns way too short, and then fight weeds and use extra water to keep them looking good, or just give up. By raising the mowing height to 3-4" the soil is shaded and therefore stays cooler. The taller grass also provides more cover, which reduces the chances of undesirable growth. One common misconception of lawn grasses is that moisture is stored in the rootzone of the grass. The reality is that the moisture reserves for lawn grasses are stored in the blade of the grass. When the lawn is mowed too low it is cutting off the moisture reserves of the grass. Recovery is difficult without additional watering or help from the sky. If the tips of your grass blade are brown try checking your your lawn mower blade. The blade may be dull and is tearing the grass instead of cutting it cleanly. A good edge on your mower blade will make a nice cut and the lawn will be healthier because of it.
1. It is best to overseed in April through May or between late August and late September. 2. Select a good seed for your lawn and follow directions on the seed container for application rates. 3. Mow the existing grass to a short height and remove the clippings. 4. Conduct a soil test to determine the pH of your soil. The ideal pH level is between 6.0 and 6.8. You can buy a kit to perform the test yourself or ask a professional to perform the test for you. While this step in not essential to seeding, it can mean the difference between a successful project or a waste of your time and hard work. You can risk skipping this step, but it is usually worth it in the long run. 5. Apply lime to your lawn if necessary. Carefully follow the instructions on the packaging to determine the amount of lime based on the pH and the size of your lawn. 6. Slit seed at .5" deep at a half rate in two separate directions for even distribution. 7. A second option for overseeding is to shallow core aerate 2-3 times. Once the aeration is complete broadcast or drop seed at a half rate in two directions for even distribution. 8. Next spread a starter-type fertilizer that is higher in phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) than nitrogen (N). 9. Roll pack the lawn one time. 10. Follow the seeding watering schedule. With this procedure, the seed should be covered enough to allow germination. If you decide to pickup the cores, spread a light topdressing to partially pre-fill the aeration holes before seeding. Then lightly cover the seed and fertilizer with additional topdressing. Proper watering is the major key to success. Like establishment of a new lawn, renovated or over seeded lawns need to be kept moist, but not soaked, until the new seeds begin to develop and grow a new root system. In 4 to 6 weeks, a normal watering program can be resumed. More than 50% of lawns in North America are over 10 years old, and could benefit from aerification, power raking and the planting of new lawn seed varieties to produce a healthier, denser lawn.
Establishing a New Lawn from Seed
1. It is desirable to have at least 6" of black topsoil 2. If weeds are a problem, apply a glyphosate herbicide (Roundup) and allow weeds to burn down for at least 7 days. 3. Remove rocks and other debris. Till the top 4-6" of soil. If necessary, add compost or additional soil at this time and till one more time. 4. Conduct a soil test to determine the pH of your soil. The ideal pH level is between 6.0 and 6.8. You can buy a kit to perform the test yourself or ask a professional to perform the test for you. While this step in not essential to seeding, it can mean the difference between a successful project or a waste of your time and hard work. You can risk skipping this step, but it is usually worth it in the long run. 5. Apply lime to your lawn if necessary. Carefully follow the instructions on the packaging to determine the amount of lime based on the pH and the size of your lawn. 6. Firm up the seed bed by raking and/or roll packing. When walked on, you should not sink more than 1". 7. For spring seedings, its best to plant from April through May. For Fall seedings, plant between late August and late September. Fall dormant seed in November or until the ground freezes. 8. Reference the lawn seed packaging for mixing and seeding rates. 9. Seed with a a slit seeder, broadcast or drop spreader. Ideally, apply at a half rate in two different directions for even distribution. 8. Next spread a starter-type fertilizer that is higher in phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) than nitrogen (N). 11. Roll pack or gently rake over the seeded surface to establish good seed to soil contact. (Note that you do not need to do this if you use a slit seeder) 12. Install erosion control blankets (and blanket staples) as needed. 13. Irrigate according to the newly seeded lawn watering schedule. 14. Do not cut the lawn shorter that 2" in the spring and fall. In the warm part of the summer, do not cut the lawn shorter than 3". 13. Apply a 2-3 step fertility program to maintain healthy plants.
Fertilizing and Weed Control
How often you fertilize depends on how much pride you take in your lawn, which products you choose to use and how much money you want to spend. Most people are typically fertilizing three times per year. Typically once in the spring for turf development and crabgrass control. Once in the early summer for turf development and broadleaf control. The third application in the fall is a winterizer that prepares your lawn for the winter months and strengthens the root development. You should wait 6 weeks after seeding to apply crabgrass preventer. When applying crabgrass preventer wait until the 4" soil temp reaches 55 degrees. The approximate time for that temperature is late April or early May.
Aeration is one of the most important maintenance practices we can employ to help the lawn remain healthy and help ward off problems. It is estimated that over two-thirds (2/3) of residential lawns are growing on compacted soils. It is recommended to aerate at lease once per year. In some cases once in the spring and once in the fall may be necessary to allow oxygen, water and nutrients to enter the root zone. If you have a newly constructed home this is especially important due to heavy equipment compacting the soil during construction. Many times, there is no evidence of insect or disease activity, but the lawn seems to be off-color, thinning, and shows signs of stress in high temperatures. In general, the lawn seems lethargic. Chances are good that the lawn hasn't been aerated in the past few years . . . if ever. Compaction is a physical process that slowly reduces the amount of oxygen contained in the soil and nutrient movement to the roots . . . the critical part of a healthy grass plant. Roots of the plant need oxygen, and as a product of their growth process, give off carbon dioxide. As compaction increases, less and less oxygen can enter the soil and less carbon dioxide can escape. The net result is a gradually thinning lawn until, ultimately, the soil can no longer support any turf growth. Aerification will prevent or help a number of problems, including compaction and thatch build-up. It opens passageways in the soil, allowing better air, water, and nutrient movement. During drought conditions, aeration helps water reach thirsty roots. When rain is heavy, aeration allows air to penetrate and help dry up excess moisture. Each is a stress condition for your grass. Fall and spring are the best times to aerate . . . and also for over seeding and renovating with improved varieties of cool-season lawn grasses. When the existing lawn is in fairly good condition and over seeding is being used to thicken the lawn, one or two passes with a core aerator may be the only soil preparation required. Weak existing grass, with a greater need for seed, may require additional passes with the aerator to open the soil properly.
Watering Tips for Existing Lawns
Lawns grow best when they are watered heavily at infrequent intervals. On an average, the lawn needs about 1 inch of water a week either from rain or irrigation during the growing season. This 1 inch will normally soak the soil to a depth of 4 to 6 inches, which allows the water to reach deep into the root system. Soil types vary in the speed at which water will soak in. You must determine the rate of application of your sprinkler system to set up a watering program. An easy way to do this is to set out a series of cans if you have an underground system or a couple of cans if you use a single sprinkler. Run the system 30 minutes and measure the water in the cans. With a little simple math, you can determine the length of time to apply 1 inch of water. Watch for runoff during the watering period. It is very possible that your lawn will not be able to soak up the water as fast as your sprinkler is putting it on. If this occurs, shut it off and wait 30 minutes, and then turn it on again. Also, remember that sloped areas have a greater tendency for runoff. The best times to water your lawn are in the early morning when there is generally less wind and heat (between 4 a.m. & 9 a.m.). The least desirable times are in the heat of the afternoon, when the water evaporates too quickly, and very late in the evening, which can cause the lawn to stay wet all night. This encourages disease development. Over-watering is worse than under-watering. Most grasses can live through reasonably long periods of drought. Water only when the soil is dry 4 to 6 inches below the surface. Use a screwdriver or other probe to determine dryness. Also, if the grass doesn't spring back up after walking on it, it's probably time to put another inch of water on the lawn.
Watering Tips for Newly Seeded Lawns
If establishing a new lawn from seed, water frequently with a shorter duration. The goal is to not let the topsoil dry out. The top soil should stay moist but not wet. This will allow the germination process to continue and keep the soil from getting too hot and burning the new seedling. When the new seedling starts the growth process it is important to keep the ground cool. The new seedling does not have much of a root system yet and needs the water for cooling and sustainability. Once the grass is 1-2 inches tall, reduce watering frequency and raise the duration. Eventually, you will be watering 2-3 times per week during the summer months; typically 15 minutes for smaller zones (Sprays) and up to 40 minutes for larger zones (Rotors). Unlike sodded yards feel free to fertilize at any time, as long as it is straight fertilizer. Remember to apply fertilizer at the recommended rates listed on the fertilizer packaging.
Watering Tips for Newly Sodded Lawns
Please note: You may walk on the lawn to move sprinklers, but keep non-essential foot traffic to an absolute minimum during the initial establishment period. If the edges between the sod pull apart or are separating, you are not applying enough water. The sod is shrinking and pulling apart. Do not water at night or late in the evenings. New seedings are susceptible to diseases, which are encouraged by prolonged periods of being wet. Make sure to water along pavement surfaces when the temperatures are warmer, as the sod will literally bake next to the surface during the establishment period. 1: Maintenance Practices (0-10 days) Water each day for at least 15 to 20 minutes in each area of lawn (according to how much water your sprinker emits). Watering a second time each day is recommended if the temperatures are over 65 degrees and sunny. It is important to get the water through the sod and into the soil below the sod. Check to make sure you are watering enough by pulling back the corner of the sod in several places througout the lawn to make sure the soil below is moist. Do not fertilize or mow the lawn yet. 2: Maintenance Practices (10 to 21 days) Water every other day for approximately 30 minutes. By watering for longer periods of time, you are encouraging root growth deeper into the soil. Check to make sure you are watering enough by pulling back the corner of the sod in several places throughout the lawn to make sure the soil is moist. The sod should be difficult to pull up - do not force it up. The root system is establishing... and should not be pulled from the soil. Just tug lightly to assure good rooting. If the lawn is not rooting, you may not be watering enough or overwatering. The soil below the sod should not have water sitting and the sod should not be dripping. Before watering the lawn, cut the grass as needed. Do not remove more than a third of the grass plant at one time while cutting. For instance, if the grass is 5" tall, do not cut below 3.5" in height. In general, keep the lawn at 2.75" to 3.5" during the estbalishment. If the lawn is too wet to cut, do not water for one more day and then cut the lawn. Do not apply fertilizer to the lawn yet. 3: Maintenance Practices (3 weeks and beyond) You may begin to cut the lawn as needed. The lawn should be fairly well rooted and can take normal wear and tear. Water the lawn approximately twice a week making sure to apply 1" of water each week. Use a pie tin or similar container to measure your irrigation by placing it in the path of the sprinkler. Multiply the amount of water in inches by the number of times you water each week to total 1" per week. For instance, 1/2" for two waterings equals 1" of total water. You may apply a balanced turf fertilizer six weeks after installation. Either your lawn care company will apply your fertilizer or you may use a consumer product, such as Scott's Turf Builder. If you are applying the product, follow the label instructions very carefully. It is recommended that you use a rotary spreader as opposed to a drop spreader. Look for a fertilizer that has a nutrient ratio of 3:1:2, which indicates the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK). Avoid applying herbicides when it is hot and dry. Wait for cooler weather to apply herbicides.