For Release September 26, 2000
Early Fall Lawn Care
by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent
Take everything that we have traditionally told you about fall lawn care and throw it out the window. That only applies to normal weather years. Given the hot dry conditions from early July through late September and the current lawn watering restrictions in Junction City and voluntary watering restrictions elsewhere, a few changes are in order.
First of all, if , like many of us, you have a lawn full of brown grass, just leave it alone. Resist the urge to go out and mow the dead top growth short. You want to leave all that stubble and mulch in place. Removing any of it will increase soil temperature with a resulting increased loss of soil moisture and moisture from the crowns of the grass plants. It will also expose more bare soil so when significant moisture does return you will be more likely to see a flush of weed seedlings. That brown mulch may look ugly, but itís the best friend your lawn currently has.
Until we get enough rainfall and cooler weather to where your lawn starts growing, you can just forego that early fall lawn fertilization. Weíre going to need rainfall to take that fertilizer into the soil anyway. IF we donít get significant rain (at least ĺ of an inch in one rainfall event) by late October and IF we can water our lawns, then give your lawn one good soaking to help rehydrate the plant crowns. If we go clear into November and havenít had that good rain, go ahead and make one application of fertilizer only. With any luck, weíll get rain or snow later on to carry it into the root zone.
Likewise, unless you have been watering your lawn up until now, there is little need to treat for weeds yet. Again, weíll need significant rainfall, cooler temperatures and a few weeks time before weíll have weeds big enough to worry about treating. Weeds that may be present now, like dandelions, are going to be so drought stressed that they wonít be susceptible to herbicides unless you have been watering. Some of you that had been watering are also seeing a fair amount of crabgrass. Itís too late to treat for that now. Itíll die with cold weather and a frost. If we do start to get rainfall and weeds do get started, we can treat later this fall or next spring. We can often spray for broadleaf weeds well into November with good results.
Other fall activities like power raking and core aerating should not be done on droughty dormant lawns. These two activities need to be done when the lawn is actively growing. Either postpone until later in the fall or just donít do it at all this fall. If you were thinking about planting a new lawn or overseeding your lawn, I wouldnít do it just yet. Until we start to get rain, OR you can water your lawn, itíll be just a waste of time. If you canít get the grass planted by mid-October then wait until April and go with a spring planting.
Finally, donít give up on your yard. Thereís a lot of people that think their lawn is dead because it is brown. Do not assume that! Others think that since they had a fair amount of armyworm damage that their lawn is dead. Probably not. There will be some loss of grass plants from this heat and drought, not doubt. But I can assure you that much more of that grass is alive than dead at this point in time. Letís all just continue to follow the watering restrictions and bide our time. Cooler wetter weather is on its way and then you will find out just how much grass you still have. Donít panic and donít make plans for a complete renovation project until you really know where you, and your lawn stand!
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