For Release August 27, 2002

Time For Lawn Improvements

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

With early September and Labor Day just around the corner, itís time to think about lawn improvement and renovation. Perhaps the first thing to note is that a lot of the lawns were not as dead as you may have thought. The increase in rainfall over the past four weeks has allowed a lot of that dead looking fescue and bluegrass to break dormancy and start growing. So you may not have as much renovating as you thought.

The first step is to determine if you can overseed and thicken up a thin stand or do you need to start completely over. If you are mowing short, less than three inches for cool season grasses, the quickest way to thicken it up is to mow taller. If you have at least a third of a stand of grass, it would probably be best to overseed and try to fill in the thin spots. If you have just scattered grass plants you probably need to start over.

If you are finding a lot of those low growing weeds like spurge and purslane in your lawn, it is really a waste of time to try to control those this fall. Theyíll be dead soon and theyíve already produced a lot of seed. If you are going to do any spraying, just spray with a glyphosate (Roundup) type herbicide to kill everything to get ready for reseeding.

One of the most critical factors for getting a new lawn or an overseeded lawn off to a good start is in making sure that there is good seed to soil contact. If you just broadcast seed over the ground and hope that something happens, you will be disappointed in what does happen. Most of that seed will not sprout and become established. Therefore, you need to use some sort of power seeder or overseeder or go into a clean tilled seedbed, rake the seed in and roll or lightly pack it. Once it is planted do not let the sprouting seed dry out or it will die.

The natural follow-up to that is to make sure that you are applying the right seeding rate. Many lawns are seeded too thickly. The grass sprouts and looks fine, but then, since it is too thick, it competes with itself, diseases move in and you have areas of grass that die off quickly. For our improved tall fescue varieties, plant six to seven pounds of seed per thousand square feet of area. Thatís a little more than a half pound of seed, but not quite three quarters pound of seed per ten foot by ten foot area. For overseeding, adjust accordingly. If you have half a stand, plant one half the standard rate or about three to three and a half pounds of seed per thousand square feet. If you have a third of a stand, then plant two thirds of the standard rate or four to four and a half pounds of seed per thousand square feet.

Itís okay to put on some starter fertilizer when you plant. But donít use the standard full strength fertilizer and DO NOT use any kind of weed control after the grass seed is planted. For one thing, most of the broadleaf weed herbicides (dandelion killers) will damage seedling grasses. Secondly, it is too early to be treating for those weeds anyway. Those seedling weeds that will bloom next spring will be sprouting from now through early October. Wait until October to treat for the broadleaf weeds. You also want to wait until new grass has been tall enough (mow at three to three and a half inches) to be mowed three times before you treat with a weed control product.

Fall fertilization in all lawns needs to wait a few more weeks. I like to apply two fall applications on cool season lawns. Apply the first the last two weeks of September or the first week of October, then apply the second in late October to mid November.


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