Good fall care renews lawns

If you were to ask gardeners which is the most important month for lawn care, I think you would find that either March or April would garner the most votes. Spring lawn care is important, but I truly believe that good lawns are cared for in spring and great lawns get lots of attention in the fall. As the weather cools and the day length shortens, September becomes critical in establishing how the lawn will spend the long, moist winter. Will it be building a bigger, healthier root system, storing up energy, or will it be sitting in waterlogged soil as nutrients leach away from it, leaving it in a starved condition waiting for its annual spring feeding? It's up to you.

September is the month for three major lawn activities: testing, fertilizing and seeding. If you haven't tested your soil where your lawn is growing in the last three years, do it now. Contact the Master Gardeners at the Extension Center on Hanley Road in Central Point for information on how to take a sample and where to send it. You should test for pH and major nutrients. The pH test will tell you if you need to apply lime when the fall rains begin and the nutrient test will determine what type of fertilizer to apply at the end of October to increase winter hardiness and to build strong roots for next year.

We stopped feeding our cool season lawn grasses when the hot weather rolled out in July. Since our lawns tend to be semi-dormant during the heat, we don't feed then. With cooling temperatures, the lawn will once again begin to grow and this is the time to apply a slow-release fertilizer. A slow-release fertilizer is one that contains at least 50 percent of its nitrogen as water insoluble. It will provide your grass plants with a slow, steady supply of nutrients for 6 to 8 weeks. If your lawn still looks green, apply at the rate of 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. It takes 5 pounds of 20-3-6 per 1,000 square feet to accomplish this. If the lawn looks a bit yellow due to all the water you poured on it over the last couple of months, double the rate. Only if you use a slow-release product, though. Don't try that with ammonium sulfate or you will likely burn the lawn.

If the lawn developed a few bare spots or damaged areas this summer, now is the perfect time to do the reseeding necessary to get them repaired with green and growing turf. Seed loves to germinate under the warm soil conditions yet cooler air of September. Remove any dead grass down to bare soil. If you need to add soil to make it level, use topsoil. Be sure to firm the soil after leveling. Grass seed does not like nor need a loose, fluffy seedbed. Sow the seed, lightly cover it with 1/8 inch of compost or aged sawdust to keep it moist and press it all down firmly to ensure the seed is making contact with the dirt. Feed with a good balanced formula garden fertilizer and you are set. Keep moist until the seed germinates. That's all there is to it.

Unless, that is, your lawn has thinned to the point where 30 to 50 percent of it is bare or in weeds. Then it is time to think about a renovation. What is the exact point where patching stops and a complete renovation is in order? That's a tough one to answer. Everyone's level of acceptance is different. Although taking out an old lawn and putting in a new one is a lot of hard work, you may find the lessened amount of maintenance that a young lawn requires during its first five years to be a fair trade off. If you'd rather devote a few extra hours every month rather than tackle a big task all at once, perhaps reseeding is the best way for you to go.

If you take advantage of the opportunities that September provides for lawn care, I guarantee that you will reap the rewards of a healthier lawn that requires less of your time next spring. How good is that?

Stan Mapolski, aka The Rogue Gardener, can be heard from 9-11 a.m. Sunday mornings on KMED 1440 AM and seen on KTVL-TV Ch. 10 every Wednesday during the 5 p.m. news. Reach him at

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