Caring for your turf is an ongoing process to improve your stand of grass. Fall is a particularly important time as your grass is likely stressed out from the summer and it is looking for some much needed nourishment!
Although it is best to get a soil sample and base your program on that, some general rules can apply to improve your grass:
• Aerate– core aerating (versus solid time aerating) is done to help relieve the compaction in your soil and allow the nutrients (including oxygen) to penetrate your soil, promoting deeper rooting.
• Overseed– Since the fall is the best time to apply grass seed in Maryland/DC/N. VA, after aerating, apply a Turf Type Tall Fescue grass seed at a rate of 3 to 4 pounds per 1000 square feet with a broadcast spreader (or verticutter for those with access to this equipment). If the area is in shade, use a blend of Fine Fescue seeds.
• Topdress– Using an organic material such as Compro or Leafgro, topdress your lawn with a ¼” to ½” layer to increase the amount of organic material in the soil, as well as provide a seed bed that will enable better germination.
• Starter Fertilizer– This can be applied to assist in the growth and development of your newly seeded or overseeded lawn. It is important to understand that with the new Maryland Department of Agriculture regulations, this type of fertilizer can only be used when applying seed. The benefit of this fertilizer is the Phosphorous which will aid in root development. This is usually sold with an analysis of 18-24-12. http://www.mda.state.md.us/resource_conservation/123Fort.php
• Mulch– depending on whether you’re overseeding or renovating, you may need to use a mulch to protect the seed from washing out. A great product to use is Penn Mulch or seed starter, which are recycled newspaper with small amounts of Nitrogen.
• Water– Since Mother Nature typically takes care of watering your new seed in the fall, you should see your seed germinating in 10-14 days. If you prefer to water on your own, please water in such a way that promotes deep watering (less frequent, deeper watering).
The next step is to apply the first of two fall fertilizer applications. Again, it is best to tailor your lawn fertilization program based on the soil sample results. However, as a general rule of thumb:
• In September/October, apply 1 pound of actual Nitrogen per 1000 square feet. Nitrogen is the first number of the fertilizer analysis (e.g. 10-6-4 has 10% Nitrogen, 6% Phosphorous and 4% Potassium).
• In October/November, apply 1 pound of Nitrogen per 1000 square feet. Both of these applications should be with a quick release form of Nitrogen, not slow release.
In addition to the practices above, there are several cultural factors that should always be considered when trying to develop a strong stand of turfgrass:
• Proper mowing height– know what type of grass you have and what height you should be mowing at throughout the year. Tall Fescue should be mowed at 3 to 3 ½ inches. Never cut more than 1/3 of the height of your grass as this can cause stress to the plants. Studies show that you can reduce the amount of weeds by more than 50% by mowing at the proper height!
• Sharpen your blades– to avoid the onset of many diseases, be sure to sharpen your mowing blades regularly for a clean cut. Potomac Garden Center sharpens our blades every week for the communities for which we provide Landscape Maintenance services.
• Consistent moisture– if you are fortunate enough to have an irrigation system, this will allow you to maintain a consistent amount of water that is applied each week throughout the year. If you don’t have a system, you’ll want to apply about 1 inch of water per week if you’re looking to keep your turf happy and healthy.
• Soil Compaction– is another major factor in how well your grass performs. When the ground is moist in the spring and fall, it’s beneficial to aerate your lawn to relieve compaction as well as provide other benefits to the root system.
• Weed Control– whether you prefer the organic method or chemical control, eliminating weeds is important in helping your turf stand thrive, where it can eliminate most weeds on its own.
Old Wives Tale
It is common to hear that people “Lime” their lawn on a regular basis. This can be fine if that’s what the pH of your soil requires; otherwise, it’s a waste of time and money. Having a soil sample done to tell you what your pH (acid or basic) is as well as what nutrients your soil needs is very important in determining the best lawn care program you should follow.
Potomac Garden Center has turf improvement products available at both their locations in North Potomac and Urbana Maryland to assist you with improving your lawn.