Answers Lawn Care and Fertilization Questions #1

hands holding fertilizer and soil over fertilizer container and grass

Q. Is it a good idea to apply weed and feed fertilizer immediately after cutting your lawn?

A. The grass having just been cut does not matter. It is more important to space the feedings about eight weeks apart.

Q. I am a city girl who just moved to the country and do not know how to maintain my lawn. I get the feeling that I should be fertilizing my lawn, but what exactly does that mean and when do I do it? I have bare patches around the edges and thinning areas in the middle. Do I lay down grass seed? How often should I water? Right now, my biggest problem is the bare patches of grass. I have weeds, but I think I have them under control with a monthly weed killer. I really need a game plan to start getting this lawn under control.

A. Mow the grass the proper amount for its type. Do not cut more than one-third of the blade at a time. Keep the grass watered, ideally one-inch of water per week, including whatever rain falls. Feed the grass periodically, about every eight weeks. Remove weeds and seed bare spots. That can take a lot of time if the areas involved are large. Seed needs to be watered daily for 14 or more days to germinate. A healthy lawn will tend to keep weeds out by itself. The target should be a healthy lawn.

Q. I have brown spots everywhere. I have been reading that the only thing you can do is wait and water. However, I read somewhere that you can rip up the dead grass with a metal rake and reseed. What is best? Should I keep watering and waiting?

A. Sounds as if you tried to spread the fertilizer by hand. Chemical fertilizers can be tricky to spread properly, even with a good spreader, if you don't know what you're doing. With a chemical fertilizer, use a broadcast spreader and overlap by being sure the "throw" of product is from wheel track to wheel track. It's important to err on the side of not enough fertilizer than too much. You've seen what the "too much" side of it does. This way, you get complete coverage without "stripes" or burned spots. You should be able to rake out the dead turf and overseed. A lot will depend on just how much fertilizer was applied, whether liquid or granular, your soil type, and where you live.

If your soil is mostly sandy, the fertilizer's nitrogen should leach out quickly with continued watering. Silty soil will leach slower, and clay soils the slowest. You could take a soil sample shake it up with water in a glass jar, and wait to see how the layers of sediment form. You could also take a soil sample from a few of brown areas and get it analyzed at your local County Agent or Cooperative Extension. There is a listing at the top of this forum with many links to different State Agents. They could make recommendations on supplementing or what to do and which turfgrass will do best in your area. If you can get your soil chemistry back to acceptable levels, you still should have time to re-establish it.

You may not realize there's a safe and easy alternative to chemical fertilizers that still achieves outstanding results. An organic lawn fertilizer, like Ringers Lawn Restore you find at home improvement centers, is more difficult to misapply and works great. Organic fertilizer must be broken down by the soil critters before the plants can use the nutrients; the release is slow and controlled, and the way a plant likes it. Chemical fertilizers claim "slow-release," but they are still very potent. With proper mowing and irrigation and fertilizing with organics, the grass will start thriving within two or three seasons, choking out weeds and making envious neighbors. Organics work on a soil building principle that increases organic matter and humus in the soil to grow healthier plants and fosters soil "life." I could go on and on and bore you to tears with the benefits.

There is one application where a chemical fertilizer works better than an organic. In a cool-season or "northern" lawn, turf studies have shown late-season fertilizer nitrogen actually allows grass to build up important carbohydrate reserves after the top growth has stopped and up until the ground freezes.

Q. How long do I wait until I mow a re-seeded lawn? I used Scott's seed, and the only info I could find on the bag was about germination taking four to six weeks before I fertilize and not to use weed killer for three mowings. No note on to when I can mow the first time.

A. Ordinarily, wait until the grass is 3-5 inches tall, set the mower high with a sharp blade, and mow.

Q. My husband and I have recently purchased a home on half an acre. We live in the Raleigh area of North Carolina. The grass isn't bad here, but I would like to make it the thickest and greenest possible. It does have a bunch of clovers and some weeds. I would like to get rid of them and have rich, thick, green grass. What do I need to do to get my grass to look great, and what do we need to do and when throughout the year to keep it great?

A. If there is no grass, you will need some. If you have grass, you can encourage it and discourage the weeds. To install a new yard, kill the old and plant the new seed, sprig, or sod. To improve what you have, find out what kind of grass it is. Then adopt a practice of mowing it the proper height to remove no more than one-third of the blade at a time, mulching the clippings, keeping it watered, feeding it in time, and working to rid yourself of weeds. A healthy, thick stand of grass is its own deterrent to weeds. Fall can be a good time to start a yard because the water demand is less, weeds are not generally actively growing, and the coming winter will allow the grass to develop roots while the blades are dormant. The grass needs to have enough time to become established before the frost, however. Check with your local county extension service for advice on this timing. Otherwise, start the new lawn in the spring. The extension service can tell you when in the spring.

In general, keep the yard watered in winter in a period of prolonged drought. The grass is still alive in winter and can die if allowed to become desiccated. Spring is the time to plan and execute core aeration of existing lawns, feeding and applying pre-emergent herbicides to prevent crabgrass, among other weeds, and a tune-up on your mower. Once the grass is up, start the mowing regimen. Mulch the clipping to the benefit of the lawn. Scott's has a website that features an e-mail service to remind you when to do certain things to your lawn. In summer, mow and treat insect problems as they occur. Fall is the time for the last feeding and winter preparation of the grass. If you put in a new yard, there is seeding, sprigging, plugging, and sodding. The cost increases from seed to sod. The amount of time to a nice yard decreases from seed to sod.

The key here is money. A soil test is indispensable for any yard to know what amendments the soil needs. For a new yard, kill off the old one, amend the soil and till it about 4 inches, level, then: seed at the appropriate rate, keep watered daily for about 14 days for the seed to germinate, when the grass is about 3-5 inches tall, mow for the first time. Over time, the grass will thicken and make a nice lawn. New grass is tender and will not respond well to foot traffic until this matures and thickens. Sprigging and plugging are intermediate ways of installing actual grass to lightly cover the area and wait for the filling in that will occur over time. Of course, sod means you lay your yard, roll it in for soil contact, water, and enjoy. No waiting is needed.

Q. My newly installed sod appears to be dying, both from being too dry around the perimeter and too wet in the center. I installed it about a month ago in an area where we had previously had an in-ground pool removed. The sod was installed on a 4" layer of good topsoil—the pool demo company filled in the pool area with supposedly clean fill. The lawn area is also surrounded by a 4' retaining wall on two sides. Our native soil in the area is very sandy, so I was surprised to see that water didn't drain at all during watering or rains for long periods, mainly where the pool had been filled in. Watering the new lawn has been very tricky. I suspect that the quality of the fill may have been marginal (mostly clay). It is too late to change that, but what can I do to save my lawn?

A. The combination of sod and topsoil over the fill may have created a layer similar to hardpan. The water won't pass through this layer. If you could punch holes through this layer, the problem may be solved. As deep as it sounds to be, I suspect a core aerator cutting 3 inches deep will be inadequate. Perhaps, you could use a digging bar or another solid metal rod to punch holes to allow the water to percolate through the soil. Alternatively, the sod seems not to have taken so far. You might pull the sod up in the problem area and till the soil down 6 inches or so to mix the topsoil with the next layer. Then check to see if the water drains properly. If so, replace the sod and tend to it.

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