Spring kicks off every gardener's and lawn enthusiast's growing season. Everyone is eager to see green grass and early blooming flowers, but then summer strikes and it gets harder to maintain a healthy looking lawn. In the face of a drought, many people still mow their lawns heavily, often "scalping" the grass blades so much that they struggle to regrow. The good news is that fall is right around the corner.
Not only is fall a more pleasant time to be outside tending to the lawn, but it's also the easiest time for grass seed to establish. The temperatures are ideal for humans and grass seed alike!
When grass is cut really short, especially in the face of summer heat, it's easy for weeds to take over because your grass isn't tough or full enough to crowd weeds out. The best way to combat these conditions is with some topsoil, grass seed, sterilized straw mulch, and a hose.
Step 1 - Get Your Lawn Tested
Not every lawn is created equal, so without knowing exactly what's going on with the soil, it's impossible to have a lawn that will stay healthy and resilient season after season. The more you learn about the soil that your grass seed grows in, the less work you'll have to do in the long run. Every state has an agricultural station. In fact, nearly every city has their own. Most of these facilities have soil testing abilities.
You can ask that the test to be done organically (or not)—each will give you an analysis of nutrients and micronutrients in the soil. They'll tell you what you have an abundance of and what you have a deficiency of. This is the best way to target your feeding regiment. It's important to have this test done before fall so when you reseed, you can also apply the ideal fertilizers—less work for you and better for the lawn's overall health.
Consider taking an organic approach this fall, as the nutrients in organic fertilizers are typically slower to release and offer more to the overall health of the soil. High number chemical fertilizers give grass seed an artificial boost which provides less nutrients for a shorter period of time.
Step 2 - Reseed and Overseed
Reseeding is where the topsoil comes in. In patchy areas that have died back, you can remove the dead foliage, scratch in some topsoil, and mix your fertilizer and grass seed. Evenly spread the seed and feed into the topsoil. Apply a layer of straw mulch and water regularly until the seed germinate.
To ensure that your lawn stays lush, it's also helpful to overseed. This suppresses weeds and encourages thick new growth. This is also the best way to regain some uniformity among a lawn that has likely grown to be a bit uneven. Simply take a spreader and go over the established lawn with new grass seed and throw in that carefully picked fertilizer while you're at it.
Lawn experts call the process of overseeding a lawn "keeping a lawn young." Because the average grass blade only lives 45-60 days, having new growth emerging is the best way to keep the lawn fresh as old growth dies back. Fall is the time where soil is warm enough for seeds to germinate and cool enough for the grass to grow.
This is also a good time to look into grass seed that is ideal for your area. Look for types that can handle drought, clump rather than run, etc. Tall fescue types are usually preferable, but can come at a higher cost. However, look at the right bag of grass seed as your tool for a healthy lawn and less work down the road. A healthy lawn can sustain itself, requires less water and nutrients, and is less susceptible to pests. Cheap bags of grass seed sometimes come with unwanted grass seed that can actually make your lawn growth less successful.
Step 3 - Take Advantage of Fall Leaves
In late fall, everyone is outside trying to keep up with all the leaves they have to rake. This year, consider mowing right over a dry patch of leaves and incorporating them into your lawn. They not only assist in insulating your soil over winter, but they also add organic matter to an area that is often depleted from nutrients.
During the last few mowing sessions you do on your fall lawn, set your mower to a lower setting for winter. This gives more energy to the roots, encouraging healthy, new growth next spring.
Making a few simple changes to your lawn maintenance routine and taking full advantage of the fall season will ensure a healthier, more beautiful lawn year after year.