Autumn Lawn Maintenance
Bergen County Property Maintenance
Well September is upon us and once again its time to think “autumn lawn maintenance. Fall is the ideal time for lawn maintenance, aeration, overseeding and lawn prep for the coming year. The soil is at the optimum temperature during the day and overnight for healthy and sustained growth before the grass and/or lawn enters dormancy. By utilizing a proper fall lawn maintenance program you can put your lawn to bed for the winter on a “full” stomach and it will sleep well.
Having the perfect lawn is something we all want, whether we’re creating a beautiful show garden or a back garden volleyball court. and a place for the family to gather and romp and play. So however you want to use your outdoors, create a lush lawn to do it with. A soft, green lawn is a wonderful thing, and it doesn’t have to be out of reach.
With autumn nearly upon us and winter rapidly approaching, you’re probably not spending much time thinking about your lawn. But autumn, with its cooler temperatures and occasional rainfall, is the ideal time to prepare your lawn for next spring.
Understanding Grass Growth
To start with any grass needs a good healthy well drained soil to grow in. Many homeowners do not consider soil composition as a potential threat to the health of their grass. But more often than not, many grass problems can be attributed to unhealthy soil. Just as an engine powers your lawn mower, soil houses the fuel grass and plants need to grow. So how do you add soil your lawn while the grass is already growing. Top-dressing with composted soil. Top-dressing gradually improves soil over time. As organic matter breaks down, it filters through the existing soil to improve texture and overall health. The organic matter also is processed by earthworms adding nutrients and minerals to the sub soil where the grass roots are providing an intake of food for the grass as a whole
Most cool season grasses are bunch type grasses. As the name sounds, they grow in a bunch, but growth habits are largely misunderstood. When lawn grass seed germinates, a single grass blade emerges. The grass crown, at the plant’s center, have roots growing down from the crown and the blades growing up. Grass plants expand as new grass blades, called tillers, develop and grow along side the original crown. Hundreds of new tillers can develop, each having its own crown, roots and blades. A blade of grass has a short lifespan of about 6 weeks and must continually produce new tillers or the grass thins out.
Grasses that Benefit From Overseeding
The practice of overseeding lawns is really nothing more than spreading grass seed over an existing lawn. The golf industry has been doing it since the sport began and is an important step in maintaining quality turf. Knowing how to do it correctly is the key.
The practice of overseeding lawns is primarily reserved for cool season bunch type grasses such as tall fescue, fine fescue, perennial and annual ryegrass and occasionally bluegrass.
Why is Overseeding lawns Necessary?
After several years, mature plants begin to slow down their reproduction rate. Since a blade of grass lives only an average of 45 to 60 days, production of new tillers must continually outpace the dieback of older leaves. Young grass will produce tillers faster than older grass. Therefore, one of the most important secrets to maintaining a healthy, thick lawn is to make sure your grass is young. The practice of overseeding lawns is the easiest way of Keeping grass young.
When is the Right Time for Overseeding Lawns
Overseeding lawns consisting of Cool season grasses should be done in late summer or early fall. There are many reasons for this. With fall germination, the young grass will have two or three months to become better established before temperatures drop too low and growth stops. Next spring, the young plants will have another few months to develop deeper roots before the summer heat sets in. This is the primary reason, but there are also other reasons for overseeding lawns in the fall. Below are a few:
Overseeding lawns in fall reduces or eliminates competition from summer weedy grasses, such as crabgrass, foxtails, and other weeds.
Soil temperatures are still warm in the fall, which is necessary for seed germination, while the cooler air temperatures are better for grass growth.
Rain amounts and soil moisture is generally better in the fall.
Overseeding lawns in the fall gives the grass a head start. The roots have become established before winter, which greatly reduces crop loss should you have a hot, dry spring.
Methods Used for Overseeding lawns and Soil Preparation
Any method you choose to evenly distribute seed will work. The task of overseeding lawns doesn’t require expensive equipment. Smaller areas can be done by using your hands if you do not have access to a fertilizer spreader. If overseeding lawns by hand, you should first divide the amount of seed you want to spread in half. Then carefully spread half of the seed by broadcasting it over the entire area. Choose a single direction to walk while spreading the seed. Then spread the other half of the seed at a right angle to the first direction you walked in. By broadcasting the seed in two different directions you have a greater chance of getting complete coverage. Small hand-held rotary spreaders can also be used for small areas. They are generally inexpensive and are more precise than spreading by hand.
Drop and Rotary Fertilizer Spreaders
For larger areas, it is better to use a drop or rotary spreader. This is the same type of spreader that is used to spread lawn fertilizer. Drop spreaders, like the name sounds, drop seed directly below the spreader. The width of drop will never be wider than the spreader itself. Drop spreaders are more accurate when working around flower gardens or ponds, etc, but are not well suited for very large areas. Care must be taken to ensure you are walking in straight lines. Any swerve may result in a missed area. Overseeding lawns with a drop spreader is more work if the area is large.
I prefer a broadcast spreader for overseeding lawns. They come in various sizes from small push spreaders to larger commercial models capable of holding 100 plus pounds of seed. Depending on the spreader, you will get coverage 3 or 4 times the width of the spreader. Keep in mind that seed is very light and will not broadcast as far as fertilizer. You will need to watch carefully to make sure the seed is striking the disc at a consistent rate. If the openings in the bottom of the hopper are too small for the seed size, it could easily clog. If this happens, increase the size of the opening in the hopper and walk a little faster to compensate. Also, try to spread the seed when the air is calm. Overseeding lawns even with a small breeze is all that is needed to prevent an even spread.
Preparing the Grass and Soil for Overseeding
For seed to germinate it needs to come in contact with the soil. Seed will not germinate if it is resting on grass or grass clipping, leaves, moss, or any other material. It may help to mow your lawn to 2 inches or lower and collect the grass clippings. If grass clippings from previous mowings are covering the soil surface, you may need to rake the grass before applying seed. A metal rake is best, making sure the tines are scratching the soil surface. This will lift excess clipping or debris so the soil is exposed.
Before overseeding is the perfect time to core aerate. Core aeration is the process of pulling out a plug of grass and soil approximately one half inch wide and three inches long. Walk behind, motorized core aerators are very heavy machines, some weighing several hundred pounds and take a little practice to use efficiently. Aerators can be rented at many equipment rental stores. Non-motorized, pull-behind types can be purchased at home and garden stores. Heavy watering or rain should precede aeration for effective core depth. Even the heaviest aerators have difficulty penetrating dry ground.
The removal of a plug during aeration relieves soil compaction, while increasing gas exchange and water availability to the roots. Two or three passes with the aerator in different directions is best. Don’t worry about picking up the plugs; they can be left on the surface to breakdown naturally. In a few weeks they will be gone.
Core aeration is not the same thing as spike aeration. Spike aerators do not pull a plug, but will simply punch a hole in the ground. On the down side it may slightly increase soil compaction, but at the same time helps air and moisture reach the roots.
See our “Lawn Aeration” page for more details…
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