Time for Turf Maintenance

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By Dennis Morgeson


September is the best time to sow grass and renovate your lawn. It is the natural time of year when grass seed is released and the weather is perfect for germination. Homeowners in Kentucky like and want a Kentucky bluegrass lawn because it looks great when it’s well kept and most Kentuckians think of it as the “ideal” lawn. Actually, the best turf for central Kentucky is tall fescue. However bluegrass has shown to be very resilient after a drought. There is an array of fescues to choose from, including the general pasture and hay grass Kentucky 31. Kentucky 31 has a wide blade and is very tough; however it is a little too coarse for most homeowners’ tastes. Newer varieties of tall fescue were bred for lawn use and have a much narrower blade and are almost as tough as Kentucky 31. Great varieties include Falcon II, Rebel Jr., Tomahawk, Apache II, Genesis, and Gazelle. If you are planting grass in a shady area, cultivars of fine, red, chewing, sheep or hard fescue should be used. The best performers in Kentucky have been Creeping Red, Banner III, Brittany III, Eco, Shademaster II, Shadow II and Victory II.

Tall fescue should be planted at a rate of six lbs. per 1000 square feet. The fine fescues should be planted at two pounds per 1000 square feet. Mixtures of tall fescue and other grass species are not recommended because of the differences in the leaf textures and mowing heights.

Fine fescue and Kentucky bluegrass can be mixed together and sowed if you have a sunny and shady area that is close together. These grasses have similar leaf blade sizes and will look nice together. The bluegrass will grow and take over the sunny areas while the fescue will take over the shady ones. If you want to mix fine and bluegrass together, mix one and one-half pounds of bluegrass with one pound of fine fescue.

The first step in lawn renovation is to have a soil test done; it can save you time and money in the future. If you are totally renovating a lawn go ahead and put the recommended amount of lime and fertilizer on before sowing. Otherwise, wait until November or December to fertilize. You can add lime anytime.

If over one-third of your lawn is dead and/or weeds it is best to kill the existing lawn, till it, rake the debris off, apply the recommended lime and fertilizer, smooth it into a good seed bed and sow a new lawn. You should broadcast seed in one direction and then broadcast across the same area at a 90-degree angle.  This will insure good seed coverage.  

After sowing firm the seed into the area with a roller or other object, you can also rake the seed in very lightly. Don’t cover the seed with soil completely because it needs light to germinate. Apply a light covering of clean straw over the area to conserve moisture, and to help keep the soil from being disturbed. The straw will also help keep the birds from finding your seeds and will warn people not to walk on the area. Remember to keep the newly-seeded area evenly moist for several weeks to allow the turf to get a good start. After germination, grass needs at least one inch of water per week.

Bare spots in your lawn can be treated in similar ways to the before mentioned recommendations. Many people only want to thicken their existing lawn. Simply broadcast seed over your lawn, rake the area to help the seed come into contact with the soil and hope for the best. Don’t mow the area for a few weeks to allow the seed to germinate and become established. Mowing too soon will scatter your seeds and may blow them into areas where you may not want turf, such as flower and landscape beds.

September is also a good time to control broadleaf weeds such as dandelion, plantain, chickweeds, henbit, and clover (I like the clover so I rarely apply herbicides to my lawn). Don’t apply herbicides to newly-seeded areas, it will kill or significantly stunt your new turf. In early to mid September, you can apply a pre-emergent to keep annual broadleaves such as henbit and plantain from germinating or you can wait until they have sprouted and apply an herbicide containing 2-4D to control all the broadleaves at once. A combination pre-emergent application and a 2-4D application will give you the best control however.
You still have a few days to sign up for the 2012 Kentucky Master Gardener Class at the Washington County Extension Office. Class starts on Wednesday, Sept. 5, at 9 a.m. If you are interested, give me a call at 859-336-7741. 

Happy gardening!