PHOTO: ZepFanMan.com/Flickr
Frank Hyman
September 30, 2019

If you live in the southern half of the United States, you probably have a lawn of heat-loving grass such as Bermuda, St. Augustine, zoysia or centipede grass. As the weather cools, these grasses go dormant and turn a tawny brown color. More importantly, they stop growing—so you can take a break from mowing until late spring. But if you will miss your mowing habit—or just want to look at green grass—you can do something about it. You can overseed with 5 to 10 pounds of annual ryegrass per 1,000 square feet of lawn. Even without additional fertilizer, ryegrass grows happily during a southern winter and then dies from the heat that ignites the growth of your dormant lawn.

If you live in the northern half of the country, you probably have a lawn of fescue grass that might appear poorly after a hot, dry summer. Fescue is evergreen, but that doesn’t mean it lives forever. Some of your grass plants will succumb to drought, foot traffic, flooding or other problems, leaving you with bare or weedy spots. But if the bad spots are less than 50 percent of the lawn, you can easily correct that during the last warm days of summer and early fall. Here’s how.

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  • Fix any problems, such as putting in a path where foot traffic has killed the grass, eliminating any weeds or regrading an area with flooding problems.
  • Using the results of a soil test, apply the proper amount of fall fertilizer and pelletized lime with a broadcast spreader to the entire lawn including bare spots. Then turn over the soil in the bare spots; use a shovel for a small area or a rototiller for larger ones. Use a gravel rake to smooth out and level the soil.
  • Overseeding the entire lawn, as well as bare spots at this time, could head off future bare spots. Five to 10 pounds of seed should cover 1,000 square feet of bare areas. Three to 5 pounds will be enough to overseed the existing lawn. Walk on the tilled and seeded area—or use a water-filled lawn roller—so that the seeds get good contact with the soil to speed up water uptake and germination.
  • If the bare area has a slope, apply a thin layer of wheat straw as a mulch to keep seeds from washing away in the rain. Level areas won’t wash away, so they don’t need mulch.
  • Water reseeded areas ideally for about 10 minutes, once or twice a day for as long as two weeks. You want to keep the soil surface moist—but not soggy—for that long to get full germination of the seeds. But if your lawn is too large to manage that, do a daily rain dance and hope for the best.
  • After germination of the seeds, water for 30 minutes twice a week to promote deeper root growth. Do not mow the bare areas until the grass is 3 inches high.

Once the tree leaves start falling, keep them shredded with the mower or raked or blown off the lawn. If you don’t, your fescue will die from lack of light and you’ll have a whole new set of bare spots to deal with in the spring.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2017 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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