After months of dry weather and in some areas, extreme drought conditions our lawns are showing signs of stress. Some are bouncing back better than others but all are in need of help in some way or another. Many homeowners rely on automatic irrigation and heavy fertilization programs to maintain a lush green lawn. Water restrictions and indefinite water bans made regular lawn maintenance difficult and in some ways detrimental.
Turf grass is opportunistic. When conditions are right the grass will flourish, usually. When conditions are poor grass will show it's weaknesses and in some cases throw in the towel altogether.
The key to a consistent lawn is tough love.
Don't bother trying to repair your lawn during hot summer months. They're known as cool weather grasses for a reason - they thrive in cooler weather. Spring can be a good time to make repairs but the window is often short and unpredictable. Fall is the best time to give your lawn attention. Set it up for success in the fall and send it off on it's own, see how it does and if it needs help, wait until next fall to try something else.
The above picture is what most New England homeowners saw in their yards as the summer came to an end this year. Patchy tufts of green.
A lawn is typically made up of a variety of grass species. When the lawn is thick, all varieties of grasses are doing well. When the lawn is patchy like the picture, the weaker grasses have gone dormant or died off and left the stronger or more opportunistic grass to thrive.
First: When the nights have cooled enough that you see substantial dew in the morning, cut the lawn short. You should have been mowing tall all summer, between 3.5 and 4 inches. Now it's time to go down to about 3 inches.
Cool nights and shorter days lessen the need for irrigation, increasing the success rate for grass seed. Cooler weather also slows the spread of weeds and other warm weather invasives like crabgrass.
Next: Aerate! Deep core aeration. Lot's of holes! Aerate immediately after you mow when the lawn is shortest. Some people like to mow again after aeration to pulverize the plugs. This is a matter of preference. Both have their benefits.
After aerating, fertilize and seed. The product will make it's way into the holes .
A few days to a week after aerating and seeding you'll see signs of life. The picture above is the same patch of grass in the first picture. Notice the young grass shoots in the middle of the picture.
Top dress with compost or topsoil after seeding, the same day or up to a few weeks later. The above spreader is used to spread a thin layer of compost over the lawn. The same can be done manually with a shovel, a rake, a strong back and a team of help!
The idea here is to add organic micro nutrients to the top layer of soil which will help retain water, and fertilizers in the seasons to come. It will also help to sow in new grass seed.
When you're finished your lawn is likely to look like hell. You may wonder why you're doing all of this and how it's going to help. After a few weeks you'll see noticeable improvement in color and thickness. Your lawn will winter better and come back faster in the spring. But the real reason you're doing all of this is to get it through next summer. You want deep healthy roots that will store water between rains and find water during droughts. You want thick grass that will feed itself between fertilizer applications and grass that can stand up to foot traffic and heavy use. Strong grass will resist disease and infestation. Strong grass will require less water and fewer chemicals. Strong grass will cost less.
Although you may spend more time mowing...
This is a rehab, not a regimen. This is something that should be done if your lawn is in decline or showing signs of distress over the long term.
This may be used as a maintenance practice but I don't suggest doing so more often than every four years.
Do not use herbicides until grass has filled in. Herbicide can negatively affect grass seed and seedlings.
A service like this is likely to cost anywhere from 8 to 12 cents per square foot of lawn.