Friday, August 22, 2008

What happened to my lawn this summer?

This is the time of year that the true health of a lawn is exposed. By end of summer a number of factors have conspired against our lawns. A combination of activity on the lawn, shade and drought stress have helped to decrease the health of the lawn which increases the susceptibility to insect damage. And, weather conditions this summer encouraged certain lawn diseases which may have had an impact. All of the potential stresses add up to a lawn that could look better and be much healthier.

Heights area yards are often saddled with shade from the wonderful mature trees that are so plentiful. However, turf grass needs at least four hours of sunlight for the grass to be healthy. Shade also impacts available moisture – generally contributing to increased drought conditions as trees soak up available moisture.

Fortunately for homeowners, fall is generally the best time to rehabilitate your lawn. Now is not the time to try and perk your lawn back up with fertilizers – the magic cure is not contained in an easy to apply bag.

In the long run, practicing proper cultural practices will have the biggest impact on the health of your lawn. Cultural practices include mowing, irrigation, aerating, de-thatching and top dressing. For do-it-yourselfers you can make a big impact on your lawn with a little effort and time, or you can hire a service provider to help you with the items that you may not be equipped or able to handle yourself.

Keeping it simple is important. Mow your grass tall. You don’t always have to cut lots of grass each time. Raise the mowing height to three inches or taller. Skip a mowing or two if the lawn doesn’t need it. Cutting the lawn too short encourages weeds and reduces the health of your existing grass. Sharpen your mower blades at least twice a year if not more regularly and leave the clippings on the lawn as long as you don’t create piles and clumps of grass.

Heights area lawns will benefit tremendously from aeration at least once per year, either in the spring or fall. Aeration is the process of removing cores of soil throughout the lawn allowing air to get to the roots of the turf grass. It helps to alleviate compacted soil and encourages better surface drainage to minimize the potential for moss growth. You can rent an aerator for $50 to $60 for a half day or hire a service provider to do it for you. Shady lawns that have moss or those that have not been aerated recently will benefit tremendously from aeration twice a year – both spring and fall. The soil should be slightly moist for good penetration. Aerating the lawn twice in two directions will not hurt the lawn.

Thatch build up occurs in lawns that are actively growing or that have been under maintained over the years. Thatch is the layer of dead bio-mass that has not decomposed between the crowns of the turf grass plant and the soil. It builds up and creates an impermeable layer that prevents moisture, fertilizer and other lawn applications from getting to the soil. Some thatch is good as it helps to stabilize and cool the soil, but more than ½” of thatch becomes problematic. Removing thatch can be done by hand with a rake and lots of effort or with a power dethatcher or verti-cutter which can also be rented like an aerator. Rake up the thatch and compost it or bag it for the city to pick up. Aggressively removing thatch may require some spot seeding in areas that become very thin.

Healthy soil is the vital building block for a lush and full lawn. Any lawn can be improved by top dressing with organic materials like compost or leaf humus. Heights area lawns have heavy clay which anyone who has tried putting a shovel in the ground knows is hard to dig in and thus difficult to get plants to grow in. Gardeners top dress their vegetable gardens and flower beds with leaf humus and compost products to build the soil and help feed the plants. Consider doing the same for your lawn. There is very little organic matter left in the clay soil of our lawns. Adding organic matter like compost improves the soil composition which results in healthier grass. When top dressing, a little bit goes a long way to helping your lawn. Over application will smoother the grass, so applying a very thin layer will be more beneficial. Plan to buy material in bulk quantity if possible. Measure your lawn area and determine the square footage (length x width = square feet). ¼” of compost spread out over 3,000 square feet will require approximately 3 cubic yards of material (or about forty five 2 cubic foot bags of product).

Instant cures are for late night infomercials. Good maintenance practices applied over time, like exercise and diet, will provide the best results. Not all lawns need to be dethatched, so check first. All lawns will benefit from aeration, top dressing and mowing the grass taller. The work you put into your lawn this fall will pay big dividends next year, helping your lawn to better survive next summers heat and drought.

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