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3 Steps To A Better Lawn | Fall 2006 Out Here Magazine

Core aeration equipment pulls small plugs of soil and grass from your lawn.

Help your grass rejuvenate and prepare for the cold months ahead

By Jodi Torpey

Photography by Jodi Torpey

By the end of the summer, the long hot days have taken their toll. If you're feeling tired, worn out and a little scorched around the edges, imagine how your lawn feels.

Both of you could probably use a little revitalization.

Fall is the ideal time to begin a soil cultivation program, says Brad Fresenburg, a turfgrass specialist at the University of Missouri Extension Service.

Fresenburg has a back-to-basics, practical approach to lawn care. "If you do the right things upfront, it makes life easier down the road."

By August, lawns (like their caretakers) start looking forward to fall's cooler days. Cool-season turfgrasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, and perennial ryegrass, grow best during cool weather.

Fresenburg recommends a fall lawn care program that includes three key elements: core aerating, overseeding, and fertilizing. Done in conjunction with each other, these three practices help develop a strong root system.

Aeration — the process of pulling small cores of soil out of the ground — is the best way to start the fall fertilization program, he says. Opening up the soil surface allows water and important nutrients to move into the root zone, helping turfgrass recover from summer stresses and preparing it to survive next summer's heat.

Core aerate with equipment that pulls plugs 3 or 4 inches deep on 4-inch centers. Apply fall fertilizer and grass seed just after aerating.

Make three applications of fertilizer — once each month in September, October, and November, he recommends. "Find fertilizers with a good balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium with a ratio of 3-1-2," he says.

Overseeding will help areas thinned from drought, weeds, or pests. Overseeding right after aerating gives maximum seed-to-soil contact and improves seed germination and lawn density. Be sure to keep the seed moist, but avoid saturating, Fresenburg warns.

Some lawns may also need de-thatching. Thatch is a thick buildup of organic matter — leaves, dead grass stems and roots that don't decompose — at the base of grass leaf blades. As a cushion, it protects the soil, but if it measures more than ¾-inch thick, it keeps water from soaking in, air from circulating and therefore can encourage disease. If thatch becomes too thick, rent a de-thatching machine to remove the thatch and thin the turf canopy, Fresenburg suggests. Then overseed.

Fall is also the best time to start a new lawn. Test the soil fertility first to determine soil nutrient needs, soil pH, and lime requirements. Your local extension service can guide you through this easy process.

After soil testing, prepare the site, seed, and then water. Keep the soil surface moist, but not wet. Be sure not to let seed dry out once it germinates, Fresenburg says.

So don't wait until things start greening up again next year to think about your lawn; a little extra labor in fall lays the groundwork for a lush lawn next spring.

Jodi Torpey, a master gardener, writes from her Colorado home.