Extension Educator, Horticulture
Have you recently wandered the paint aisles to determine if they have Kentucky bluegrass green? Spray paint may be tempting in masking our brown lawn grass, but it doesn't solve our problem. Now that moisture and temperatures are moderating, our cool season grasses of Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and creeping fescue are hopefully showing signs of recovery.
A worm's eye view may be needed to glimpse a glimmer of growth in your lawn grass. The new growth in grass plants appears not at the tips as we see with most plants, but rather near the base of leaf blades, at internodes. If you are not seeing any new green growth, it may be time to kiss your grass goodbye and start over.
First evaluate the lawn to determine if other problems made the lawn more susceptible to heat and drought injury. Lawns with too much thatch (more than one-half inch) or unfavorable growing conditions such as too much shade or poor soil can start on a spiral of decline.
We may also intensify lawn problems through improper maintenance such as over-fertilization. In addition realistically evaluate your expectations of a quality lawn. Home lawns are not going to look like putting greens without a tremendous amount of maintenance.
This year lawn grass in shady areas appeared to better survive the drought. However, too much shade can be a problem for grass. Even shade tolerant grasses need at least 2 to 4 hours of sunlight to be successful. In deeply shaded areas consider ground covers or a shade garden. Ground covers such as vinca, English ivy and sweet woodruff interplanted with ferns, hostas and woodland wildflowers compose a more robust shade garden than lawn grass.
If lawn grass appears to be recovering, a mere increase in the density of the lawn may be adequate. Overseeding is a technique of applying seed into the live plants to help thicken the lawn.
For successful overseeding, the seed must be in good contact with the soil. Seeds broadcast over the top of lawns is just expensive bird seed. Soil in small areas can be roughened with a rake to open the soil and work the seed into the soil. For large areas a rental machine called a slit seeder will get the seed down into the soil. Perennial ryegrass is often the seed of choice when overseeding.
Some lawns may require complete renovation due to poor soil conditions, poor soil drainage, large numbers of weeds and very little amount of desirable grass remaining. Eliminating weeds, especially perennial grassy weeds such as quackgrass or nimblewill is much easier before seeding. Tilling seldom kills perennial weeds. Non-selective herbicides such as glyphosate may be used at this time to kill existing vegetation. Wait to seed until weeds are dead in case reapplication is needed. Be sure to read and follow all label directions.
Don't wait too late into the year to seed. September seedlings have a chance to develop good root systems before the onset of cold winter weather and hot dry weather next summer.
When purchasing grass seed, be sure to read the label for the type of grass included. Purchase high quality seed with high germination rates and seed purity and seed mixes containing a diversity of grass species.
Adequate water must be available for several weeks until seeds complete germination. The seeds should be continuously watered frequently but lightly. Once the seedlings start to grow, watering should be less frequently, but deeper into the soil.
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September 20, 2011 at 7 PM – The Verdict on Annual Flowers Trialed at the Idea Garden. Program at UI Extension Auditorium 801 North Country Fair Drive Champaign, IL.
Help improve local parks and natural areas during National Public Lands Day September 24.