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Hort in the Home Landscape

A blog devoted to sharing timely horticulture topics and answering the questions of gardeners and homeowners.

Now is the Time to Renovate Your Lawn

Posted by Candice Hart - Lawn Care

Chances are your lawn is looking pretty sad after this torturous summer of drought, says University of Illinois Horticulture Educator, Candice Miller. Now that the temperatures are starting to cool and some rain has returned, early fall (mid-August to mid-September) is the perfect time to think about renovating our lawns.

Most of the lawns planted in this area are cool season grasses more adapted to cool weather.

During the heat of the summer, they stop growing and often go dormant. If conditions become hot and dry enough, which they were this summer, the lawn may even begin to die out in some areas. As temperatures cool and moisture becomes more plentiful, some of the brown patches will likely green up. By September if rain has continued, those areas that haven't greened up are going to need some help.

Here are some suggestions for renovating your lawn now:

Consider over-seeding with new, improved cultivars: If over 50% of the lawn is still living, over-seeding would be a good option to fill in the bare areas. Soil preparation for over-seeding begins by mowing the existing turf a little shorter than normal (about 1 ½ inches). Use a rake or power tool to open up the soil in the bare areas just enough to allow seed to be planted through the existing grass. The object is to loosen the ground enough to allow new seed to come in contact with the soil. Once the soil is loosened, the seed may be applied.

Re-seeding the entire lawn: If greater than 50% of the lawn has died, re-seeding or re-sodding may be the best option. Start by getting rid of any existing weeds, prepare the seed bed, and spread seed at the recommended rate. New seed plantings of cool-season turfgrasses are best completed before September 15. Seeding during this time allows root systems to develop through fall and spring before facing the heat and drought of the next summer. Late summer/early fall seedings also face less competition from annual grassy weeds than do spring seedings.

Aerate to stimulate root growth: The best times to do this are spring and fall. In areas where heavy soils are a problem, or there is a lot of compaction due to foot traffic, annual aeration will improve water movement. It's important to complete the core aerifying, dethatching and power raking early enough in the fall for turf recovery to take place before the onset of severe cold weather.

Fertilize to improve the thickness of the turf: Lawns need 3-4 pounds of actual nitrogen per year per 1,000 square feet annually. Most of this should be applied in the fall with a light amount going down in the spring.

To help prevent damage in the future, here are a few tips for maintaining a healthy lawn:

1. Do not mow too short. Cool season grasses should be mowed no shorter than 2 1/2 to 3


2. Don't not allow heavy foot traffic, especially when the weather is hot and dry or turf is excessively wet.

3. Water according to the weather conditions and your particular soil type. Over-watering can often cause more damage than under-watering.

Call the Master Gardeners at your local County Extension Office with further questions, or post your questions on the University of Illinois Extension Horticulture- Northwest Illinois Facebook page at

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Great article! Very comprehensive. You obviously know your stuff when it comes to lawn care. Keep up the good work.
by Vernon Quarles on Friday 5/3/2013