Roots of Wisdom: Getting your grass in gear
Have you decided that your lawn lies somewhere between “a perfect velvet carpet” and “a grass disaster”? Do you need to perform some lawn maintenance that does not include digging up the entire area? Where do you go from here?
There are a series of steps that you can perform, in whole or in part, that will upgrade the quality of your grass without breaking the bank. You need to start with the application of a broad-leaved herbicide. At this time of the year plants are preparing for winter survival. The flow of nutrients is downward from leaves to roots. At most other times, the stream of nutrients is from roots to grass blades to support new green growth, thus it is counter to the direction that a herbicide active ingredient must follow to kill a weed from top to root. Additional reasons also contribute to the effectiveness of the use of herbicides in the fall. Note that crabgrass naturally dies in the fall along with other annual weeds and that only some of the perennial weeds will be totally controlled by a single application of any herbicide.
Twenty-four hours after the herbicidal treatment (time must be given for the chemical to be absorbed by the leaves and translocated to the crown and roots of the weed), closely mow the area to reduce the canopy of the herbage. Remove by raking, especially if the debris contains weed seed stalks; otherwise leave the cut material as an organic material supplement.
Spread a ½-inch layer of screened loam or compost over the entire area to improve soil depth together with an application of ground limestone at a rate of 60 pounds per 1,000 square feet (grass is a “sweet crop” and needs its calcium).
Rent a coring aerating machine and make multiple passes over the area – north to south, east to west, and on the diagonals. Do not use a spiking machine, as it will increase soil compaction. The cores pulled from the turf will thoroughly open the lawn to air and water penetration as well as mix the topdressing and lime into the upper soil profile. Allow the cores to dry, then rake the cores to break them and leave them spread as a dressing on the soil.
You are now ready to overseed the area at a rate that is half that suggested on the package. You can make your selection from any of the three hardy northern grasses. Cultivars of bluegrasses are often used as they produce a quality lawn by spreading runners from the mother plant. However, bluegrass requires high levels of fertilizer and water to do its best. Insects attack it more readily than other types. Fescue cultivars tend to be clumpy but are resistant to leaf attack from most insects and are more shade and drought tolerant than other grasses. Many homeowners look for a mix of grass seed that offers 3 to 5 percent bluegrass and 95 to 97 percent turf type tall fescues to attain the best mixture of lawn grasses. Sow seeds half north to south and the remainder east to west and lightly rake them in. Keep the area moist until the grass grows.