Basic Lawn Care vs. Complete Lawn Renovation
How to Repair Your Drought-Stricken Lawn This Fall
During the grueling, hot, dry months of summer, lawns across the region suffered greatly. During a typical summer, most lawns enter a dormant phase to conserve moisture and energy. However, droughts can be especially destructive to communities and homeowners, leaving behind enormous dry patches – the signature of both dormant and dead lawns. In fact, roughly 80 percent of the U.S. has experienced drought this year, some areas reaching severe and extreme drought conditions.
September is the best time of the year for homeowners to begin the routine of preparing lawns for winter and looking ahead to optimizing spring growth. This year homeowners first must determine if the dry patches in their yard are merely the sign of dormant grass or a dead lawn. If the lawn is dead, normal fall rejuvenation efforts will not suffice, and complete renovation will be required.
Dormant vs. Dead
Start with these methods for determining whether a dry, brown lawn is merely dormant or dead.
- Lawns in northern states often are comprised of cool season grasses, which are more likely to stress and die in harsh temperatures and conditions. Grasses found in the south often are warm season grasses, which are more likely to go dormant.
- If you receive even a light amount of rain, check your dry patches within a few hours. If the dry patches evenly show green growth, likely the lawn is alive, but dormant. If there is little to no change, then the lawn is most likely dead.
- Pull on a small patch of brown grass. If the grass breaks off easily, and does not tug or hold fast to the soil when you pull, the turf is dead.
- Dig up a small patch. If you cannot find white roots, then grass is dead.
Fall Care for Dormant Lawns
Dormant lawns respond well to typical fall maintenance activities, including overseeding and aeration, in order to recover and thrive.
- Aerating – Aeration alleviates soil compaction and allows oxygen and water to sink deeply into the root zone and promote healthy grass growth.
- Lime the soil – Grass likes high pH levels for healthy growth (between 7.0 to 8.0), so do a soil test and determine if the PH in the soil is lower than 7.0. If so, you will need to add powdered lime (at the recommended rate) to your lawn. This will increase the acidity of the soil and better prepare it for new seed.
- Overseed – Overseeding is done where the lawn has thinned out but still has about half of live grass remaining. Use a seed spreader or manually distribute seed throughout the yard – over both dry spots and green spots to thicken the turf. Consult the seed package for application rates.
- Water, water, water – While grass seed is germinating, keep the soil moist and stay off the seeded area.
- Starter fertilizer – After seeding, treat the soil with starter fertilizer. Once the grass is established, treat it again in early October with a high nitrogen fertilizer to encourage additional growth, the again in mid-November with a “winterizer” fertilizer. The final feeding will nourish the new turf through the winter months and encourage fast growth in the spring.
Renovating a Dead Lawn
- Strip the lawn of dead turf with a power rake or turf cutter. Unlike dethatching, the point is to remove all of the dead grass, leaving bare soil.
- Aerate the lawn to improve soil conditions and increase water absorption.
- Add lime to the soil to promote higher pH levels (if needed).
- Thoroughly re-seed the soil at recommended rates and apply starter fertilizer.
- Gently water the soil thoroughly for up to 10 days to encourage germination, then daily to maintain moisture levels.
- Once turf is thoroughly established, fertilize the new lawn again to encourage robust growth and prepare it for the winter months.
- Review several varieties of grass seed to determine which is best for your individual climate conditions. Kentucky Bluegrass offers a beautiful green color, but is not has hearty and pest resistant as Tall Fescue. Fine Fescue may be better for shaded areas.
- Understand that over-watering can often cause more damage to a lawn than under-watering. This is vitally important for newly seeded lawns, as too much water will wash away seed.
- Reduce heavy foot traffic on your lawn during hot summer months or on wet days. Aeration in spring and fall will improve compaction due to foot traffic.
Renovating a Dead Lawn
Dead lawns require complete renovation, which should be completed by late September to provide adequate time for root systems to develop before winter.