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Published: Wednesday, 9/30/2009

Fall tips for a healthy lawn

You may not have a lot of flowering perennials around your yard, but you are growing the short spiky kind we all know as grass. Grass is one perennial plant most of us try to grow. Some turf gardeners can keep it thick and healthy all year long, and others just do what they can to keep the weeds from taking over.

There's no secret trick to taking care of this plant. Grass usually comes back year after year, and some years are better than others. It needs some basics, just like your kids: food, water, some guidance, and an occasional visit with the doctor.

Mark Strassner, owner of Land-Art Turf Management, says you should keep feeding your lawn late into the fall season. "The more you do for your turf now will benefit the plant performance next spring."

Mr. Strassner says his crews are finding a large population of grubs, even this late in the season.

"If you have large spots in your yard, you need to do some investigating," he says. "Dig under the roots of your grass and look for white grubs." Sometimes, serious grub damage is pinpointed when you can actually lift the turf off the top layer of soil like a carpet. The grubs have severed the roots at the soil line, leaving you with huge dead patches of grass to replant.

"You will need a curative, not a preventative, to keep them from causing major damage to your lawn. Apply products like Dylox for a quick knockdown. This chemical gets into their nervous system and they die quickly. Chemicals are gone from the soil in a couple weeks," Mr. Strassner says.

Preventatives like Merit are good products to use for spring application, he says. "Merit is like an appetite suppressant for grubs and it is applied in June or July. Many people have applied it in May, but manufacturers say applying it a little later in the summer will keep it in the soil when the grubs are most vulnerable."

If disease, dogs, and grubs have left your lawn with a few dead patches to contend with, pull up the dead turf with a shovel or rake. Rough up the soil surface in those bare areas and sprinkle with fresh grass seed.

Mr. Strassner doesn't recommend the patch kits. "They are pretty expensive overall. You can buy a bag of good grass seed and mix it with a little Canadian sphagnum peat moss and it will sprout quickly," he says.

The light and fluffy peat will protect the seeds from being eaten by birds, then quickly breaks down into the soil. "Some people like to use straw," he says, "But we have found that some people use too much straw and it will smother the grass seed. It has the potential to bring along weed seeds and it takes a long time to decompose."

If you are starting from scratch or renovating the entire lawn, Mike O'Rourke of Black Diamond Lawn and Garden recommends taking a lot of care in loosening the soil and getting any big clumps, rocks, and sticks out of the area.

"Mix the seed with the soil on the top to avoid some of it being eaten by birds," he says. If the daytime temperatures stay in

the 70s and nights stay in the 40s, your seeds will be sprouting in a week to 10 days. "If you see some weeds

growing up too, don't worry about it. Let everything grow. As long as the grass is growing, handle the weeds next spring."

If you have a lawn that seems to be thinning, it just might need a pinch to get some new growth going. The pinch is a new layer of grass seed. Overseed your lawn by using a spreader or casting it out of the bag by hand. Follow the directions on the bag. Go over the lawn again with a light sprinkle of topsoil to give the new seeds good contact with the soil. "We call this seating the seed," Mr. O'Rourke says. "You want your seed to make good contact with the soil so it will begin to sprout."

Thatch is a lawn problem that can be tough to diagnose. "The root layer is very thick and overgrown," says Mr. O'Rourke.

"It feels like a cushy sponge and it typically develops in lawns that were started with sod. It can be caused by many things. After about three years, the thick root layer never properly attaches into the soil and acts like a sponge. Fungus spores create a build up of organic grassy material right at the soil line," he says.

Mr. O'Rourke recommends picking up heavy grass clippings and mowing with a mulching mower. "The blades in a mulching mower pulverize the clippings and forces them into the ground. The tiny clippings will give your lawn some nitrogen and help decompose the thatch layer," he says.

"Fungicides on the soil will also go back into the soil. If the area is bleached out with thick roots, might as well core aerate."

Core aerating machines can be rented or you can hire a professional to take this heavy mower-type of machine around your lawn. It pulls soil plugs out of the turf to give the roots more room to grow and a chance for more air circulation among roots. This is also good to do in areas that are heavily compacted. Don't pick the plugs up. Let them break down and go back into the soil.

Overseed the freshly aerated lawn right away to give the seeds the best chance for growth.

Keep the seeds watered lightly each day, and with six to eight hours of sun each day, you should see your new grass start to sprout in a couple of weeks.

"A healthy, established lawn should get about an inch of water each week, whether it's from rain or your sprinkler," Mr. Strassner says. Water a couple times a week for longer intervals to keep the roots growing deep into the soil, rather than on top.

You can put on a fall weed and feed application through October to keep it looking lush. Keep the broadleaf weeds in check around your lawn with a weed control like 2-4D.

As the days grow shorter and nights get longer, your grass' growth will slow. After Thanksgiving, spread a winterizing fertilizer on your lawn and give it its last mowing of the season.

"This is one of my favorite applications to do for a homeowner's lawn," Mr. Strassner says. "Everything you do right now will show up in a green lawn next spring."

Once the grass has stopped growing in mid to late November, mow it to about two inches tall to cut down on snow mold growth over the winter.

Sit back and enjoy the winter and be the first one on your block with a healthy green lawn in the spring.

If you have lawn questions, call the Ohio State University Horticulture Hotline at 419-578-6783. Experts are available Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 1p.m.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at:

kheidbreder@theblade.com



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