Fall is the ideal time of year to spruce up your lawn and give it a real boost. With a little effort now, you can establish vigorous, healthy turf for next spring! See what tips WBTV meteorologist Jim Lytle and Blue Max Materials' Mike Bishop have to share to turn your lawn into a "Yard of the Month" contestant!
Fall's cooler weather provides the perfect conditions for growing new grass and establishing a strong root zone. When you plant in the spring or - heaven forbid! - in the summer, new grass is continually stressed from heat and drought cycles and never has a chance to develop healthy roots. Warm sunny days and cool autumn nights eliminate these stress factors, allowing for strong root growth that prepares the grass to withstand winter's freezing temperatures and emerge healthy and lush in the spring. The deeper root zones will then protect the grass during the summer - roots are better insulated from extreme heat when they are deeper in the ground and they can draw from moisture reserves below the top few inches of soil.
Sounds good! Where do you start?
Do you have low or bare spots in your yard? Start here by adding a quality topsoil designed for growing grass, such as Lawn Max, a blend of topsoil and coarse creek sand specifically researched by Blue Max Materials for lawns in the Piedmont region. Fill low areas in with the topsoil, raking it level with surrounding grassy areas for an even surface.
In bare areas, rake or till the area before adding the new topsoil. Caution: just putting a new inch or two of topsoil on top of a bare area won't accomplish your purpose! Roots are lazy and find the path of least resistance to grow in. If the new soil is looser and richer, they will stay in the new soil and only establish a root system that goes down an inch or two, which is not deep enough to withstand winter and summer's harsher demands. Mixing the new soil with a bit of the old will allow those roots to grow deeper and give them more insulation from heat and cold.
What do you do in existing lawn areas?
Over the course of the year, your soil naturally becomes compacted when you walk or play on it or drive your lawn mower over it. Summer's heat also contributes to compaction by drawing moisture out of the soil and making it "as hard as a rock", especially in our local clay soil. This compaction makes it more and more difficult for the grass roots to grow - they have a hard time expanding into such a hard soil!
To rectify the situation, it's important to aerate your yard every fall. Aeration is simply running a special piece of equipment over your grass that removes plugs of dirt every few inches or so, allowing air and moisture to penetrate deeper into the soil. Aerating machines are available at rental centers for the do-it-yourselfer or you can hire a landscaper to perform the service for you.
Before aerating, make sure your lawn is well watered to allow for maximum penetration of the aerating machine. If you have a sprinkling system, you should be fine, but if you don't, wait until after a good soaking rain to perform this task.
Once you have prepared the ground, you're ready to spread new seed over your bare spots and over-seed existing grass. Consult with a nursery to determine the best type of seed and application rates for your specific lawn. Then water, water, water to promote germination and healthy roots!