Talkin' Turf

by Paul James

Fall in Green Country means cooler temperatures, more dependable rainfall, fewer pest and disease problems… and lots of stuff to do in the garden! In the next few weeks I’ll be looking at the most important fall gardening topics and presenting timelines for what to do and when. This week my focus is on lawn care.

Seeding time for cool-season grasses such as fescue and rye is just around the corner, ideally when overnight temperatures are in the 60s or cooler and the mid-80s or cooler during the day. You can certainly plant earlier, but chances are you’ll have to water more if rainfall is scare. Regardless, you should plan on sowing five pounds of seed per thousand square feet in an existing lawn, and twice that rate on bare surfaces. Scratching the soil surface with a metal rake to create shallow furrows helps to ensure good seed-to-soil contact, but in an existing lawn you can just let the seeds fall where they may.

The only real trick to getting seed to germinate is even and consistent moisture. You don’t need to water a lot, but you do need to water often so that the seed and the top quarter inch of soil stay moist. Typically, that means watering briefly twice a day. Both fescue and rye ordinarily germinate within seven days if they receive adequate moisture.

Fall -- as in now through the first or second week in October -- is also a good time to deal with weed control in the lawn, but realize that you can’t use certain weed-control products – namely those known as pre-emergent herbicides --and sow grass seed at the same time.  Pre-emergent herbicides, by definition, prevent seeds from germinating, and they don’t distinguish between grass seed and chickweed seed.

And finally, fall – as in now through mid to late September -- is the ideal time to fertilize turf grasses of all types. In fact, if you can only afford to fertilize once a year, fall is your best bet. Turf grasses have the ability to take up the nutrients in fertilizers, convert them to carbohydrates, and store the carbs over the winter. The following spring, they use those carbs to kick growth into high gear.

Next week I’ll focus on a group of plants that give you the biggest bang for your buck – spring-flowering bulbs.