Patience is not only a virtue, but one of the keys to reviving your lawn in this year’s post-drought season. The summer’s drought conditions — combined with what has been a record-warm first half of the year for our nation — have taken their toll on many lawns throughout southern Wisconsin, leaving dead patches and weeds in their wake. Yet, with a little patience and some basic steps, there is still hope of bringing your lawn back to its greener condition, according to area horticulturists.
Many lawn owners may have already noticed some greening up of dead patches, following recent rainfalls. And, chances are that the greening trend will continue through the rest of August, according to Doug Soldat, associate professor and University of Wisconsin-Extension specialist in the Department of Soil Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Kentucky bluegrass, which is the most common lawn grass in Wisconsin, has underground stems called rhizomes which can regenerate new plants, Soldat explained.
“There’s a good chance the rhizomes will send up shoots to fill in the dead area, or at least shrink its size,” he said.
It may take a little while, as grass that is in true dormancy can need as long as two weeks to green up, Soldat said, But, by waiting until September to do any re-seeding or sodding of dead patches, you will likely reduce the size of the area that needs work.
September is also a better time to establish new grass from seed, because it tends to offer less stressful temperatures and moisture levels — plus, most weeds are no longer germinating, according to Soldat.
“The chances of successful re-seeding aren’t good in strong heat,” he said.
Don’t wait too long, though, as Kentucky bluegrass seed can take up to three weeks to germinate, and you want to make sure the seedlings can grow strong enough to survive the winter.
“Think of September 1 as the action date,” Soldat said.
Sodding is also an option for filling in a lawn’s dead spots, but while it is a faster method, it is also more costly, said Patti Nagai, horticulture educator for the Racine County UW-Extension.
“Sod is like instant lawn, it’s beautiful,” Nagai said. “But, it is also incredibly expensive and you still have do the prep work.”
As with seeding, the existing soil needs to be prepared before laying sod, she explained (details at http://learningstore.uwex.edu/assets/pdfs/A3434.pdf). And, once laid, sod also needs to be regularly watered, so that
it can establish roots. “There is also some skill involved in putting down sod properly.”
Nagai also noted that sod is 100 percent Kentucky bluegrass, as opposed to a mix, and prefers full sun, “If you have a shaded area that needs filling in, sod is generally not the way to go,” she said.
Weed control, fertilization
No matter which method you use to re-establish dead spots, September is also a good time to think about weed control and fertilization of your lawn. While grass was struggling to survive this summer, broad leaf weeds seemed to thrive in the hot, dry weather, Nagai explained. So those lawns that had weed issues to begin with most likely have even more weeds growing in the dead spots, she said.
“Weeds are having a field day this summer,” said Soldat.
One way to discourage their growth is by fertilizing the lawn to encourage the process of grass growing back into the voids. It is important, though, to wait until September to do so, as fertilizing in the heat of the summer can sometimes cause even more damage, Soldat said. While some professional lawn-care services have access to slow-release fertilizers than can be used in summer months, consumer fertilizers will work best when applied in September and October, he said.
Ideally, fertilizer should be applied to the lawn several times each year, but even one application can improve the thickness of your grass and help control the introduction of weed species, Nagai said. “It can really make a big difference in the health of your lawn.”
By doing the right things in September, you can have almost 100 percent recovery of most dormant areas, according to Soldat. And as you continue lawn care throughout the year, remember that basic methods such as regular irrigation, using a sharp mower blade and keeping the blade high when you mow, play an important role in maintaining healthy grass, Nagai said.
“For people who want a nice, healthy lawn, there are ways to do that without a lot of chemical input,” she said.