ST. PAUL - Fall is the preferred time for many important lawn care practices. From fertilization and weed control, to aeration and seeding, there is no better time for cool-season turfgrass maintenance in the Midwest. But this year is different, according to University of Minnesota Extension turfgrass educator Sam Bauer.
"The lack of precipitation in August has caused many of our Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, or fine fescue lawns to turn brown and cease growing," said Bauer. "In order for your lawn to recover, you will need to begin irrigating regularly." This means more than just one or two cycles, but enough water to wet the root zone sufficiently to sustain turfgrass health.
If your lawn is stressed from lack of moisture, typical fall maintenance practices that have been recommended in the past may add additional stress. "Concentrate more this fall on creating the best possible growing environment for your turfgrass, and you will reap the benefits during next year's growing season," said Bauer.
Here are some tips from Bauer for drought-stressed lawns:
Aerate after the lawn's health has been restored. While aeration is a great fall practice, it further stresses drought-stressed turf and may actually cause the lawn quality to decline.
Don't dethatch or use a vertical mower. This process tears turfgrass leaves and crowns, and should only be conducted when the lawn is healthy.
Don't spray herbicides on a brown lawn. Systemic and contact herbicides used for weed control are more effective when weeds are actively growing.
Choose fertilizer sources with at least half of the nitrogen component present in the slow release form. High rates of quick release nitrogen fertilizers can have negative effects on drought-stressed turf. There is also a greater potential for environmental loss of nitrogen when the lawn is not actively growing.
Raise the mowing height and mow less frequently to encourage turfgrass recovery.
Maintain soil moisture to promote turfgrass recovery.
Spot seed and fertilize thin, weak areas with a high-quality turfgrass seed mixture.
Perform a soil test to determine fertilizer requirements of phosphorus and potassium.
For more information on lawn care, visit www.extension.umn.edu/turfgrass.