Nancy Brachey

Get started on fall lawn care

Symbols of the season: a spreader applies grass seed to renew a fescue lawn.
Symbols of the season: a spreader applies grass seed to renew a fescue lawn. Observer file photo

This time last year, we had it pretty easy. A mild summer left fescue lawns in good condition.

Not this year. Broiling summer heat and long stretches without rain were very hard on fescue lawns. Many await major restoration, but others require smaller work on bare patches. The luckiest lawns got through, thanks to regular watering, and need only fertilizer to put them in top shape.

Fescue lawns, which are most common in the Piedmont, are cool-season grasses, meaning they grow best during mild days of fall through spring, then become semi-dormant during the hottest months.

That is why autumn, especially mid-September to late-October, is a key time for reseeding and fertilizing that will help launch the growing season.

The first thing to do is assess the condition of your lawn. If it has thinned to less than 50 percent coverage, overseeding after core aeration is the best step. If you just have bare spots, you can get to work on them with a shovel and seeds. And, luckiest of all, if your grass looks pretty good overall, just fertilizer should be all that is needed.

Lawn fertilizers are important for these jobs because they contain a high proportion of nitrogen, the element that encourages leaf growth. Measure the approximate area of your lawn and follow guidelines on the package to learn how much to buy.

Bare spots can be dealt with by digging up the area, then sprinkling seeds and fertilizer. Tamp down the area to ensure good contact between seeds and soil. Then water.

When the entire lawn requires rehabilitation, professional lawn companies do the job efficiently because they have the equipment and experience. But some homeowners take on the task themselves. They mow the lawn closely, then rent a core-aerator to go over the lawn. Then they use a spreader to set out the seeds evenly, and water.

Core-aeration is important because hard ground that has not be disturbed is not receptive to allowing good growth of seedlings. This process pulls plugs of earth, loosening the soil and making a good place for seeds to lodge and seedlings to develop. Seeds and seedlings must be kept moist during these critical early days.

Keep some seed to reapply where germination and new growth aren’t as good as you would like. Use starter fertilizer on areas you seeded.

Because days and nights are getting cooler, but harsh weather rarely occurs before mid-November, you can do this repair work through October. However, it is better to do it earlier than later, since leaves begin to fall in late October and may cover the young grass.

Raking risks damage to baby seedlings; rake lightly when you must.

Nancy Brachey:

Ask Nancy

Q. We have been successful propagating a couple rose bushes from the original that is over 40 years old. The new starts are in pots. Should I plant them now or leave in pots and plant in spring?

A. The risk of leaving the rose cuttings in pots is they are more susceptible to freezing this winter because of the exposure of the sides and bottom of the pot to weather. I would plant them now, which will encourage more root development this fall and early in the spring. Put a nice mulch around the plants to keep soil from freezing should it get really cold.