Nancy Brachey

Fall lawn care should be easier this year

For several weeks, I have been agog about how good everything looks as summer closes and autumn arrives. It seems ages since the landscape looked this lush and green at this time of year.

But summer was not boiling hot in the Piedmont. And it wasn’t as dry as a desert. This good weather paid dividends that we see now in lawns that remain thick and green.

So many autumns have been devoted to wholesale restoration of fescue lawns that homeowners have come to expect they must do it. Like Christmas shopping and a week at the beach in July, it comes around like clockwork.

But this year seems different.

Most fescue lawns remain in good to excellent shape and will benefit from an early-autumn application of fertilizer. This will encourage strong, fresh growth and put the lawn in great shape to remain green through the winter. With grass in good shape, you can skip overseeding and core aeration, which become annual tasks when summer heat and drought kill a lawn, as happened many times over the past couple of decades.

Fertilizers formulated for lawns, meaning they have a high percentage of nitrogen that encourages leaf growth, make the best choices. Measure the approximate area of your lawn and follow the guidelines on the fertilizer bag to determine how much to buy.

There may be some thin and weak spots you want to work on and bring up to the standard set by the rest of your lawn.

Attention with grass seed here is important and can be accomplished without too much difficulty. Where grass has thinned to less than about 50 percent coverage, overseeding will help. Do not simply throw down seed on unprepared ground.

Hard, undisturbed ground is not receptive to seeds, so germination will be difficult, uneven and you will get poor results. Simple scratching with a sharp-edged hoe over the small areas you wish to overseed will give seeds a soft place to lodge and sink their tiny, new roots upon germination.

Once the seeds are scattered, tamp down the area with the flat side of your hoe to ensure good seed-to-soil contact and keep it watered while it germinates and while seedlings are very young. Keep some seed to reapply where germination and new growth isn’t as good as you would like it to be. Use starter fertilizer on areas you reseeded.

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, so rake lightly when you must.

This is considerably less work than we’ve been accustomed to doing at this time of year, when total renovation was often required. We can thank a nice summer for this gift.