The extreme heat and drought of 2012 was hard on lawns and gardens. Many gardeners were left facing a blank slate of bare soil, masses of dead patches that were once lawn, or a bit of grass interspersed in a sea of weeds.
There’s no better time than now to renovate and improve your weather-worn lawn. Remember that water is critical to ensure newly seeded and sodded lawns survive. So be prepared to help nature with your lawn’s recovery.
First evaluate the damage, and then use the following lawn care tips to guide you to the best course of action to aid your ailing lawn.
If your lawn is more than 60 percent weeds or bare soil, you may want to start over. Use this opportunity to create a great foundation for growing a healthy lawn. Kill off the existing vegetation and add several inches of organic matter such as compost or peat moss and a low-nitrogen, slow-release lawn fertilizer into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil, and rake it smooth.
Select more drought-tolerant grasses such as rhizomatous (turf-type) tall fescues, buffalo grass, and Habiturf native lawn mix. Make sure the grass is suited to your climate, and plant according to the label instructions. Then sow the seeds, lightly rake, and mulch or lay sod. Water often enough to keep the soil moist until the seeds sprout or the sod roots into the soil below. Water thoroughly when the top few inches of soil are crumbly, but slightly moist, to encourage deep roots.
Fertilize new, existing and stressed lawns with a low-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer like Milorganite. It won’t harm stressed lawns, young seedlings or newly laid sod. It will encourage slow, steady growth. Southern lawns can be fertilized in April and again in early June. In the north, fertilize around Memorial Day. That way, if 2013 turns into another hot, dry summer, it won’t burn the lawn.
Mow high to encourage deeply rooted grass that is more drought-tolerant and pest-resistant. Mow often, removing only a third of the total height, and leave these short clippings on the lawn, as they return moisture, nutrients and organic matter to the soil.
Repair small dead areas and bare patches as needed. Use a lawn patch kit, grass seed and mulch, or make your own. For small spots, loosen the soil surface, sprinkle grass seed and lightly rake. Or mix a handful of grass seed in a bucket of topsoil, and then sprinkle the mix over the soil surface.
Do a bit more soil preparation when renovating larger dead areas in the lawn. Remove or kill any weeds that have filled in these areas. Till 2 inches of compost, peat moss or other organic matter into the top 6 inches of soil. Then sow seed, rake lightly, and mulch or lay sod.
Overseed thin and sparse lawn. First, core aerate the lawn to improve soil conditions and increase seed-to-soil contact. Spread grass seed over the aerated lawn and water as needed. Consider renting a slit seeder or hire a professional with this type of equipment. These machines slice through the soil and drop the grass seed in place, increasing the seed-to-soil contact needed for good germination.
Core aerate lawns with more than half an inch of thatch, those growing in compacted soils, or before overseeding. By removing plugs of soil, you break through the thatch and create channels for water and lawn fertilizer to reach the grass roots.
Spot treat weeds on lawns that need minimal repair. Wait until at least fall to treat new and overseeded lawns. Spot treating minimizes the use of chemicals and reduces the stress on your already stressed lawn. As always, read and follow label directions carefully.
Proper maintenance and a bit of cooperation from Mother Nature will help transform your lawn from an eyesore to an asset.
Nationally known gardening expert, TV/radio host, author and columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written more than 20 gardening books.