If you’ve gotten your hands on our Annual Lawn and Landscape Calendar for 2021, you’re already prepared for the fall and the things to do to stay ahead of the game. Earlier this year, your weeds were properly identified and eradicated with a selective herbicide and now you’re ready to be proactive. Fall is the best time of the year to be aggressive with soil disruption and overseeding new grass babies for your cool-season grass. Tall Fescue is the most common in the transition zone since it does great through the cooler winter months and hangs on throughout the summer.
If your yard looks anything like mine right now, chances are it’s a bit bare, brown, and downright sad-looking. Without irrigation, the hot and dry months of summer have put some extreme stress on our fescue plants. When the temperatures start to cool down giving us the first signs of fall on the horizon, it’s time to start the fall maintenance plan: aerate, seed, and fertilize. And we’ve got the whole process covered for you right here!
Step 1: Aerate.
Aeration is the penetration and breaking through of the soil’s surface (also known as poking holes). The benefits that this brings are the alleviation of compaction (which is your yard’s worst enemy), air exchange, and better infiltration of water throughout the soil. What does all of that mean? Basically, a happier lawn come next year. I’m sure you will be second-guessing your efforts in the beginning; why on earth would I roughen up the ground when my grass babies look as pitiful as they do now? The answer to that question is to just trust the process.
Opening up the ground and pulling plugs (cores) and disrupting the ground during the projected growing season of cool-season turf is the single most important thing that you can do! If you have high traffic areas such as paths that the kids take to the backyard, corners that vehicles cut to get to the garage, or areas where the kiddy pools have sat all summer, hit these hard! They’ve been abused all summer, so go ahead… they’ll benefit from this type of abuse. Aeration is crucial before adding seed into the mix. It allows for seed-to-soil contact to exist due to the opening up of the ground’s surface. It’s ideal to complete this process right before seeding.
Step 2: Seed.
Overseeding or seeding of cool-season grass such as your tall fescue is ideal in the fall. Some people feel as though spring is a good time, but science tells us otherwise. Our overall goal is to get the grass babies mature and healthy before going into the summer months, thus starting germination in the fall will give the seeds the longest amount of time to mature. We also generally apply our crabgrass pre-emergent in the early spring, which would prohibit any seeds from taking root through the soil’s surface, including your tall fescue.
We’ve opened up the soil, now let’s plant our seeds! I recommend overseeding with a broadcast spreader or a drop spreader in areas where landscape beds are abundant. Making an application in two directions to mimic a checkerboard will result in better coverage and eliminate striping of grass which is the result of missed passes.
When should you overseed your lawn? In most climates, mid to late September is the perfect time to tackle this task. You want the sting of the summer heat to be a thing of the past. Start keeping an eye on the nighttime temperatures, and when they’re consistently below 65 degrees. You’ll also want to continue to water until germination… AKA, when those little green babies poke their heads up!
It’s all in the timing!
Step 3: Water.
Seeding when rainfall is in the forecast is best. Germination usually takes about two weeks from the first watering and it’s crucial to stay on top of watering. These are babies, so they need to be bottle-fed (so to speak!) a bit. Using an impact sprinkler every other day (or every day if the sun feels really hot!) for the first two weeks is best to ensure the seeds don’t dry out. If wind is a factor and there’s a lot of bare ground, apply a straw to ensure the seeds don’t get blown away.
Step 4: Fertilize.
Now it’s time to feed your babies. Applying a starter fertilizer with a greater Phosphorus level to promote root growth is best to get the grass up and growing. Applying this in two directions as well will ensure striping doesn’t happen. I recommend doing a soil test to determine what nutrients your soil is depleted from. Your state extension agency can provide you with this information after the soil has been tested in their lab. Depending on those results, adjust your fertilizer ratio accordingly and also apply lime.
Step 5: Maintain.
Continue to mow but don’t collect any grass clippings until the seed has germinated — this is to ensure the suction of the mower doesn’t remove the light grass seeds. If possible, wait to mow until the grass is germinated. We also recommend leaving grass clippings when possible, because it acts as a free source of nitrogen for your lawn. If winter weeds are present, hold off for a sec! Spray these with a selective herbicide once the grass babies have been cut at least twice. This makes sure they’re strong and healthy enough to withstand the effects.
A luscious lawn takes some time, some planning, and some money but it’s something you’ll enjoy year-around. Still have questions? Hop on over to our Facebook group or tag us on Instagram — we’d love to answer all your Q’s!