Ask Nancy

It's lawn renewal season in Raleigh

nbrachey@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 20, 2013 

  • 6 steps for autumn renewal of fescue lawns

    1 Give the grass a good raking. Pick up stones, acorns and other debris. Where grass grows poorly every year, such as in the root zone of large shade trees, consider expanding the natural area under the tree with mulch or ground covers.

    2 Loosen the soil. Core aeration accomplishes this by bringing up plugs of soil that break apart, making a good place for seeds to lodge while they germinate. This is an important technique for clay soil. Either hire a service or rent an aerator. It’s common for neighbors to chip in on a rental and share the machine to save money.

    3 Sprinkle seeds. Overseed an established but thin lawn with about 2 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet or at the rate directed on the package. Work on bare spots at the rate of 6 pounds per 1,000 square feet or by sprinkling seeds evenly with good coverage over the aerated or dug-up soil. Lightly cover the seeded area with compost. Do not spread seeds on ground that has not been aerated. Dig up areas of brown or dead grass and apply seeds more thickly.

    4 Use fertilizer. Apply starter fertilizer formulated especially for newly seeded ground at the rate directed on the package. Even fescue lawns in reasonably good condition require fertilizer to stimulate growth in the prime growing season this fall.

    5 Water, but not too much. Keep a newly sown area damp. Regular light watering is required, especially when rain is scarce. This may mean twice a day to keep the seed bed damp until germination. Water young seedlings regularly after germination.

    6 Treat new grass gently. Keep your feet off young grass as much as possible while it gets going. Mow 3 inches or higher. Be gentle when raking leaves.

Six weeks ago, most lawns in the Piedmont looked pretty terrific, lush and green, thanks to steady rainfall and milder weather than we’re used to having.

“In the whole state, this has been a better than average year for fescue lawns. The amount of rain, plus cooler and cloudier temperatures didn’t put so much stress on them,” says Dr. Grady Miller of Raleigh, a turf specialist and professor at N.C. State University and the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.

But now, a dearth of rainfall in the late summer heat led to declining fescue that calls for attention just as the right season for lawn renewal begins.

“If you plan on renovation, now is the time,” says Miller. In the Piedmont, that means using core aeration to pull plugs of soil from the yard, then seeding it to grow a fresh lawn.

The contrast between fescue lawns at midsummer and now could not be more obvious.

Jimmy Gibson of The Lawn Ranger, a lawn and landscape service in Charlotte, says lawns were in great shape almost through the summer, thanks to above-normal rainfall. “They were the best I’ve ever seen them in 15 or 20 years.”

But, now, with little rain for the past five or six weeks, “They have dried up.”

As a general rule, says Gibson, if fescue grass has declined by about 50 percent, core-aeration and overseeding are important for restoration, though some people do it to lawns that are in better condition.

“For the most part,” says Miller, “the stress came on at the end. In many cases those lawns will bounce back quicker than those under stress for two or three months (during the years of drought).”

Gibson says he is amazed at how quickly the soil dried out over the past month or so. Working this week, he said, “I just couldn’t believe how dry the ground was down a couple of feet.”

So unless we get rain, Gibson says people may have to water the ground to soften it sufficiently for core-aeration and overseeding to be most effective.

Another aspect of fescue renewal, Miller says, “… is being patient. It will come on. As the temperature cools, it will grow and thrive.

“In the big scheme of things, it’s pretty easy to renovate fescue.”

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