As summer turns to fall, many fair-weather gardeners begin to pack up their tools and head inside. But there is still much to be done.
The typical heat and drought during summer can really stress out lawns, and with the unusually wet spring and summer many lawns are now having issues with various diseases. "So you put all that together, [then] when we're out enjoying the lawn, we're playing on the grass, we're cutting it with the mower — we're adding to some of the compaction of the soil just through all of the activity on our grass," says Melinda Myers, gardening expert and author of Month-By-Month Gardening in Wisconsin.
For lawns that are looking sparse or areas that are being seeded for the first time, Myers has several tips:
Prepare the area
Remove any dead grass or plants from the planting area. Then, check to see the condition of the soil.
"Wait until the soil is moist, but not soggy wet. Take a handful of soil, gently squeeze, tap it. If breaks into pieces, it's moist, perfect for working. If it stays in a mud ball, wait, because you're going to have cracked, compacted soil."
Prepare the soil
"If you have dead patches, adding some organic matter — compost, peat moss — to top, I say 12 inches (hoping you give me 6 or 8). What that does is a couple things: It improves drainage, ... [it] also helps when we have all this rain that we've been having in the last through years, so it acts like a sponge. So instead of it running off the lawn, into our storm sewers, it's absorbed and helps filter it down to the ground water, cleaning out a lot of the dirt and the impurities," says Myers.
Whether you're starting or maintaining you lawn, Myers says this is also a great time to fertilize. She suggests using a low-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer, particularly if you're just starting off your lawn.
"This is a perfect time to seed your lawn. The soil is warm, the air is cool, and the grasses we grow are cool season grasses: blue grass and fescue and perennial rye," says Myers.
She suggests lightly raking the seed into the soil, and checking it every day. You should water the lawn at least once a day, maybe twice if the weather is hot. The top inch of the soil should remain moist, but not soggy wet.
Myers says, "Lay the sod ... kind of in a pattern like a brick. So you alternate your seams and then you kind of butt the edges up, so that when that sod shrinks a little bit, you'll still have grass there, not a bunch of cracks in the lawn."
Sod will net into the soil in about a week, at which point you can water thoroughly but less frequently. Myers says this holds true when the grass finally sprouts: Water thoroughly, but less frequently, ensuring that the soil is moist.