Ecology + Design

Fall is the Time for Lawn Renovation! Seeding, Aerating, Dethatching and More

It’s been a long, hot, dry summer…and it’s not over! Our lawns are made up of cool season grasses. That means they do best during cool and moderate temperature seasons. That does not describe this summers weather pattern! Aside from the fact that this has been one of the driest summers on record, it has also been one of the hottest and most humid. Humidity in particular is our enemy.

Lack of air circulation and stagnation in conjunction with consistent humidity favors lawn disease and fungus which weaken the grass plants natural immune system. This results in poor turf grass performance in terms of appearance and in extreme cases leads to decay and death of areas/sections of turf. Extreme heat favors insect pests as well.

All of these factors, which are pretty much beyond our control as homeowners or turf managers, pose challenges to maintaining lawns by organic methods.

There are things we can do to help. First, be sure not to water at night. It’s bad enough we may have thunder storms and showers over nite which typically don’t help with irrigation because the water either evaporates of keeps the grass surface moist which contributes to fungus problems.

Now is the ideal time to improve your lawns quality and performance. Soil testing is helpful in that it provides valuable information regarding correctable and identifiable problems with your site, soil and plants. If your ph level is out of desired range it can be adjusted by adding limestone or elemental sulfur. If your soil/lawn lacks organic matter, compost can be added. If you have a calcium deficiency gypsum can be added etc..

Once you have addressed the soils needs to create optimum conditions. You are ready to attach the lawn surface. Many older lawns have built up a substantial thatch layer. This is the dead grass layer between the healthy green shoots and the roots. If the thatch is to thick it will make watering difficult while creating habitat for insect pests. This can be physically removed by mechanical means or treated biologically or both.

Next and most critical is reseeding. Nothing will improve your lawns performance more than improving the variety, diversity and density of your lawn by reseeding with quality seed.

This is best done by mechanical means.

This has been a banner year for crabgrass so you may want to kill those areas first if they are going to inhibit successful seeding. Crabgrass loves hot, dry conditions with poor, shallow soil. We usually use a soil probe to check and see if soil depth is a problem. This is especially common around pools, walkways, patios, driveways etc.

Sometimes it is best to reconsider whether lawn is the appropriate choice for your landscape area. If you struggle from year to year because of poor air circulation and are unable to remove or prune trees to relieve the condition, maybe ground cover would be a better alternative.

Same may be true of poorly drained areas. A rain garden or landscaping with plants more suited to water and soil requirements might be more functional and attractive. These alternatives to lawn may also mean reduced costs in terms of sustainable management.

As designers we should ask ourselves what is the purpose or function of the lawn surface and what are the resources and management requirements (irrigation, fertilization, mowing etc.) needed to sustain turf as a landscape feature. What is the overall value of the lawn areas in reference to overall property value?

Before, during and after design and construction we should reevaluate the overall appearance and functionality of our landscape in terms of resource management. We are spoiled in the Northeast! We generally do not have floods, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes or severely extended droughts which limit our landscapes in terms of designing with resource management in mind.

Be kind to our land and it will serve us well!

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