September is here! The weather cools and the leaves start to turn. Time spent tending to your garden lessens and the focus shifts to preparing your landscape for the long winter ahead. The change of seasons brings on a lot of questions regarding what can and needs to be done. What steps can you take to help your lawn recover from summer and head into winter with healthy turf? Should you aerate? Do you need to dethatch? What about overseeding? We’re breaking it all down for you here; from the procedures to the benefits and beyond.
We’ve talked about it before, but it’s so beneficial we need to bring it up again. Lawn aeration is the process of removing plugs of grass and soil to ensure adequate water, air and nutrients can work their way into the ground and reach the roots. Basically, the idea is to punch holes in the turf to air it out. Aeration will prevent the lawn from becoming compacted. Compacted soils are quite common in our neck of the woods due to the prevalence of clay. How do you determine if your soil is compacted? Check by simply pushing a screwdriver into the ground. If the surface is too hard to do this, it is compacted and will benefit from aeration. Aeration is best done when grass is at its peak growing season, hence, the fall here in Michigan. The process is completed using a machine called an aerator that perforates the lawn and pulls up plugs of turf. Grass roots growing down in the soil instead of in the thatch are less susceptible to excessive heat and fluctuations in moisture. The cores are left on the lawn to decompose—they return beneficial nutrients to your property. Core aeration will increase oxygen in the soil, facilitate rooting, improve water infiltration and will gradually reduce thatch over time.
Most core aerators are self-propelled machines with rotating hollow tines that push into the soil, removing plugs that are 3/4 of an inch wide and about 2 to 4 inches long. Your local home improvement store may have one available to rent. If you don’t fancy spending a morning tackling this job, we’re up to the task (and if you’re a lawn care client, you may have already signed up for it). Aeration works best when there is a good amount of moisture in the soil. Dry soil may prevent the machine’s tines from penetrating. If conditions are dry, it will be necessary to water the lawn thoroughly for a day or two before using an aerator. However, you want to avoid aerating in conditions that are too wet, as the excess moisture will cause the soil plugs to stick inside of the tines, creating a messy situation.
Dethatching is the mechanical removal of the layer of dead turf grass. Your lawn has three layers: the roots below the soil, the green grass above ground and, in the middle, a layer of thatch that is composed of woody tissue from dead grass roots and stems that gather just above the soil. This thatch material is natural, and it’s healthy in moderation. A thin layer of thatch is normal and helps to insulate the plant, lower soil temperature and maintain moisture. However, a thick layer of thatch can form a barrier that will prevent air, water and nutrients from reaching the grass’s roots. A half inch or more can weaken your lawn and make it more susceptible to disease. Preventing thatch buildup is necessary for maintaining the long-term health of your lawn. A lawn in need of dethatching feels spongy or bouncy underfoot. Take a close look at the grass. If you see a layer of growth between the green shoots and roots, that is thatch. If the thatch is loose enough to stick your finger through, it’s fine. If that layer is thick and tough, it’s creating a barrier between the blades of grass and soil and needs to go. Now is a great time to dethatch as grass grows vigorously in the fall and will have time to recover from the stress it causes. Start by mowing your law a little shorter than normal. To achieve the best results, and make the job easier, plan to do it after a light rain or watering. Dethatching essentially combs out the layer of thatch so it can be removed from the lawn. If you have a small area to do, you can use a convex rake. Pulling it through the grass will lift and remove thatch, providing you with a good workout in the process. A larger area will require a power rake or lawn comber–a dethatching machine with blades that tear away the thatch layer and bring the organic matter to the surface. You can rent one at your local home improvement center or just give us a call. Consider yourself forewarned–plan to spend a good amount of time raking, there will be a large amount of debris to pick up.
Is your lawn looking thinner than usual? Has it been over taken with weeds? Do you have large dead patches in your turf? Fall is the perfect time to overseed to restore your weary lawn and set yourself up for a great-looking yard come spring. It also makes sense to do after aeration, as it gives new seedlings favorable conditions in which to grow and mature. Cool season grasses grow best when air temps are between 65 and 75 degrees. Warm soil encourages seed germination, cool air stimulates growth and fluctuations in soil moisture aren’t as drastic. Overseeding needs to be done early enough in the season to give seeds the time to germinate, and, in turn, the seedlings the time to mature enough to survive winter. Ideally, this would be approximately 45 days before the first frost. There are many benefits of overseeding your lawn. It will fill in turf damaged by summer stressors such as heat and drought. It thickens and increases the density of a thin lawn, thereby improving the appearance of your yard. It strengthens your turf, enhancing its ability to fight against disease and pests. A few tips to get you started:
- Mow your lawn extra short, setting your blade to 2 inches or less. Remember to remove clippings so the new seed has contact will the soil and will have the best exposure to sunlight and water.
- Spread grass seed over your existing lawn, applying as recommended for overseeding on the product label. Use a broadcast spreader for larger areas and a hand-held spreader for smaller patches.
- Use a starter fertilizer containing nitrogen and phosphorus to fuel growth.
- Don’t forget to water. You need to ensure you provide consistent moisture to encourage the formation of deep healthy roots.
One last word of advice – whether you are doing these processes yourself or hiring a professional, make certain you note anything buried underground to avoid causing bigger issues. We’re talking about your irrigation system, invisible dog fence–basically any buried wires you wouldn’t want disturbed. Have them well marked and make sure you don’t go too deep with equipment in those areas.
Grasses growing on compacted soils that are poorly draining will develop shallow root systems ill-suited to withstand heat and drought conditions. Tending to the roots of your lawn through aeration and dethatching this fall will lead to a healthier lawn that less inclined to succumb to future summer stressors, while overseeding bare spots and thinned areas of your turf will create a lush, beautiful lawn that will be the envy of your neighborhood once spring rolls around.
Not up for the task? No problem. Give us a call and we’ll get it taken care of!