This past summer saw damage occur to lawns for many reasons. Between drought and heat stress coupled with chinch bugs and fungus damage, it was a rough summer. Even crabgrass had a banner year and some of the crabgrass control chemicals have sold out. What do I do now? Is my lawn ruined?
You need a strong base to grow a great lawn and that starts with the quality of grass seed you choose. Do not buy cheap grass seed; you wouldn’t buy a cheap car if you wanted Mercedes performance would you? The lawn can only be as good as the seed sowed in it. Choose the right seed for your climate and area and if it involves sun or shade or both. Black Beauty turf-type Tall Fescues hold up best in many different lawn situations and helps avoid damage. Tall Fescues tend to be more tolerant of poor soil conditions and require less water and fertilizer to look good. They also hold up very well in both full sun and shady areas of the lawn. Do not apply too much grass seed and waste money. If you do this, the plants will only compete with each other for soil space, nutrients and water and some will eventually die. Sow seed at the proper rates suggested on the package.
Preparation is also the key to successful lawn seed establishment. If you have not taken a soil test, this would be a good time to so. With the proper soil nutrients and amendments such as Love Your Soil and a balanced pH level between 6.2 and 7.0, your lawn should thrive. You can raise pH levels by adding calcium to the soil with Mag-I-Cal. If you have hard, compacted soil or drainage problems now would be a good time to correct them. If you want to add some topsoil for better growth, ideally you should work it into the top three to five inches of the soil. I know this is a lot of work but the proper way to do it. I would rent a machine with some neighbors so you can all re-do your lawns!
Do not forget to fertilize with Green-Up for Seeding and Sodding and apply the grass seed last. Turn a leaf rake over and gently work the seed into the top ¼ inch of soil, do not bury the seed! Green Mulch is another option you can use to cover the seed. Do not cover the grass seed too much. If you are considering using hay, use salt hay or better yet, use straw that does not have weed seeds. Water the new seedlings lightly everyday if possible until new growth starts. Gradually cut back on the watering once the new seed grows 2-3 inches. Do not mow more than 1/3 of the grass blade, set your mower high until the lawn thickens up in several weeks.
I mentioned that this was an exceptional year for crabgrass. If you are seeding your lawn this fall, it is best to not try and kill the crabgrass plants before seeding. This would delay your seeding window by about 1 month. I would much rather have you apply grass seed in early fall to establish a great lawn and try to crowd out crabgrass next year with a sound lawn program. Crabgrass plants will be killed with the first frost. In New Jersey, this usually happens in early October. The crabgrass plants cannot withstand the cold and the leaves will turn purple and then brown in a few weeks.
Later in fall I would apply Winter Survival to your whole lawn, including the newly seeded areas as a follow up lawn feeding. This will help promote root and leave growth the get the thick, green lawn you wish for.