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Late summer into early fall is a great time to be thinking about your lawn. Over the coming weeks, take a look at your turf grass and consider investing some time into a handful of maintenance chores. Fall is a great time to aerate, de-thatch and over-seed your lawn.
Aeration is an important step in maintaining a healthy lawn, especially if you want it to be less dependant on irrigation and fertilization. Aeration is a process in which channels are opened up in the top 3 to 6 inches of soil, reducing compaction and allowing water and air to move around more freely within the upper layer of soil. It lessens the need for fertilization because any fertilizers used can more readily travel down to the root zone. There’s also less runoff on lawns that are well aerated.
You have several different aeration options. For a small lawn, you may want to contact some of your neighbors and see if they would like to share the rental cost of a gasoline-powered core aerator. Many equipment rental companies rent these machines for about $50 per day, perhaps not worth it if you are done in 20 minutes, but if you can share the cost with neighbors, it can be a smart move. A core aerator removes a cigar-shaped plug every few inches and, in my opinion, is the best method. This type of aeration should take place every three or four years.
Dethatching is another chore best done in the autumn. Thatch is the term for old, dead grass stems that are still attached to the growing plant. Thatch build up is not the result of leaving grass clippings behind when you mow—those clippings are actually good for the lawn because they break down and return nutrients to the soil, but thatch is not.
Thick layers of thatch can prevent water and fertilizers from moving down to the soil. A fully organic lawn almost never has to be dethatched because all the beneficial microbes and insects break down the thatch for us. But, if you walk across your lawn after a rain and it feels like you are walking on a sponge, it may be time to dethatch. To do this, you can rent a dethatching machine from an equipment rental company (again, consider sharing the cost with a neighbor) or you can manually remove thatch with a special rake purchased at landscape supply centers or nurseries.
Over-seeding is often most successful when completed in the autumn. The cool air temperatures, coupled with still-warm soil, are the perfect conditions for good grass-seed germination. Choose a seed mixture appropriate for your area, and try to put down the seed just before rain is expected. Lawns should be over-seeded every few years to fill in any bald spots and rejuvenate the lawn. To over-seed large lawns, use a drop spreader to distribute the seed. For smaller lawns, a hand-cranked seeder will work just fine. When over-seeding the lawn, it’s not necessary to cover the seed with compost, hay or any other product. The existing grass will help shield it from birds and keep it from being washed away by heavy rains.
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