The recent rainfall shortage is forcing many homeowners to kick their fall lawn care habits. The tried and true tips for fall, which include aerating your lawn, vertical mowing and fertilizing with quick release nitrogen, could make your already drought-stressed lawn even worse.
"You see lawns throughout the Twin Cities here that have almost reverted back to that summer dormancy," says University of Minnesota Extension Turfgrass educator Sam Bauer. "So the key to bringing them back around right now is put aeration and your herbicide practices aside and start to water."
Bauer says right now our lawn loses about an inch of water a week through evapotranspiration, a mixture of evaporation and transpiration. He says we should aim to replace about an inch a week. He says light applications of irrigation aren't enough. Instead, get in the habit of doing frequent, heavy watering sessions.
Bauer also suggests to regularly check your soil with a hand trowel or probe to make sure it is wet enough. And just to be sure your lawn doesn't miss a watering cycle, Bauer suggests springing for a forty dollar timer to attach to your sprinkler.
"We have to wet the root zone," he says. "Just wetting the surface will keep the roots at the surface."
Bauer says fertilizing with quick release nitrogen is bad for your lawn and the environment right now. He says typically in late fall it's recommended to use one pound of nitrogen per one thousand square feet in a quick release form. That wouldn't be a good idea right now.
"When your grass is not actively growing it does not have the ability to take that up," says Bauer.
Instead, he suggests using a mix of both slow and quick release nitrogen.
Finally, you can also prevent further damage to your lawn by mowing less frequently and raising your mowing height when you do.
The experts at the U of M say before you take these drought-specific tips to heart, you should first determine if in fact your lawn is stressed due to lack of moisture. They say if you've been irrigating but your grass isn't responding, your soil could be compacted and you need to aerate. If you haven't fertilized your grass in a few years, you may need to fertilize to restore its health.
September 14, 2012