Fall, not spring, is the time to rejuvenate your summer-stressed lawn. It's also the best time to put in a new one. Cooler weather gives fescue the time to sink good roots before summer's heat arrives.
Warm-season lawns like Bermuda can be sodded now through December and do fine; seeds are best sown in the May-June timeframe.
Here's a brief schedule of what to do with a cool-season fescue lawn:
First, kill off any weeds, using a product like Roundup. If your lawn is 50 percent or more weeds, redo the entire area.
AERATE AND SEED
Early September, aerate your lawn, especially if you have pets and children that use it a lot, causing compacted soil.
Put down an extension-recommended seed some time between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, but no later than the end of October. For recommended fescue seeds, see dailypress.com/turfseeds
Apply a 10-10-10, called a balanced fertilizer, or something similar in three applications, timed 30 days apart, before December.
Got a problem? Working under the guidance of Virginia Tech, Virginia Cooperative Extension agents and a contingent of master gardeners in your area can answer your gardening questions. Among the aids they can provide are free gardening literature, workshops and soil-test kits ($7). Just send your sample off to Virginia Tech for analysis and recommendations.
Here's how to contact your extension/master gardener office:
Gloucester. Extension agent Megan Schneider (also serves Mathews, Middlesex, King and Queen, King William and Essex counties), 7400 Carriage Court; 804-693-2602; master gardeners hot line 804-693-1267. www.gloucesterva.info/ext/mastergardener/home.htm
Hampton. Extension agent Scott Ewers, 101 N. Armistead Ave., Suite 200; 727-1401; master gardeners hot line 727-1397.
James City County. Extension agent Leanne DuBois, 3127 Forge Road; 566-1367; jccwmg.orgIsle of Wight. Extension agent Glenn Rountree, 17100 Monument Circle, Suite B; 365-6262.Mathews. 484 Main St.; 804-725-7196.
Middlesex. 44 Oaks Landing Road (courthouse); 804-758-4120 or 804-758-4355.
Newport News. Horticulture programs coordinator Peggy Fox, 739 Thimble Shoals Blvd., Suite 1009; 591-4838; www.nnmastergardeners.org
Suffolk. Extension agent Rex Cotten, 440 Market St.; 923- 2050/51; master gardeners hot line, 923-2055.
York County. Extension agent Jim Orband, 100 County Drive; 890-4940; yorkcounty.gov/vce
Visit Virginia Cooperative Extension online at ext.vt.edu; its turf site is vtturf.com.
MORE Q&A WITH GOATLEY
Q. Are there fall things I should do to my Bermuda, or any warm-season lawn to improve its health?
A. Ensure that soil potassium (K) levels are appropriate according to soil test results. Potash is the "winterizer" nutrient. Refrain from aggressive N, or nitrogen, fertilization in September. Let the plant get ready for winter dormancy by starting to put away food reserves rather than expending them.
Raising the mowing height on warm-season grasses as temperatures cool is another good strategy to promote winter hardiness. If you're not overseeding with ryegrass, a fall pre-emergent herbicide (same types of materials used for spring crabgrass control) can be applied in the first couple of weeks of September to control the germinating winter annual weed complex (henbit, deadnettle, geranium, chickweeds, etc).
Another biggie to control in advance is lawn burweed/spurweed... a PRE program is a great way to eliminate this painful pest.
NOTE: PRE herbicides can not be applied for fall seedings of cool-season grasses.
Q. Should I overseed my Bermuda lawn with annual rye or is there something better I can do, like perennial rye?
A. The major reason people don't use more warm-season grasses for lawns is their winter dormancy period. The loss of green color is undesirable in terms of what is valued as a "quality lawn." However, Hampton Roads homeowners should pay attention to the quality of cool-season lawns this winter as well... from mid-December through February, it is entirely likely that fescues aren't looking so good either, but their loss of color is not as absolute as for warm-season lawns.
I strongly discourage overseeding any warm-season grass other than Bermuda and even it struggles due to the effects of the overseeding next spring. Winter overseeding with ryegrasses is primarily for aesthetics. Research has not found the ryegrasses to provide appreciable temperature modification effects on warm-season grasses and the competition in the spring from the aggressively growing ryegrass over top of the just emerging warm-season turf makes it very difficult for the warm-season grass to resume active growth from dormancy.
Annual ryegrasses are cheaper to overseed based on seed cost, but usually require more frequent mowing. They also tend to die/transition more quickly in the spring than perennial ryegrasses.
Perennial ryegrasses usually have a deeper green color, not quite as fast growing, and tend to compete longer in the spring with the transitioning warm-season grass. They are usually overseeded in the Hampton Roads area from the end of September through mid-October at 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet. The overseeded is nothing more than a competitor, or a weed. I don't say this to discourage overseeding, because it does provide some of the prettiest turf of the season in mid-spring. But the competition of the two grass systems can't be ignored because/c there has to be a "down time" in turf appearance and quality when a two grass system is employed.
Today's Bermuda grasses are appreciably better in quality than the older ones... much finer texture, some with significantly improved cold tolerance, greater density. They still are quite aggressive and can become a weed anywhere they are not desired, but they have come a long way from the traditional "wiregrass" that everyone associates with many of the common Bermuda grass ecotypes that are found all across Virginia.
Q. What are the best grass seeds to grow in a shady lawn?
In Hampton Roads, turf-type tall fescues are likely the best adapted grasses for part shade/sun lawns (four to six hours of light). If it is deep shade, fine fescues might persist in low maintenance situations where an exceptionally high quality turf is not the expectation. While it is essentially a vegetative-only established turf, St. Augustine is the superior choice for shaded lawns for warm-season turfgrasses in the area.
Q. What are the best grass seeds to grow in a sunny lawn?
Any turfgrass we typically grow in Virginia prefers full sun as compared to shaded conditions. However, tall fescue (and tall fescue plus hybrid bluegrass according to our preliminary results at the Hampton Roads Agricultural and Research Extension Center in Virginia Beach) is the best adapted cool-season choice in full sun due to its deep root system. Bermuda grass has the deepest root system of the warm-season grasses, but almost any of them (zoysia, centipede, or St. Augustine) will usually do well in a typical Hampton Roads summer.
Q. What lawn disease should homeowners worry about?
By far the biggest is brown patch (Rhizoctonia blight). It's a major disease of importance on tall fescue, also shows up in centipede, zoysia and St. Augustine, although it rarely kills.
Tall fescue is extremely susceptible to brown patch because of the environment to begin with. Aggressive spring nitrogen fertilization, which is probably the biggest contributor to serious problems on an annual basis, also promotes brown patch.