The growing of the green Garden: Here are all the essentials for cultivating or refurbishing your lovely, lush lawn.

September 21, 1997|By Nancy Brachey | Nancy Brachey,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

It's mid-September, and (pick one):

1. Your lawn survived summer in great shape.

2. Your lawn is thin, weedy and needs renewal.

3. Your lawn isn't one. You're starting from scratch.

Whether you're in situation 1, 2 or 3, the moment is here to work on your lawn.

Luckily, it's more than a mere moment.

You've got about one month to do the basic work that will put the lawn in prime shape.

After that, it's tender, loving maintenance.

The easiest job facing gardeners is situation 1, where a well-established lawn escaped the summer ravages of drought and brown patch. Such lawns need mainly aeration and over-seeding to wake them up.

Lawns with major problems need total renovation: digging up with a tiller and sowing new grass seed.

And for a new home with no lawn yet, this is the prime time to create one.

Tools of the game

* Rake: Before you put down fertilizer, a gentle raking will bring up twigs, leaves and other debris as well as reveal bare spots.

* Aerator: Mechanical aeration is a good once-a-year exercise. It especially benefits compacted clay soil. The aeration machine pulls up small plugs of soil or makes tiny slits to let water, fertilizer and air penetrate the soil.

* Peat moss: A thin layer of peat moss spread across the top of the lawn after aeration will make the soil more drought-tolerant and help reduce future compaction.

* Seed: The most popular and successful lawn grasses in the Piedmont include various turf-type tall fescues such as Jaguar or Rebel (or blends). The old favorite, Kentucky 31 tall fescue, is still a popular option, although the new turf types are better.

* Lime: A soil test, available through the Cooperative Extension Service, will tell you just how much lime should be added to your soil to get the right pH, the acid-alkaline balance, for growing grass. Test information is available through county agents.

* Fertilizer: Fertilizer will push the grass into good growth during the cool days of autumn. Use a high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer at the rate directed on the package. This is a better choice than standard 10-10-10 fertilizer, because lawns benefit most from the higher level of nitrogen in specially formulated lawn fertilizers.

* Mower: The height of the blade is key. Set the blade so that the grass is mowed about 3 inches high, and mow often enough so that no more than one-third of the height of the grass is removed.

Winning strategies

* Divide your work by weekends so you're not overwhelmed.

* Gather a group of neighbors to share the cost of renting an aeration machine for a weekend.

* Dig small, bare patches by hand, at least 2 inches deep, then rake smooth; for larger areas, use a tiller that will go 6 inches or more. After seeding, cover with straw to prevent seed from washing away. Rake off the straw gently after the grass begins growing.

Losing strategies

* Letting leaves pile up to smother young grass in October and November.

* Letting seeds and seedlings dry out during their fragile youth.

* Scalping your cool-season fescues with the lawn mower.

* Scattering grass seed on ground that hasn't been aerated or loosened with a spade or tiller.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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