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Rejuvenate your summer-weary lawn this fall

by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

It’s been a weird-weather year for lawns. First, a cool spring was kind to yards and then June’s rainy days kept lawns lush. When a cruel July arrived with little rain and lots of sweltering heat, cool-season fescue lawns succumbed to the heat and limped into summer dormancy. Bermuda lawns – like the one I have -- browned up a little, too. If your fescue lawn looks like it’s been through the crisper, now is the time to bring it back to life. Bermuda also needs fall help to maintain its vigor.

Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends fall as primetime lawn-care season and garden centers are stocked for the occasion. Spring is not the best time to redo or rejuvenate a lawn because new grass roots can’t establish before hot, dry weather typically arrives. To get your cool-season fescue lawn green and growing again, have a three-month plan that first includes spot spraying for weeds. If your lawn is more than 50 percent weeds, the entire lawn needs to be killed and redone. Healthy soil is the key to vigorous grass, so take a soil test to see what nutrients your soil needs. This simple practice saves you time and money from adding unnecessary fertilizers – and, at the same time, benefits the environment, which can be harmed from excess fertilizers running into storm drains and eventually into waterways. Next, aerate your lawn and then seed it. In 30 days, your lawn is ready for its first fertilizer application, which should be done by end of October. Second and third applications should be applied in November and December, respectively. For Bermuda, apply a winterizing fertilizer to maintain strong root development. With a little TLC and a lot of fall focus, your grass will always be greener on your side of the fence.
photo by Kathy Van Mullekom

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Lawn Season Kick Off

It's time to kickoff the fall lawn season. Over the past 70 years, we've gathered valuable information and products to help you establish and maintain successful lawns here in Hampton Roads. We've devised some simple steps to help you get your lawn looking its best. Hampton Roads is considered a transitional zone, meaning you can grow both cool season lawns (fescue) and warm season lawns (Bermuda, St. Augustine, Centipede, and Zoysia). Fall is the best time in this area to establish and repair the fescue lawn. During fall, the soil temperature cools down rather then heating up, so you will get a better germination and a quicker establishment. We also get more rainfall in the fall on a more consistent basis which aides in establishment of the new seedlings. Summer is the hardest season on fescue lawns and therefore planting in the fall gives the longest time before summer will come around again. Root development also occurs on all plants in the fall, which is vital when starting a new lawn.

To help you on your road to lawn success, we've developed easy-to-use lawn kits specifically formulated for Hampton Roads. In addition we're offering complimentary lawn classes every Saturday at 11pm from September 12-October 10. September and October are the best months to come on in and get the information and products you need to make your lawn a success!

Our Grass Seed: McDonald Tall Fescue Mix is comprised of three different types of tall fescue. Every year we evaluate the different types of fescues that go into our mix. They are chosen based on different genetic strengths such as drought and heat tolerance, deep green color, natural disease and insect resistance, and sun and shade tolerance. We are always striving to have the best grasses that have been tested in this area. We use the Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension Turfgrass Variety Recommendation list to aide us in making that decision. The list is comprised of 55 different types of tall fescue. Because our varieties of fescue grass seed have been tested in this area, we are confident they will help make you successful when working on lawn repairs or establishing new lawns.

The Cooperative Extension and McDonald Garden Center believe that a mix of three different types of tall fescues gives the homeowner the highest success rate. When you have a mix of different varieties of fescue you get all the benefits and characteristics you need to have a great lawn, where as one type of fescue will never have all the characteristics that make a great lawn. Some varieties of fescue have also been known to get diseases or be more susceptible to insects as they become more widely used. This is also why we use three different types, because if one variety has an issue many years from now, then you will not experience total lawn loss. With one variety of grass seed, you run the risk of losing everything if this were to occur.

Our grass seed is very fresh and has the highest germination rate available in this area of 92%. It has no fillers and no other types of seed. Most blends have bluegrass (poa annua) and perennial rye in them, which both perform poorly. Both will die off in the summer leaving blank areas that weeds will quickly grow into. They also both seed very quickly, causing discoloration during seed production, and then they re-germinate in the fall, choking out your fescue. (If you have issues with perennial rye and blue grass (poa annua) in the lawn we offer solutions to the problem.)

Soil: When establishing a lawn in the Hampton Roads area you must always consider what is supporting the lawn. The soil becomes a vital part in how successful a lawn will be. We recommend getting a free soil test at any of our locations to determine your pH. Having the right pH will decrease weed levels and increase the nutrient uptake of the grass. Our soil is naturally low in pH which encourages weed growth and doesn’t allow the grass to get the nutrients it needs to survive. Organic matter is also very important to obtaining a strong root system and water retention. By adding a thin layer of compost (1/2-1/4inch deep) to the top of your new lawn or over your existing lawn will naturally aerate and dethatch your soil. Over the course of the year it will continue to decompose and add rich organic matter into your soil that will increase the success of your lawn. Hampton Roads soil is either sandy or clay based and therefore needs amending to encourage a healthy soil for lawns to grow in. There are multiple products that can help encourage a rich soil and increase soil microbes, without having to till or do major soil preparations. You always hear about feeding your lawn, but it is equally as important to feed your soil.

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Summer Lawn Care Tips

The dog days of summer have officially begun. And in these hot and humid summer months, it can be a challenge to keep your lawn looking green and healthy. So, we've had our lawn experts put together a few simple tips to help you keep that lawn looking lush all summer long.

For Warm Season Lawns: If you have Bermuda, St. Augustine, Centipede or Zoysia, follow these steps this summer...

  • Warm season lawns, with the exception of Bermuda, should be fertilized with St. Augustine Weed and Feed. It will give your lawn the right amount of fertilizer while killing weeds.
  • To fertilize Bermuda grass, we recommend Fertilome Classic Lawn Food.
  • To control weeds, we recommend Weed Out or Atrazine. This product will take care of weeds without damaging your lawn. For disease control, use F-stop to prevent Zoysia Patch, Brown Patch, Take-All Patch and others.
  • Don’t forget that you should also think about insect control during the summer months, too. White Grubs, the offspring of the dreaded Japanese Beetle, can damage lawns during the later part of the summer months. To control them and insects use Bug Blaster or Hi Yield Turf Ranger.

For Fescue Lawns (or cool season lawns): If you have a fescue lawn (or cool season lawn), follow these steps to ensure that your lawns stays happy and healthy this summer...

  • The most important factors in keeping you fescue lawn healthy through the summer are mowing and watering. Raise your mower height to 3-4 inches for the summer months. Taller grass helps keep the root system cooler and helps to choke out weeds. Water once or twice a week, slow and deep during the warm months to promote deep and vigorous root growth. Lawns require 1 inch of water per week.
  • Second, no matter how much you think you should fertilize your lawn this summer…DON’T.
  • Third, to control weeds in your lawn, use Weed Out with Q and Dimension as a pre-emergent. This product will kill hundreds of weeds, including over 200 varieties of broadleaf weeds and grassy weeds.

As the summer continues on, lawn fungus can become a problem in our area. If this is the case in your yard, use F-stop. This is a systemic preventative and curative fungicide. Use F-stop to control Brown Patch, Dollar Spot, Leaf Spot and more.

Nutgrass can also be a bothersome weed in the summer, and the only way to rid your yard of this invasive weed, is to use Hi-Yield Nutsedge Control. But remember to use Spreader Sticker with this and any liquid weed killer to make it stronger and faster acting.

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