Annie Calovich

March 14, 2012

Turf times: After last summer’s scorching, lawns may still be awaiting a wake-up call

It may have been a mild winter, but I still felt like Sleeping Beauty this week, waking from a long dark nap to the light of fat white pear blossoms and sunshiny forsythia.

It may have been a mild winter, but I still felt like Sleeping Beauty this week, waking from a long dark nap to the light of fat white pear blossoms and sunshiny forsythia.

Throw in daylight saving time and open windows, and I feel like I’ve fallen back to sleep and entered a wonderful dream.

My fescue lawn, too, after being reseeded probably too late in the season last fall, is finally showing signs of green throughout. It may be a bit thin, though. After the summer the turf went through last year, we all need to be analyzing our grass.

“If you’re not seeing any green now, you might be concerned,” extension agent Rebecca McMahon said of fescue lawns, though you may give it another week.

“I think a lot of the plants were a lot more stressed going into the winter, and when they’re more stressed … they may be trying to conserve some energy” by not breaking dormancy quite yet, she said.

Fescue and Kentucky bluegrass are cool-season lawns that come out of dormancy earlier than warm-season grasses. The warm-seasons – Bermuda, zoysia and buffalo – may come out of dormancy early this year depending on how they’re situated, but give them until late April to green up, Rebecca said.

If I’m a bit worried about my fall-seeded lawn, I shouldn’t be alone, she said.

“If you tried reseeding in the fall and it didn’t go well … we were still pretty droughty, and that was pretty common that reseeding didn’t germinate very well.”

You have a few options if your fescue needs help.

You can reseed this month (you can wait until early April, though March is ideal, Rebecca said). But only reseed now it you’re able to keep the seed watered. Otherwise wait until fall, which is always the best time to reseed.

“If your lawn is in a condition that you can tolerate for the summer, it would be far better to wait and completely redo it in September than to keep trickling money at it and time and resources and not ever get anything well-established,” Rebecca said. “But if the lawn is completely bare, it’s important to get something down to hold that soil in place.”

Sod is always an instant-gratification option, too, and can be put down in a much wider time frame, assuming, of course, that you are able to keep it watered, too.

But after last summer’s weather debacle, some people are reconsidering fescue, Rebecca said.

“A lot of people still like the look of the fescue and the cool-season grass, but I think there’s more interest about how to manage it without spending as much on water. Definitely some folks after last summer realize that either their resources or their interest in lawn care don’t match up with the requirements of fescue. So there are some people considering switching to a warm-season grass. I would say they’re still in the minority, but there is some interest.”

Warm-season grasses come in some different forms from those of fescue.

Buffalo can be planted from seed, sod or plugs. “The word on the street this year is that buffalo seed is extremely expensive due to seed crop failure from the drought last year,” Rebecca said, “so sod might be the way to go. Or wait to plant next year.”

Bermuda can be planted from seed, sod, sprigs or plugs. Zoysia is usually sodded or plugged, but there is one type of seeded zoysia, and “it isn’t widely available from what I’ve seen and isn’t as cold hardy,” Rebecca said.

If you seed a warm-season lawn, do so from late April through May, she said. If sodding, plugging or sprigging, do so when the plant material is available, usually in June.

I wondered what type of grass Rebecca thought was best to plant.

“I really don’t have a grass I prefer, because everyone’s needs and yards are different,” she said. “They have to choose based on the shade and sun they have, irrigation, soil type and how much traffic the lawn gets and the aesthetic they desire for their lawn.” See the accompanying box for Rebecca’s guidance on how to choose.

It would be nice if we only had to worry about the grass. But weeds will complicate matters.

“I think weed pressure is going to be stronger in the areas where the grass thinned out last year and hasn’t had a chance to fill back in. Although some of the weeds theoretically got scorched, too.”

Emphasis on “theoretically.”

“People are going to have to be on the ball with crabgrass preventer,” Rebecca said. Short-term preventer is supposed to be applied when the redbud approaches full bloom, and that will probably be earlier than usual. You can put short-term or long-term preventer down now, she said, and if it’s short-term, be aware that you may have to make a second application, and it may have to go down earlier, too. If you want to go the non-chemical route, apply corn gluten meal. If you’re going to be overseeding, use a crabgrass preventer containing siduron.

Dimension is the one crabgrass preventer that can work on crabgrass that has a little size to it (two- to three-leaf stage), so if you miss your deadlines, get a bag of that.

Oh, and if all else fails? Lowe’s now sells SynLawn, an artificial turf for the home lawn. I would normally disdain anything fake, especially in the out of doors, but when I think – really think – back to last summer, I remember that anything green would have been a feast for the eyes.

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