by Teresa Kluver
Nearly every one of us enjoys lying on a nice plot of grass. Whether reading a book in the shade, enjoying a picnic or napping, the earth covered with a nice cushion of turf is a comfortable place to spend some time during the summers. If your lawn is a bit tired and weary try some of these turf renovation methods. A little bit of effort this fall can reap large rewards next summer.
The Redmond Park Operations Division is completing turf maintenance activities throughout the year. We buy fertilizer by the ton, use tractor driven equipment to aerate large lawn areas and distribute amendment materials through a hopper that holds 300 pounds. Turf renovation, whether on a park scale with tractor-driven equipment or on the homeowner scale with rented equipment or tools powered by your own sweat and muscle, is most effective completed in the fall.
First, what is the goal? Plants, like humans, need air, water and food to survive. Turf grass needs these elements in their root zones. So our goal is to open up the soils to allow easier access for air and water. We also want to provide the right food for the lawn to prosper.
Pulling plugs from the soil increases the ability for air and water to enter the soils. The soil plugs, can be left on the top of the lawn to breakdown. Rented, mechanized equipment can be used to aerate the soils. The smallest of lawns can be aerated effectively with forked coring devices available from gardening supply companies.
Thatch is a tightly intermingled layer of living and dead grass stems, leaves and roots. This layer is actually between the green vegetation we view as lawn and the soil. Thatch can form a near impenetrable layer reducing the availability of water and fertilizer to the grass. Our goal in renovation is to remove thatch. A rented machine does a great job of using vertical blades to pull the thatch from the lawn. It is also effective at removing moss. A hand-operated thatching rake requires lots of sweat and back muscle, but can be effective on small lawn areas. After raking the thatch from the area, the lawn will look terrible. With a little fertilizer and water, the lawn will recover better than ever.
Many grasses are grown for their spectacular flower display. Simply the name Fountain grass (Pennisetum) describes the late-summer blooms of the many varieties of this grass. Japanese Silver grass (Miscanthus) is a large family of grasses that are often stout in size, have good fall color and blooms that will stand up through the winter for additional interest.
- Fertilizer: The numbers on the fertilizer bags represent N (Nitrogen), P (Phosphorus) and K (Potassium). In general Nitrogen is for growth and green; Phosphorus for flowers and Potassium for roots. Generally a 3-1-2 ratio is recommended for turf grass. An example would be a bag that lists 21-7-14 as its nutrient components. In the fall a fertilizer higher in Potassium is often useful to provide extra nutrients toward root production. Remember always follow the application recommendations on the bag and look for fertilizers listed as “slow release” or “natural organic” – these provide great nutrition and are more environmentally friendly.
- Lime or gypsum: These minerals help to “sweeten” the soil. Our soils in the Pacific Northwest are acidic in nature. Turf grass is most successful in soils that are near neutral in pH. Lime helps to adjust this pH. These products need to have contact with the soil to be effective and must be watered in. So an application just after aerating in the fall is perfect. Rain can generally be depended on to provide the water.
- Top Dressing: Raking compost into the newly renovated lawn can help to improve your overall soil conditions over time. You should never cover the grass blades completely; usually ¼” – ½” is adequate.
Cultural practices such as renovation lead to strong, healthy turf grass that can better compete with weeds. The improved soil conditions help the development of deep roots that can better access water. Completing your turf renovation in the fall will get your lawn ready for picnics, lawn games and summer naps next year. It’s a great payoff.