Lawn repairs for beginners

Carol Sieck
Adams County Master Gardener

Hopefully the drought is over; the lawn has turned green again. What a relief.

Actually grass is very clever, if its not getting what it wants it stops growing, turns an odd shade of a dried dead color and crunches when you walk over it. Its hard to believe that it will come back to life when the conditions are suitable. Then the rains appear, and the lawn is green again.

So its time to start mowing again. But as you round the sides and corners of your property, you may notice some- oh no-, un-alive areas. Now what happened there? We need to begin with the source of the problem to apply the best solution.

There are a variety of causes, insects, lack of nutrition, disease , or animals. If the grass was in good condition before the drought then suddenly it is not recovering check for insects or grubs which eat the root system of the blades. Pull up some grass with your fingers; if it pulls out easily without roots, this may be your problem. Grubs are in the soil, but if there are more than 6 or so in a square foot of soil , its time to act. Grubs are active in the late summer so visit your hardware store for beneficial nematodes; mix this with water and apply with a watering can. Re-apply in another 6 weeks if needed. You can also ask for a botanical insecticide for the grubs.

Small round dead spots surrounded by real dark green lush grass are called dollar spots; golf course crews keep a close watch for this fungal disease which can spread. This is caused during the hot humid days when there is too much water to evaporate at night . Stop by the Master Gardener desk at the Ag Center at 670 Old Harrisburg Road for a soil test kit to make sure the humid soil is not too alkaline.

Sometimes areas look like a maze was designed for an art project; voles (which are small, dark and very fast animals, that just barely catch your eye as they run by) eat all the roots thus cutting the food source to the blades of grass. Moles seek the grubs underground, causing brown dirt ridges in your nice green lawn. Skunks also dig everywhere to hunt for grubs. Voles and moles is another article; I have tried a variety of tricks without improvement . Send us your solutions and we'll compile them.

Or there may be a dip in your lawn to even up; fill the area with top soil, pack it down, water it well to make sure its level, then reseed.

Then there are the ant hills; just pour hot water into the air tunnels.

Or maybe we have killed the grass ourselves, by spilling something, Experience is the best teacher, so of course I am speaking with red cheeks. Early one fall day a few years ago, I dutifully washed all my outdoor pots and containers with the hose and cleanser for winter storage . By the next spring my view from the kitchen window was not pretty; there was a large dead patch in our lush grass; I not only had to admit to my dumb deed but fix it too.

But the most common cause of dead patches is poor soil conditions, the roots were too stressed by the lack of water to respond once the rains came; this is the time to repair.

Visit your hardware store for grass seed to suit your location, and buy a box of starter fertilizer. Using a hard garden rake, rough up the intended area. You may have to use a shovel to loosen the soil if it is real hard. Then divide the seed in two parts. Sow (sprinkle) the seed in one direction over the prepared spot, like north to south. Then sprinkle the second part in the opposite direction, east to west. Using the rake make sure the seeds are as evenly distributed as possible, to a depth of 1/4 inch. Or sprinkle some topsoil on the seeds. The apply the starter fertilizer according to the directions. Then apply a light layer of clean straw or marsh hay which is low in weeds, the soil should still show through.

You can also buy green or blue matting that is already seeded; lay this down on the prepared area. Or dig the prepared area deeper and fit a piece of sod from another area in your lawn, like an extension of your flower bed.

The two secrets are starter fertilizer applied only once and consistent spaying with the hose, at least twice a day to keep it moist or misted until the green haze appears. Then you can reduce the watering, until the grass looks healthy.

To maintain a healthy lawn, an inch of water a week is adequate, preferably in the mornings. Cut the grass high in the summer at 3 inches to develop deeper roots ; let the clippings fall back into the grass as a mulch, . Feed your grass with a slow release nitrogen organic fertilizer on dry grass at least twice a year, early summer and late fall. If the soil has become too compact like walkways, you may need to rent an aerator, which pulls plugs out of the ground; this allows water , air and fertilizer to reach to root system. Recently more articles are suggesting spreading organic compost around the lawn in the fall; this filters down into the soil providing nutrition all winter long.

Each of us, together, provide many positive environmental impacts by maintaining our lawn. Personally, its just satisfying to be surrounded by green, its a comfort color in my world.

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