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Thursday, Aug. 28, 2003 02:20 pm

Turf time

art436

Tip of the week

Lawn mower blades should be sharpened at least two times a year, April 1 and September 1. A sharp blade will make a clean cut, decreasing stress on the plants. If you use your mower to mulch leaves, sharpen the blade again in late October. Some gardeners sharpen their blades after every mowing

Is your yard like mine, with the creeping Charlie and nimblewill always threatening to take over? For some of us, anything green is welcome at the end of an especially hot August. But the brown grass can be deceiving: the late summer is the best time to seed a new lawn or overseed an existing one

Over the next few weeks, the days should remain warm while the nights will cool down. There will be fewer competing weeds, and fall grass seedlings can develop a good root system before the onset of cold weather.

The success or failure of a new lawn begins with timing, soil and site preparation, and seed selection. Shortcuts in laying the proper groundwork can lead to future problems.

A pH test will help to determine the amount of nutrients already in your soil, such as phosphorus and potassium. For a good stand of turf growth, a pH of 6 to 6.5 is best. Two local soil-testing labs are Ingrams in Athens (636-7500) and Sparks in Lincoln (735-4233). The right time to modify the soil is prior to seeding.

Select turfgrass species based on your use of the lawn, sunlight and moisture conditions, desired appearance, pest resistance, and how much maintenance you're willing to put in. Kentucky bluegrass prefers full sun to light shade, has medium tolerance to wear, and readily recovers from damage, whereas fine-leaf fescue does well in light to moderate shade, has moderate tolerance to wear, and recovers poorly when damaged.

Planting different varieties of grass will allow for greater resistance to diseases. Two terms to consider: blend and mixture. A blend is a combination of different types--or cultivars--of the same species of grass. A mixture is a combination of two or more species of grass, such as Kentucky bluegrass and Perennial ryegrass. Some garden centers and farm-supply stores will allow you to make your own blend or mixture.

Selecting a high-quality seed is a must. Read the label. Find a brand with at least 80 percent viability (the amount of seed expected to germinate) and 90 to 95 percent purity (the amount of pure seed of an identified species). Be sure to check for all the types of grass included. Avoid seed mixes with annual ryegrass or with a weed percentage greater than 0.3 percent. Last but not least: check the test date; it should be within the last 9 to 12 months.

Preparing a seedbed is the most time-consuming step. First, remove the weeds by hand, or use a nonselective herbicide, such as Roundup or Kleenup. Remove debris and amend the soil with a two- to three-inch layer of compost, rotted manure, peat, or additional topsoil. If your soil test showed you need to add nutrients, do it now. Incorporate amendments with a rototiller. The soil bed should be loosened to a depth of six to eight inches. Rake the area smooth and then lightly incorporate fertilizer.

Apply grass seed at the recommended rate. Excess seeding will result in weak, spindly seedlings. Seed to soil contact is important: use the backside of a rake to incorporate the seed into the soil.

Newly seeded areas must be kept moist to assure germination. This may mean watering once or twice a day over one to two weeks. While not essential, a light layer of straw can help prevent rapid drying of the soil and keep the seeds in place.

Don't mow the grass until it grows three- to four-inches tall, and don't cut off more than a third of the blade.

For more information on lawn care, visit the University of Illinois Extension's "Lawn Talk" Web site at http://www.urbanext.uiuc. edu/lawntalk/index.html.

Fall garden seminars

The U. of I. ExtensionÕs Sangamon-Menard Unit joins forces with the Springfield Civic Garden Club to sponsor a series of five seminars on ÒGarden Basics.Ó

Seminars will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. every other Tuesday beginning September 2. Topics include: Turfgrass (September 2); Vegetables and Herbs (September 16); Trees (September 30); Composting (October 14); and Houseplants (October 28). The $25 registration fee covers the cost of all five sessions as well as a workbook. Seminars will be held at the Extension Building on the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

Participants are encouraged to pre-register by August 29. Send the fee to: Sangamon-Menard Extension Unit, P.O. Box 8467, Springfield, IL 62791. For more info, call 782-4617.

SpringfieldÕs Green View Companies, 3000 W. Jefferson, will host a free series of gardening seminars on select Saturdays at 10 a.m. Topics include; ÒGroovy Grasses and Other Low Maintenance Fall PerennialsÓ (August 30); ÒFrom the Table to the Front Door,Ó fall decorating ideas (September 6); ÒHot New Plants for Cool Season ColorÓ (September 13); and ÒFlaming Fall Color with ShrubsÓ (September 27). For more information, call 787-4700.

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