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Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007 10:57 pm

Time to upgrade turfgrass

A few tips to help you get your lawn in shape this fall

Untitled Document Fall is the best time to give your lawn some extra attention, because what is done for the turf this fall will have a big impact on cool-season grasses next summer. Most central-Illinois lawns contain cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue, and fine fescue. As hard as we try to get these grasses to look their best from April to September, they actually thrive and perform the best September-May.
Here are a few tips to help you get your lawn in shape this fall: Continue mowing. Mow when grass is 3 to 4 inches high; most cool-season grasses should be cut to a height of 2 to 2 1/2 inches. Sharp blades are necessary for a clean cut, so you should sharpen your blades at least twice a year or, if you’re using the mower to mulch leaves, three times a year. In early September, apply about 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn. Follow the directions on the label of the fertilizer bag. This application of nitrogen will stimulate shoot growth Winterizer is the most important fertilizer for the lawn. Although winterizer doesn’t produce immediate results, the roots will absorb the fertilizer, as long as the ground isn’t frozen, and the stored nutrients will be immediately available to the turfgrass come spring. It’s a good idea to apply winterizer sometime around Thanksgiving. Again, most applications are based on 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn. Around Sept. 1, take steps to control perennial broadleaf weeds such as dandelions, plantain, and ground ivy. This time of year, perennial broadleaf weeds are storing food in their roots. When a herbicide is applied, it is transported down to the roots with the food, resulting in better chemical absorption and an increased mortality rate. Read and follow all directions on the label. Sept. 1 is also an ideal time to seed or overseed the lawn. In the fall, weed competition is reduced; temperatures are cooler, which helps promote rapid growth of grass seedlings; and seedlings have adequate time to develop a root system before the next summer’s heat. (Although it is best to seed between Aug. 15 and Sept. 15, sod may be laid down any time, as long as the ground is not frozen.) You should also aerate and dethatch your lawn sometime around Sept. 1. (It can be done again around April 1.) Aeration, the process of increasing the soil’s air content, loosens the soil, permitting better root growth. Heavy compacted and clay soils should be aerated at least once a year. Dethatching should be done if a thatch layer of 1 inch or more has developed, but remember to remove just a half-inch of thatch per season. Detailed information on seeding, renovation, and choosing cultivars can be found online at University of Illinois Extension Turfgrass Program (www.turf.uiuc.edu). The extension also offers a lawn-care calendar and information on how to apply fertilizer in its Fall Lawn Care Guide (web.extension.uiuc.edu/regions/lawnandgarden/FallLawnCareGuide.pdf).

Jennifer Fishburn is a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit. Contact her at www.extension.uiuc.edu/Sangamon. 
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