MARIANNE BINETTI: Work now for a great lawn in the spring

This latter part of September is the time to score some great yardage with fall field goals. If you are ready to renovate your lawn, this is the week to make a grassroots movement to a better patch of grass.

  • Thursday, September 17, 2009 1:49pm
  • Life

By Marianne Binetti

This latter part of September is the time to score some great yardage with fall field goals. If you are ready to renovate your lawn, this is the week to make a grassroots movement to a better patch of grass. Lawns in western Washington often have a mid-September growth spurt because the weather turns cool at night and roots begin to find more moisture. This is not the time to give up on mowing; most lawns will need a haircut every four to seven days, especially after a fall feeding.

When mowing the lawn in the fall, make sure you change the direction of the mowing machine from week to week. Rotate between making horizontal, vertical and diagonal paths across the lawn to keep your wheels from forming ruts over time. There’s nothing like being stuck in a rut to make the grass seem greener on the neighbor’s side of the fence.

The problem with lawn mowing in western Washington is finding a day when the grass is not wet. You can invest in a rotary mower that cuts the grass with several rotating blades so even when it is damp you get a good cut. Another tip is to drag a hose across a damp lawn right before you mow. This will knock the dew drops and other moisture from the grass blades so you can get a closer shave.

Five Fall Lawn Care Tips:

1. Fertilize in the fall with a slow-release fall and winter lawn food.

This is the most important time of year to fertilize the lawn and a slow-release fertilizer is best because you want the nitrogen to be available in early spring when the lawn is waking up.

How much fertilizer? Our cool season grasses need 1 pound of nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet of lawn. Read and follow the label instructions before you fertilize. Every package of fertilizer must tell you the actual amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. That is why you see three numbers on each package of plant food. Nitrogen is the first number. Look for a fertilizer with a 3-1-2 formulation so you have 3 percent nitrogen, 1 percent phosphorous and 2 percent available potassium.

2. Aerate the soil as soon as the rains return.

You can hire or rent out a core aerator that removes plugs from the soil or try a liquid aeration spray such as “Lazy Man, Liquid Gold,” an organic spray that uses little microorganisms to loosen up hard-packed soil (Available online from or a similar product called Aerify (from www.NaturesLawn). Lawns that drain poorly grow moss, clover and dandelions. Soil that is loose and drains well supports grass with deep roots that can crowd out weeds.

3. Add dolomite lime or calcium carbonate to your lawn, but not on the same day you fertilize.

Our soil in western Washington is naturally acidic. This encourages moss and makes grass struggle to grow. Adding lime and calcium helps loosen the soil and green up the lawn. Apply lime in the fall so winter rains can wash it down to the grass roots. Adding lime is especially important if you have clay or hard-packed soil, as lime helps loosen soil and improve drainage over time. As a side note, I just want to brag that my front lawn was once infested with bright yellow buttercups. These meadow flowers grow in damp, shaded areas with acidic soil. After three years of adding lime to my lawn every fall the buttercups are gone.

4. Level your lawn by adding topsoil to the low spots.

A perfectly level lawn is easier to mow and looks better when freshly cut. Leveling your lawn is as simple as filling in the low spots with top soil and raking it smooth. Rent a landscaper’s rake with a super large head or drag a board over the lawn to smooth out the top layer of fresh soil. When looking for topsoil, a sandy loam is better than a heavy compost as it will spread into the low spots easier and sandy soil drains more quickly. Fall is a good time to level the lawn because the old lawn will grow right up through the new topsoil – even it you don’t get around to reseeding. As another side note, I’ve been meaning to level my own lawn for the past five or six years but haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe this is the year. I plan to use TAGRO, the sandy loam made from municipal sludge and sold dirt cheap by the city of Tacoma.

5. Overseed your autumn lawn for a weed-free spring.

So here’s the dirty secret. Your old lawn was planted with old-fashioned seeds and now the new seed varieties are much more drought, shade and disease resistant. Your lawn is obsolete; it’s time to upgrade. Even if you don’t add new topsoil you can rake or rough up the old lawn and then sprinkle it with new varieties of perennial rye and fine fescue. Overseeding your lawn every year will give you a thicker lawn in the spring and weeds will have a much tougher time sprouting amidst a forest of “new and improved” patented grass seedlings.

Follow these five steps in the lawn care playbook and you’ll be tackling the toughest opponents in the turf wars for great yardage.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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