Fall Lawn Prep Starts Now

Posted On August 14, 2023— Written By
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Even though it’s so hot, all I can think about is finding shade and a cold drink, now is a great time to take a soil sample for your lawn. In Rowan County, we are in a transition zone for turf grass. This means we can grow warm and cool-season grasses.

Most homeowners grow tall fescue which is a cool season grass. Cool season sounds precisely like what it is; these grasses grow better in the cooler months of the year when daytime temperatures are in the seventies, and nighttime temps are fifty or cooler. To establish a great stand of Fescue grass, you need to ensure you seed at least six weeks before a killing frost. Our frost-free date is October 31, but usually, it’s a little later in November. The window for seeding your lawn in Tall Fescue is September 1-30. Any later, and you are gambling as to whether there will be enough time between seeding and a killing frost/freeze. But Amy-Lynn, it’s only the beginning of August. What’s the rush?

Well, to ensure a great lawn, good soil prep is paramount. The first step is a soil test. Lucky for us in North Carolina, your tax dollars pay for an excellent soil analysis laboratory in Raleigh as part of the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Agronomic Division. From April to December, it is free to send your soil test kits (well, you still have to pay postage or drive it to Raleigh). Soil test kits are available at our office at 2727 Old Concord Rd, Salisbury, or many of our local feed and or garden centers.

 To take a soil test for a lawn, randomly sample the area you plan to plant, digging down to 4-6 inches deep in the soil. Mix your samples in a plastic bucket and then fill your soil test kit box to the line designated on the box. Please fill out the paperwork with the kit and send it to the lab in Raleigh.

Right now, the turnaround time for soil samples is two weeks. When you get your results, you can start to prep your soil.

North Carolina State University turf specialists recommend completely overhauling your lawn if your weed population exceeds 50%. The first step would be to kill all the existing plants with an herbicide, wait a week to ensure you have a good kill, and start working up the soil. Now is the time to apply the recommended lime and fertilizer and rototill it into the ground.

Ensure the tiller is getting between 6-8 inches deep, as this is where the turfgrass roots will be. Phosphorus is the element many of our soils lack; like lime, it moves very slowly through the soil profile. Tilling in your lime and phosphorous will make it more available to the roots where it is needed. Rake or harrow the site to establish a smooth and level final grade. Soil particles should be no larger than marble, and pea gravel size is even better. Hand raking is the best way to level the soil and work out hills and hollows. Allow time for rain or irrigation to settle the soil, and roll or multipack lightly to firm the soil before planting seeds, sprigs, plugs, or sod. Hand rakes again to break up the crusty surface before planting.

Make sure the seed you buy is certified and a turf-type fescue. While the KY-31 fescue cultivar is readily available and inexpensive, it is not a turf-type fescue but is better suited for a pasture.

Use a seeding rate of 6 pounds per 1,000 square feet (sq ft). Refrain from assuming more is better. Higher seeding rates can make weak, thin stands more susceptible to disease and high-temperature stress.

The tall fescues perform best when mowed at 3 inches and should never be mowed shorter than 2.5 inches. Tall fescue may turn brown, yet can often survive short periods of drought. Under certain circumstances, some tall fescue may be lost if a drought exceeds three weeks. A green lawn needs irrigation during periods of drought.

For more information on turf for your home lawn, go to TurfFiles or contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Rowan County Center at 704-216-8970. A free lawn care seminar will be at the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Rowan County Center on August 29 from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. Register on Eventbrite or call 704-216-8970. Space is limited. Registration is required.