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Into the Garden: Work on lawn in fall for greener yard in spring

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Here's what you can do now to make sure you have a lush, green lawn in the spring.

Aerate

With the clay soil that's prevalent in our neck of the woods, you might need to aerate. To see if you need to do this to your lawn, dig a square-foot section of grass about 6 inches deep. If the roots don't extend farther than 2 inches deep into the soil, you need to aerate. Don't aerate a lawn that has been seeded or sodded within one year of planting.

Water the lawn a couple of days before you aerate, giving it at least an inch of water.

According to DIY Network, the next step is to run a core aerator over the lawn in a pattern that covers the area only once. A mechanical core aerator is the best equipment to use for aeration. The tines on this type of machine are hollow so they pull soil cores out of the earth. Other aerators, such as those with spikes, don't work as well and may actually further compact soils.

You can rent core aerators from most garden centers for $30 to $75 for a few hours. Enlist the help of a couple of friends and a truck when picking up the equipment as it can be heavy and awkward. Read the operator's manual carefully before use.

The soil cores can be left on the ground after aeration and allowed to decompose, or they can be raked up and tossed into the compost bin. Sprinkle compost (or sand or peat moss) over the lawn to fill in the holes. After aeration, apply grass seed and fertilizer.

Seed

The bag of grass seed that you buy for overseeding lawns should have information on the back concerning recommended seeding rates and overseeding rates. Note the difference: You don't need to spread as much seed when overseeding lawns as when starting new lawns.

Most grass seed is sold as a mix of different types of seeds, so without reading the package it is difficult to say how much seed to use for overseeding. Use a fertilizer spreader and apply a starter fertilizer at the same time for better results.

Now, water. Use a fine spray and keep the soil evenly moist for several weeks. Once sprouted, continue to water. Five weeks after the grass has sprouted, apply a quick-release nitrogen fertilizer at the recommended rate.

The best time for overseeding lawns that have cool-season grasses is in September; the second-best time for overseeding lawns is in March or April.

Fertilize

Fertilize in October before the first heavy freeze. Use a winter fertilizer (7-3-2).

According to the University of Illinois extension service, when you shop for fertilizer you will see three numbers on the box or bag. The first number is nitrogen, the second is phosphorous, and the third is potassium. The numbers tell you the percentage of that nutrient in the bag. So, quiz time! If you have a 5-10-5 bag of fertilizer that weighs 10 pounds, then 5 percent (one-half pound) of it is nitrogen. You can now figure the amount of phosphorous and potassium.

In the fall, you want vigorous root growth. Nitrogen promotes root growth, so you want a product that has the highest first number.

Winter weeds germinate in the fall, so add a pre-emergent now. Corn gluten meal is an organic choice.

As for the leaves, rake 'em up or mow 'em down. Don't let them lie on the grass. Either remove them completely, or run over them with your mower on a regular basis throughout the fall to allow them to act as another fertilizer application for the turf. Always mow at the highest setting on your mower in the fall to help insulate the grass during the winter.

Mystery plant No. 1

Recently I've received several emails with photos of "mystery plants." I'll print them here and see if anyone can identify them.

Here's the first one:

"Ms. Busse, this plant put in an appearance in one of our planters in the middle of the summer. We left it because the foliage was rather attractive and were quite surprised when it bloomed.

"We aren't sophisticated gardeners and don't know what it is (or how it got there, for that matter). Can you enlighten us? Thanks. Richard and Judy Dunlap."

Readers?

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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