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"Fall lawn restoration/installation; If you snooze, you lose," by the Whistling Gardener

Steve Smith preparing his yard for a new lawn. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Steve Smith preparing his yard for a new lawn. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. 

Make no mistake, September is by far the best month of the year to plant a new lawn or restore an old one.

If you are thinking that you would like to put some new life into your lawn, you need to get with the program while the soils are still workable and warm enough to germinate the seed. Which means that you are going to have to pry hubby off the couch, away from the football game, and get him out into the yard to finish this project.

In a typical northwest summer, lawns will usually come alive on their own during the month of September, but this was anything but a typical summer. There is a good chance that without the addition of some fresh seed your lawn will mostly turn back into a weed patch.

The first step to restoring your lawn is to get some moisture into the ground (unless of course Mother Nature has already done it for you).

The next step, assuming the grade is smooth and level, is to create a seed bed by vigorously roughing-up the soil surface, either by hand, with an iron rake, or with a power rake/dethatcher. A half-inch of loose soil is all that you need for a good seed bed.

Once your seed bed is prepared, simply broadcast the seed, lime & fertilizer and rake it all in with a special seed rake (those expandable leaf rakes work fantastic).

You can also cover it with a thin veneer of compost (an eighth inch is all that is needed because grass seed actually needs light to germinate). Either way, you will have to keep the surface damp for the next two weeks, which could mean watering twice a day or less depending on the weather.

Don’t flood or puddle the water or you will wash away the seed and end up with blank spots. When you see green shoots you can back off to two to three times a week.

If your lawn needs major overhauling, plan on roto-tilling the whole works to start over from scratch. This is your big chance to fix the mess the contractor left you with when the house was built.

Bring in a truck load of compost, spread it two inches thick and till it in six inches deep. It is best to get one of those landscape rakes that are three to four feet across to help smooth it all out until it is as close to perfect as possible, then proceed as above with the fertilizer, lime and seed.

While your seed is germinating, take your lawn mower blade to the shop and get it sharpened. Chances are you have never sharpened the blade, so think of it as trying to cut steak with a butter knife. A sharp blade means less work for the lawn mower and a much cleaner cut for the grass.

When your new grass is three inches tall, mow it down to two inches (never remove more than a third of the grass blade at a time).

After three mowings, make one more application of fertilizer and you will be good to go for the winter.

So, get off the couch and get with the program so you aren’t looking at weeds and mud all winter and spring.

For more detail on re-establishing your lawn, come to our Fall & Winter Lawn Care Class Saturday, September 12, 2015, at 10 am here at the nursery.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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