Fall is the best time to renovate and invigorate your fescue lawn. Aeration and compost topdressing are two cultural practices that provide multiple benefits for your fescue lawn.
One of the most beneficial things you can do for your fescue lawn this time of year is “core aeration.” Core aeration removes plugs of soil ¾ inch wide and 2 ½ to 3 inches long. Core aerators can be rented at rental equipment stores or many landscaping companies also provide this service.
Make sure the soil is moist several days prior to aerating. If your soil is of poor quality, such as high clay content, remove the cores from the lawn. If the soil is loamy, leave the cores on the surface to break down naturally.
Another way to improve your soil quality is to topdress the lawn with compost after core aeration. Compost topdressing the lawn is the process of adding a fine layer of certified compost to the lawn surface. It has been performed on golf courses for years, but has only recently become popular on home lawns.
Benefits of Compost Topdressing:
• Adds organic matter to soils
• Builds up the soil flora
• Helps improve soil structure
• Helps reduce lawn diseases
• Reduces traffic stress and relieves compaction problems
• Helps with water retention
• Reduces the need for fertilizer
• Can help reduce thatch
• Increases Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) of your soil – the degree to which soil can adsorb and exchange cations (positively charged ions).
• Evens out the lumps and bumps that are present on an uneven lawn
Choosing the right compost
Choosing the right compost material is important, since all compost is not equal. For those who are seeking an organic lawn care program and will be depending on the nutrients within the compost, it could be especially useful to check the nutrient analysis first. Nutrient levels will vary greatly depending on the compost. If you are not sure what’s in it, you can ask the supplier or contractor to provide a product analysis. Ask for the US Composting Council Seal of Testing Assurance Compost. Compost used for topdressing should be screened to ¼ inch minus in size.
Most composts are too heavy to spread in a fertilizer spreader. Find the easiest method that works for you. You can use a light-weight, wide-faced shovel to fling compost in a fan shape. Special equipment for spreading compost is available at some rental companies. And some mulch blowing and lawn care companies are now specializing in compost topdressing and over-seeding lawns.
Fescue lawns need to be periodically seeded to give the lawn that uniform look. In September we’ll begin to experience cooler temperatures and better conditions for seed germination. This allows plenty of time to develop deep roots before the following summer. Select a seed variety that suits your particular needs. Sow seed at a rate of 6 pounds per 1,000 sq ft.
For more information on compost go to www.carolinacompost.com.
Follow these 12 easy steps to rescue your fescue in the fall.
1. Mow lawn to 3/4 inch in height.
2. Bag or remove all of the grass clippings and yard debris.
3. Water lawn 24-48 hours before aeration to insure good core removal.
4. Core-aerate the lawn. If you have poor soil, consider removing the cores. If the soil is not too bad, leave them on the grass to break down naturally.
5. Spread top dressing over lawn to a depth of ¼ to ½ inch. It is okay to fill in holes, especially if you have poor soil.
6. Lightly brush the grass with the backside of a rake. The object is to get as much top dressing touching the soil as possible.
7. If you plan on over-seeding, do this after the topdressing is down.
8. Remember to keep the soil moist, but not too wet, until seeds have germinated.
9. Keep traffic off these areas.
10. Avoid using any herbicides until spring.
11. Begin mowing as soon as the new grass has grown to 2 to 3 inches.
12. Fertilize entire lawn with organic fertilizer, 1 pound of actual nitrogen (N) per 1,000 square feet in November.
Frank Franciosi is a horticulturalist and has over 20 years experience in the composting industry in North Carolina.