Is the grass really greener on the other side?
Do you want barefoot-enticing, carbon-sequestering, strike-envy-in-the-hearts-of-every-neighbor turf? If so, you better get to work this fall.
And for now, the weather is on your side! That’s the dirty little secret of gardening in Colorado: Fall is better than spring for so many things, especially lawn work. Cooler temperatures make for the perfect time to put down new sod, new seed, or take a lawn that already looks decent from good to great.
If you can only fertilize one time a year, plan on mid-September for that task. And if you want to reseed a lawn that’s patchy, thin, wimpy, weedy or all of the above, fall is a great time for that, as well. Soils stay warm until mid-November, so turf seed has that much longer to germinate. Warm soils also help organic fertilizers’ microorganisms do their work.
Colorado’s other go-to grass…
The majority of Colorado yards have cool-season grass lawns, including Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue and perennial rye. Cool-season grasses have adapted to grow well in areas of the country that experience tremendous temperature fluctuations: cold, freezing winters and hot, dry summers. However, they grow best when temperatures are between 60-75 degree F, which is why most growing activity occurs in the spring and fall. Cool-season grasses are most commonly sprouted from seed, although sod is also available.
Kentucky bluegrass is a very popular cool-season grass in the northern U.S. It has an aggressive spreading habit and dark green leaves. Bluegrass holds up well in high traffic areas of the yard, areas with moderate shade, as well as sunny areas and under scorching heat. Because of its spreading habit, it will grow to fill in bare spots in the yard.
- Drought Tolerance – Medium
- Foot-Traffic Tolerance – Medium
- Shade Tolerance – Low to Medium
- Cold Tolerance – Medium
- Heat Tolerance – Medium
Perennial ryegrass is a bunch-type (a.k.a. “non-spreading”) cool-season grass that germinates quickly after seeding. It is a fine-bladed grass that is ideal for high-traffic areas of the yard. Ryegrass is also used for erosion control because of its quick germination. It is usually recognized in a lawn by the whitish cast the top of the grass blades have after mowing. Perennial ryegrass along with annual ryegrass is also commonly used in the southern U.S. to dormant overseed certain warm-season grass lawns so homeowners can have a green lawn during the cool winter months.
- Drought Tolerance – Low to Medium
- Foot-Traffic Tolerance – High
- Shade Tolerance – Low to Medium
- Cold Tolerance – Medium
- Heat Tolerance – Low to Medium
Tall Fescue is a bunch-type grass that produces a deep root system. It is very popular in the Transition Zone because of its heat and drought tolerance. There are tall fescue blends that contain varieties bred in the south that are able to survive the extreme weather conditions. Turf-type varieties of tall fescue have a finer leaf texture and darker green color than the older tall fescue varieties.
- Drought Tolerance – High
- Foot-Traffic Tolerance – Medium to High
- Shade Tolerance – Medium
- Cold Tolerance – High
- Heat Tolerance – High
A face-lift for your lawn..
Lawns with problems can benefit from what pros call lawn renovation, meaning the lawn needs help but you’re not going to lay down new sod. You don’t want to kill the old grass, but you do want to get a lot of new, young, strong seedlings established in this perfect fall window. (Got a warm-season, native grass lawn, such as buffalo grass or blue grama? Good for you. You’re off the hook as far as reseeding goes, as these grasses germinate in June.)
To renovate a cool-season lawn, you’ll combine three processes: aeration, overseeding and fertilization. Get on the phone — now — and schedule the aeration for early September — or set a date to rent an aerator. (Unless you’ve got a Sumo wrestler as a next-door neighbor and a dining-room table-sized yard, those lawn-aerating sandals won’t do the trick).
But before you poke holes in the lawn? Check your irrigation system. The overwhelming percentage of lawn problems are water or irrigation problems — uneven coverage, broken or tilted heads. Luckily, sprinkler-system companies aren’t as busy in fall. Get repairs or adjustments done before you aerate — and plan your lawn renovation for a month before you have the sprinkler system blown out.
If your system is a hose and sprinkler — and come frost, that’s every homeowner — make good friends with it. You’ll be using that sprinkler a lot, so if it doesn’t provide even, consistent water, hit the sales for a new one. Rehang that hose caddy.
When you get down to aerating you can’t make too many holes. Really Swiss-cheese the lawn; go in every direction. You may have to pay a little extra if you’re having a service do it, but it’s worth it. Reseed and fertilize the same day. Use your fertilizer spreader to put down seed; then use it to fertilize; lastly, go over the lawn with the back side of a rake to knock seed into the holes. Finish by watering everything. Warm soil and cool air means those seeds dry out more slowly, which means you won’t have to water them as often, but do try to keep them moist, which means daily watering, possibly twice daily.
Kentucky bluegrass will be the slowest to germinate (10 to 14 days); tall fescues next slowest (6-8); perennial ryes pop up in a mere 3 or 4 days. But all of these grass types (most bagged seed contains a blend) will germinate faster in fall than in spring. As the grass germinates, mow the lawn normally — don’t lower the mower height. You may have heard you should mow your lawn shorter with the last mowing, but experts say that’s incorrect. Just keep mowing until it stops growing. This encourages the spread of the new seedlings, which is exactly what you want.
What about weeds?
Sorry, but you’ve got another chore that fall is perfect for: killing perennial weeds. Dandelions, bindweed, clover, thistles — all of these are storing energy in their tenacious roots. If you must use chemicals, hit these weeds now. Try painting or dabbing, rather than spraying. More is not better. (If they have seed pods, deadhead first).
But annual weeds — crabgrass, chickweed, purslane — these will be gone soon anyway, killed by frost. Pull them by hand. Don’t use pre-emergent to do it, because such chemicals remain active for months, preventing new grass seeds from germinating as well as weed seeds. If you use it, do it in spring but remember: the best defense against weeds is a thick, vigorous, healthy lawn.
Finally, your young lawn will need winter watering, just like the rest of your landscape. If possible, try for once a month but it may need it more often depending on the weather — including precipitation, drying wind, and how hot or cold it gets — and the lawn’s exposure. There’s no substitute for sticking an old screwdriver into the soil in a couple of places to check turf moisture. The good news: Winter watering your lawn waters your trees, as well.
Growing grass from seed requires more work and patience than rolling out sod but rewards the gardener (that’s you) with more of the yard green for less of the pocket green. Time to get your seed on!
We’re here to help!
We know that not everyone has the time or the desire to spend their days toiling away in their yards and gardens. But that doesn’t mean you should miss out on the beauty and bounty of a well maintained landscape. No matter your location and tastes, Plant Escape has solutions for you. Our landscape design company has created, installed and maintained thousands of beautiful interior and exterior plant arrangements, earning us over 25 years of awards on a local and national level for color design, landscaping and customer service. If you’re interested in hiring our Denver landscape designers for a residential project, visit our website or give us a call today at 303.584.0496 for a free consultation and estimate.