If you launched your lawn work in the early days of August and seeded a week ago, this Labor Day weekend is truly a cause for celebration. Aside from spraying the lawn in the mornings and the evenings, enjoy most of this three-day vacation away from the lawn. However, if you started late, this weekend is not for leisure; major work is still on tap before you're able to relax. The entire weekend could well be spent renovating the lawn.
At the moment, a host of scenarios are being played out on the lawn.
First, if you seeded or overseeded last weekend with perennial rye grass, and you've been spraying religiously in the past week, then the first blades of new grass should have surfaced. If you have not watered the lawn daily, it could be until tomorrow before you see signs that the lawn is growing.
Second, if you seeded with fine fescue, rough bluegrass or tall fescue, the first blades of new grass should be surfacing by the middle of next week. Continue the twice-a-day spraying until next weekend, if not into the following week.
Finally, if you seeded with bluegrass, you have another three weeks of daily spraying before you.
With the first seeding behind you, the lawn program changes course this weekend with the first of four late summer and fall fertilizations. The only lawn not fertilized now is the "disaster lawn" that has already been seeded with Kentucky bluegrass; in this case, delay the first feeding to the weekend of Sept. 19-20, but all other disaster and 60-40 lawns should be fed this weekend.
Here is a feeding schedule for your lawn:
Labor Day weekend: Apply 10-6-4, 50 percent organic, at 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet. One 50-pound bag will treat 5,000 square feet. I recommend the Greenskeeper label because particle size is uniform throughout; therefore you cannot apply excessive fertilizer if you follow spreader settings. The spreader settings are No. 6 on the rotary Spyker or Cyclone, No. 6 3/4 on the Scott drop spreader. Having fertilized, soak the lawn as if you were putting out a fire.
Sept. 19-20: Apply 10-6-4 inorganic at 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet. A 50-pound bag will treat 10,000 square feet. For uniform particle size, use the Turfmaster label. The spreader settings are No. 4 3/4 on the rotary Spyker or Cyclone, No. 5 1/4 on the Scott drop spreader. Soak the lawn if a cloudburst isn't imminent.
Oct. 3-4: Apply 10-6-4 inorganic at 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Spreader settings: same as the last application. Soak the lawn afterward.
Oct. 17-18: Apply 10-6-4 inorganic at 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Spreader settings: same as the last application. Soak the lawn after.
If this is your first exposure to a rugged fall fertilization schedule, you rightfully have questions about the timetable and the dividends that could accrue to your lawn. Here are some of the facts:
The four feedings come at a time when the old grass has survived the summer stress cycle. The new grass, regardless of the variety grown, requires high energy levels for the next 12 weeks, during which time the grass will grow roots and produce sugar to stay alive for the winter. If you don't fertilize abundantly, it's doubtful whether the new grass will grow sufficiently to weather the winter.
Old and new grass will manufacture and inventory sugar throughout the fall, this sugar being used by the grass plant next March to commence the growing cycle again. High sugar production by the grass plant this fall translates to the earliest green lawn on the street next March.
The old grass on the 60-40 lawn has just "subtracted" sugar to support the fall tillering of the plant that occurs in late September and October. In this tillering process, new shoots develop to enlarge the area covered by the grass plant. A second tillering will occur on old and new grass next March, completed by the first days of April. If sugar levels are low in the plant next March as a result of poor growth this fall, tillering will be compromised or may not happen at all.
The September-October feedings come at a time when temperature and weather conditions support optimum turf grass growth. The fertilizer fosters remarkable color density in grass blades, triggering a steady growth that has most homeowners cutting the lawn every four or five days. Normally, disease is not a problem because the grass is actively growing. Some exceptions to the rule are rust on bluegrass (cutting short and bagging the clips usually ends the problem without spraying a fungicide), stripe smut (usually contaminated seed in the first place) and leaf spot (mostly on lawns that had the disease last spring, but was not treated).
Spectacular changes are in store for 60-40 lawns receiving the first feeding this weekend. Already, the old grass has colored nicely, thanks to the daily waterings, but look for substantial improvements in turf grass coloring by next weekend as the fertilizer takes effect. The same shot-in-the-arm effect will be apparent with the new grass as it sprouts through the soil. On disaster lawns, the effects will be muted somewhat because you can't compare new grass with the old.
Lastly, if you ran a soil test in the past week, start liming on the instructions of the garden shop manager. On clay soil, you'll need 400 pounds of lime for each 1,000 square feet to raise the pH a full point (such as 5.5 to 6.5), but only 40 pounds on sandy soil. Use the cheapest lime possible, opting for ground limestone, pulverized limestone or dolomitic lime. Use a wide open drop spreader for liming, retracing your steps after liming in one direction. This will apply 40-plus pounds per 1,000 square feet. When the color of the lime disappears, do it again.
Reminders for other garden priorities:
Spray shrubs and young trees on which there was scale this summer. Use liquid Cygon or liquid Orthene. This is a cleanup spray to eliminate any lingering scale so it doesn't mate in two weeks.
Your third spray for lacebugs is targeted for this weekend or some evening next week. Use liquid Cygon (4 teaspoons per gallon). This will protect your azaleas for the rest of the growing season. Azaleas are still forming dormant buds for l988, so continue soaking the plants.
If marigold blossoms have blackened, cut off the flowers. This blight will spread to other flowers if you don't prune. Spraying a fungicide is impractical since the marigolds will be frosted out next month.
Remember the amaryllis on its side in the basement for the past month? Stand the pot upright now, then prune away the withered remains of the foliage. Sugar has retreated to the tuber, so leave the amaryllis alone until early October. We'll have an update then.
Continue weekly sprays of house plants that summered outdoors with Safer's insecticidal soap, leaving them dripping wet when you're done.
Move your holiday cactus indoors this weekend, otherwise it will flower in mid-November instead of Christmas. The cactus takes bright light but no direct sun when moved indoors. Water thoroughly every two weeks from here on.
Continue drying rose petals and other flowers for your fall potpourri.
Shop for daffodil bulbs now for the best selection. Ideally, daffodils planted in early September yield spectacular blossoms next spring. Put a handful or two of sharp sand at the base of the hole before setting the bulb in the soil. Water twice a week from here on as daffodils must absorb copious amounts of water to blossom freely.
Jack Eden hosts "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).