You still have eight glorious weeks of summertime fun in the offing, but for some homeowners the next six-plus weeks won't be spent at the beach, the mountains or points in between. For them, the balance of the summer will be an investment of time in hopes of achieving spectacular rewards in the closing days of summer. At stake is something just about everybody takes for granted: the lawn.
Some will shrug off this challenge. They believe the lawn will take care of itself, in which case Murphy's Law will probably be invoked before Halloween. Others who are born realists will weigh the evidence before they make any rash judgments.
If you can tell a book by its cover, then the lawn pretty much reflects how well the family maintains its house. By conservative real estate values, a healthy, vigorous lawn contributes $7,000-plus to the sale of the urban home, more in the suburbs.
This is not a time to bury or deny problems. If your property is overrun with brambles, brush and weeds, know right away that it probably harbors record numbers of deer ticks, therefore your meadow is a spawning ground for Lyme disease. An innocent child walking through the meadow is a likely target for deer tick. It hasn't happened before because Lyme disease is so new, but understandably there could be legal complications stemming from such exposure.
Should there be a possibility of your selling your home next year or 1992, the time to upgrade the lawn is now while the timetable is weighted in your favor. If you postpone matters hoping that post-Labor Day renovation will succeed, you are already compromising the results.
If your lawn seems to be thriving, do nothing. Consider yourself as having a "perfect lawn," even if it's not 100 percent perfect. For the moment, do nothing. Fertilize with IBDU Turf Assurance the Labor Day weekend and enjoy a spectacular lawn the rest of the year.
Then, there is the imperfect lawn with good grass and some weeds. Here, even if your lawn seems to be half weeds and half grass, the lawn is worth saving. This is the so-called "60-40 lawn" that will be the subject of extensive reporting in this column over the next six weeks. If your lawn has less than 60 percent weeds, and at least 40 percent grass, you should use this "60-40" program and base your labors on these recommendations. Yes, even if your lawn has 10 percent weeds by your estimate, use the "60-40" program.
Finally, there are those infrequent lawns that are out-and-out disasters. Every time a ready-mix concrete truck rolls down the street, the resident wishes the driver would dump his load there and leave. In such cases where weeds comprise 70 to 100 percent of the lawn, you should adhere to the "disaster lawn" program to be profiled here for the next six weeks.
Some readers with Kentucky 31 lawns should consider killing off the lawn and replacing it with turfgrass that looks like grass, not a weed. Anyone with Kentucky 31 should strongly consider embarking on the disaster lawn program immediately.
Now that the curtain has been drawn, we embark on the late summer lawn renovation program. Decide which lawn you have, then follow the appropriate program.
Perfect lawn. Continue your successful summer maintenance: Cut high ... leave grass clippings behind ... if you water, do so in the early morning hours.
Disaster lawn. Only minor chores are on tap, but you are setting the stage for major events to follow in mid-August. For now, adjust the wheel height of your rotary mower to cut at the lowest possible setting.
Install your grass catcher. If you don't have one, buy one now so you're able to catch weed seeds that otherwise would fall to the ground and create more weed problems next year. After this, fertilize the disaster lawn.
Use any lawn fertilizer you have on hand, but don't use one containing a weed killer. If you must buy fertilizer to apply to the lawn this weekend, buy the cheapest inorganic lawn fertilizer possible. Apply with your garden spreader and let the rains to the rest. If no rain falls by Tuesday, haul out the sprinkler and water the lawn thoroughly. When you cut the lawn from here on, cut low and you must have the bagging attachment in place.
When you visit the garden shop, check on the availability of salt hay. When you seed your disaster lawn the first days of September, you should cover the seedbed with salt hay to keep seed in place, prevent soil erosion and to keep the bed moist pending seed germination. One bale will treat about 700 square feet. Use a station wagon or truck if you buy bales, otherwise bring large plastic trash can liners to hold the salt hay in the trunk for the return trip.
Plan on five bags for every bale. Don't use straw since it does contain weed seeds; salt hay does not. More on the disaster lawn next week.
60-40 lawn. There is nothing on the work agenda this weekend, but you might want to start shopping for the products you will need to turn the lawn around. If you have products left from past years, use them now.
If there are no trees on the lawn, you should plan on using 33 Plus or 3-Way Lawn Weed Killer.
If there are trees on the lawn, you should use Ortho Weed-B-Gon liquid concentrate.
On these 60-40 lawns, you should be cutting your lawn this weekend or Monday or Tuesday of next week. Do not cut the lawn from Wednesday on so lawn weeds will have a few days of uninterrupted growth. Next weekend, without cutting the lawn, you will treat the weeds with the Ortho tree and shrub hose-end sprayer. Details will come in next week's column.
Still on 60-40 lawns, check this weekend for grassy weeds that will not be controlled with next weekend's spray. The weeds in question are crabgrass, goosegrass (with silver-white stalks where the plant exits the soil), foxtail (purple stalks at the soil line), barnyardgrass, orchardgrass and yellow nutsedge; the latter should have been controlled earlier this month to prevent the plant from producing nutlets in the soil for a certain crop of nutsedge next year,
If you find any of these weeds on the 60-40 lawn, add "Super Crabgrass Killer" to your shopping list; smallest package is the quart. More on this next weekend.
Other reminders for the weekend:
June-bearing strawberry plants must be hard pruned now if you want a spectacular harvest next June. Fetch your pruning shears and prune all year-old plants back to within three to four inches of the soil; pruned-away parts should be put in the trash can to avoid spreading disease.
Immediately fertilize each plant with 16-0-0 nitrate of soda, placing one teaspoon of the granules on each side of each plant. Scratch the fertilizer into the soil and rain will do the rest. Plants will tack on substantial growth through late summer and fall, with the dormant buds for next year's flowers happening between Halloween and Thanksgiving.
With the raspberry harvest underway, mark fruiting canes now with strips of masking tape. In two weeks when the harvest is over, you'll want to prune each of these just-fruited canes to the ground, adding them to the trash can.
By putting masking tape on these canes now, you won't have to guess as to the canes to be pruned in August. Pruning opens up sunlight to developing canes that will yield fruit next summer, often increasing the harvest. Scattering cheesecloth over the plants will thwart birds making off with the fruit.
Chestnut weevils are soon to destroy chestnuts, so if you have a chestnut tree, spray the soil under and around the tree with Orthene, 1 1/2 ounces to a gallon of water. In late afternoon, use a sprinkling can to apply the solution to the soil, watering lightly after. This stops the little chestnut weevil, and any chestnuts harvested in early fall will be perfect.
Jack Eden is the host of "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).