After what seems to have been an eternity of slavery on the lawn, you're ready to set things straight this Labor Day weekend.
Some homeowners will be starting a new lawn where there was an ocean of weeds and brush only weeks ago. Others will be rebuilding an imperfect lawn that went the way of Murphy's Law over the spring and summer.
Finally, even homeowners with remarkably perfect lawns will be fertilizing with IBDU this weekend to solidify their reputation for having the neighborhood's best lawn. No matter where you stand with your lawn, this weekend is one of the most important of the year. Let us look at the weekend's events.
Disaster lawns. Having de-thatched and cleaned the lawn of debris, apply seed as soon as possible. There is no need to rake the lawn. Here are the seeding rates per 1,000 square feet and the settings for a rotary Cyclone or Spyker spreader:
Tall fescue for sunny lawns: use eight pounds at spreader setting 7, going over the lawn twice. Revolutionary dwarf varieties available are Amigo and Shenandoah, the latter from Southern States; traditional varieties available include Apache, arid, Arriba, Cochise, Finelawn, Guardian, Jaguar, Olympic, Pacer and Rebel II. Seed germinates in 11 days to 14 days.
Fine fescue for sunny and shady lawns: use four pounds at spreader setting 6 1/2. Varieties available include Checker, Chewings, Ensylva, Flyer, Jamestown, Pennlawn, Ranier, Spartan and Victory. Consider hard fescue varieties for the sun-shade environment, too. Seed germinates in 12 to 14 days.
Kentucky bluegrass for sunny lawns: use two pounds at spreader setting 3 1/2. Varieties available include Adelphi, America, Aspen, Baron, Bristol, Cheri, Classic, Eclipse, Fylking, Glade, Georgetown, Gnome, Huntsville, Merit, Midnight, Monopoly, Nassau, Plush, Ram I, Touchdown, Trenton and Victa. Seed requires at least 21 days to germinate.
Perennial ryegrass for sunny lawns: use eight pounds at spreader setting 7, but go over the lawn twice. Seed germinates in eight days to 12 days.
Rough bluegrass for moist lawns in dense shade. Use three pounds at spreader setting 4. Varieties include Laser and Sabre. Seed germinates in eight days to 12 days.
After seeding, use a rigid steel rake and rake the seed gently into the top quarter-inch of soil. If the seed is not covered lightly by soil, it will not germinate.
After raking, apply IBDU Turf Assurance (24-4-10) fertilizer, using a Cyclone or Spyker rotary spreader setting of 5. With the Scott drop spreader, use setting 4 1/2. Apply to the border of the lawn first, then the rest.
To prevent seed from washing away and to promote timely germination of the seed, cover the seedbed with salt hay, also known as marsh grass. Salt hay contains no weed seeds, repels water, cushions rain falling on the lawn, and keeps the soil moist to assure prompt germination of grass seed. Do not use straw or substitutes in its place.
Salt hay comes in wire-bound bales that cost $11 to $12 each. One bale covers about 700 square feet. Pull the strands apart and scatter liberally over the lawn surface.
Finally, use a hose to thoroughly soak the lawn. Do not use lawn sprinklers, either automatic or manual. This initial soaking wets the salt hay and the soil, prompting immediate contact between the two. Every day after for two weeks (three weeks with bluegrass), spray-mist the lawn in the morning and night for four minutes per 1,000 square feet. Keep the nozzle moving at all times to mist the seedbed without making puddles or rills. If it rains, skip spray-misting for that day, but resume the next day. Lawns should be misted before 9 a.m. and again at night.
60-40 Lawns. Before over-seeding the lawn, take out the mower, adjust the wheels to give the lowest possible cut, install the grass-catcher and cut any grass on the lawn. This is mandatory.
Over-seed this weekend. Refer to the varieties listed above for seed selections, but you will need half the seed for 60-40 lawns. Here are the seeding rates for each 1,000 square feet and settings for rotary Cyclone or Spyker lawn spreaders:
Tall fescue is applied at four pounds at a spreader setting of 7.
Fine fescue and hard fescue is applied at two pounds at a spreader setting of 6.
Kentucky bluegrass is applied at one-plus pounds at a spreader setting of 3 1/4.
Perennial rye is applied at four pounds at a spreader setting of 7.
Rough bluegrass is applied at a pound and a half at a spreader setting of 3 1/4.
Over-seed the border of the lawn first, then the balance. Because the spreader applies seed in a six-foot swath, overlap a bit as you apply seed over the existing lawn. If you have bare spots, apply extra seed there.
After over-seeding, immediately apply IBDU Turf Assurance fertilizer at the rotary Cyclone or Spyker setting of 5 to apply one pound of nitrogen per 1,000-square-foot area. Treat the border of the lawn first, then the remainder. You won't apply IBDU again until late November.
Next, use a garden hose to thoroughly soak the lawn, in the process washing the seed off the tops of the grass and down to the soil line.
The next day, check the lawn carefully for evidence of seed, mostly bare spots, not covered with soil. The seed must be covered if it is to germinate. Where possible, use a small rake to scratch the seed gently into the soil, but rakes are risky in small bare spots where you could just as well rake good grass from the lawn.
In such cases, cover the seed sparingly with soil, either good soil from another part of the landscape or with Michigan peat, peat humus or Compro available from the garden shop. It's best to load a plastic bucket with soil, then use both hands to filter the soil in the bare spot to cover the seed sparingly.
Follow up with the daily spray-misting of the lawn surface by hand as detailed above. Plan on morning and evening spray-misting of the lawn for at least two weeks to nudge all seed into germinating. When you finally get around to cutting the lawn, the "old" grass will only be slightly taller than the new.
Perfect lawns. On lawns properly maintained through the spring and summer, renovation simply isn't needed, but there's no getting away from the routine fall maintenance. Priority and optional chores on the docket for this Labor Day weekend include the following:
After cutting the lawn, apply IBDU Turf Assurance to provide one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Use setting 5 on the rotary Cyclone or Spyker spreader, treating the border of the lawn first. You won't apply IBDU again until late November.
This weekend is your last chance at applying Gallery pre-emergent to stop fall weeds, such as chickweed, betony and henbit, in addition to dandelion, clover, plantain, spurge and other noxious weeds next spring. Gallery must be applied now -- 3 1/2 heaping teaspoons in 12 gallons of water over 1,000 square feet -- to control these weeds entirely without harming the existing grass in any way.
Existing turf grass on the lawn is siphoning off sugar for the seasonal tillering of each grass plant later this month. By mid-October, your perfect lawn will be even more luxurious than it is today.
Jack Eden is the host of "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).