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It's lawn care time

Friday - 8/26/2011, 7:17am  ET

It's fall lawn care time. Here's how to get ready in a nutshell:

  • Over the next month (roughly Aug. 15 through the end of September) is the only reliable time to seed a new lawn or overseed an existing lawn that has some bare spots.
  • It's also the only time the all-natural grub killer Milky Spore will work.
  • It's the only time you can safely use a core aerator to loosen up compacted soil in a lawn that gets a lot of foot traffic or one that was just plain planted in hard clay.
  • Any time during the month of September is when you should give your lawn its biggest feeding of the season.
    • An inch of compost raked into the grass is the best way to feed your turf. Lawns are starved for real food, and nothing makes them happier than some organic matter. A compost feeding will help your lawn become the perfect shade of green, and it'll help any thatch decompose.
    • Otherwise, use a bagged organic lawn food. Please don't feed your lawn with chemical fertilizers. They're the reason your grass looks so bad in the first place. And, they threaten the priceless Chesapeake Bay and other fragile waterways.

Milky spore: The natural lawn grub killer

John in Sterling writes, "Is now the time to apply milky spore powder? Is it OK to seed (grass) after putting the milky spore down?"

Great timing, John. We are now entering the perfect window to do just about everything to improve cool-season lawns. (That's pretty much any grass except zoysia, a warm season type that gets planted in the spring and fed in the summer).

Milky spore is a naturally occurring soil organism that kills any beetle grub that ingests a spore in warm soil. Anytime over the next month or so is the ONLY time milky spore will work, as this is the only time that grubs are feeding on grass roots in warm soil. (Unfortunately, retailers tend to push it in the spring, when it doesn't work.)

Apply the powder to your lawn as directed and use no other grub killers or chemicals. You need the grubs to be alive and feeding when they're exposed to it. Because every dead grub breeds more of the spores, your lawn will be grub-free for decades to come if you do it right. Here's a link to the manufacturer's website, which shows images of the product and a store locator.

And yes, you can apply some fresh seed this fall as well. They don't interact.

How to kill an old weedy lawn safely before reseeding

Gary in Ellicott City writes, "Because of pervasive weeds, I want to kill my existing lawn and start over. What is the best and safest way to kill what's there now? My neighbor recommends using Roundup, but I'm concerned about it because I have young children and a dog."

Good for you, Gary. These chemical herbicides are the most dangerous of all the garden chemicals. And why do people think they'll be able to sow a nice new lawn in soil that's just been sprayed with a chemical designed to kill grass? Sheesh!

Good timing on your part as well. From now through the end of September is the ONLY time of year you can successfully sow a new lawn from seed in the area. As many of you have sadly learned, spring sown lawns struggle for a while after planting. Then they die.

Instead of spraying poisons, till up what's out there, rake away as much of the old green material as possible, level it out, water it, wait 10 days for any new weeds to appear and then slice them off at the soil line with a sharp hoe or toast them to death with a propane-powered flame weeder. Boom-a weed free seed bed the natural way.

Planting a new lawn

After you establish your 'stale seed bed' as described above, have a big load of yard waste compost and/or rick black screened topsoil delivered and spread it an inch deep over top of your weed-free bed. Level it perfectly. This is a very important step. Then sow the new seed and gently rake it into the soil/compost until most of the seed is no longer visible, or-even better-spread a little more compost over top of the new seed.

Don't smother the new seed with straw or other nonsense.

But do follow the watering instructions below.

Bare spots in fescue? The time to overseed is here

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